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Nutrition management for disease control

We have known how to prevent and reverse plant diseases with nutrition management for a long time. The information is not new, it has just been ignored or forgotten.

Fertilizers and trace minerals can be used to increase disease severity, or to reduce or eliminate disease entirely. Many fertilization practices today are known to increase disease. This knowledge should be foundational for every farmer and agronomist, but has largely been forgotten. Perhaps because it would eliminate the need for fungicide applications?

To illustrate how rich the literature is, here in as excerpt from the opening chapter of Soilborne Plant Pathogens: Management of Diseases with Macro- and Microelements published in 1989. For an up-to-date and more modern version I highly recommend Mineral Nutrition and Plant Disease.

Written by Arthur Englehard:

A large volume of literature is available on disease control affects provided by macro- and microelement amendments. Huber and Watson in 1974 in “Nitrogen Form and Plant Disease” reviewed and discussed the effects of nitrogen and/or nitrogen form on seedling disease, root rots, cortical diseases, vascular wilts, foliar diseases and others. They summarized work from the 259 references in four tables in which they list crops, diseases and citations. McNew in the 1953 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture discussed effects of fertilizers on soilborne diseases and their control. He reviewed briefly specific diseases such as take-all of wheat, Texas root rot, Fusarium wilt of cotton, club root of crucifers and common scab of potato. Many other diseases were mentioned, as well as how macro- and microelements effect host physiology and disease. Huber and Arny in “Interactions of Potassium with Plant Disease” summarized in three tables the effect of K (positive, negative, neutral) on specific diseases. They listed 267 references in the bibliography.

The Potash and Phosphate Institute is dedicated to research and education and celebrated his 50th anniversary in 1985. It is a source of information on the use of K and P in the production of plants and the effects on plant disease. The Institute promotes a systems approach to crop production; disease control is one of the factors in the system.

Leath and Ratcliffe described plant nutrition and diseases in forage crops production. They indicated that fertilizers affect pathogens in the soil and on the host, and also can affect the pathogenicity of an organism. Presley and Bird reviewed the effect of P on the reduction of disease susceptibility of cotton.

In 1983, Graham, in Australia in “Effects of Nutrient Stress on Susceptibility of Plants to Disease with Particular Reference to the Trace Elements” discussed under the heading “Macroelements,” the effect of six essential elements on disease; and under “Micronutrients,” seven essential elements and 15 others as having been reported to influence a host-parasite relationship. He gives 305 literature citations.

Another review by Huber entitled, “The Use of Fertilizers and Organic Amendments in the Control of Plant Disease” contains a wealth of information. He indicated how the severity of 157 diseases was affected by N in table 1. In table 2, a similar listing is given for nitrate and ammonium forms of N. The effects of P, K, Ca and Mg are given in tables 3, 4, 5 and 6 respectively. Tables for S, Na, Mn, Fe, Zn, B, Cu, Si and other elements are also presented.

A literature research of the CAB ABSTRACT database utilizing the DIALOG Information Retrieval Service and using some keywords: soilborne disease, macroelements, microelements, soil fungi, Fusarium, Pythium, and Phytophthora, yielded 1500 citations published during the past 14 years.

The Future

Obviously a virtual flood of literature is available regarding the effects of macro – and micro element soil amendments on the level of soilborne disease in plants. What is lacking is the correlation of the positive factors into integrated production systems. The biggest problem now is how to organize and comprehend the mountain of available and often conflicting data. We have entered an era in which computer-aided analysis and other sophisticated tools are needed to integrate information and develop systems approaches is to growing healthy, productive plants.

One of the most rewarding approaches for the successful reduction of soilborne diseases is the proper selection and utilization of macro- and microelements. Since virtually all commercially produced crops in the developed world are fertilized, it is extremely important to select macro- and microelements that decrease disease. This is an important and viable alternative or supplement to the use of pesticides which usually only gives partial disease control.

Remember, this was published in 1989. What other things have you heard about that deserve to be generally known, but aren’t?

Unhealthy plants create unhealthy soils

The popular narrative is that healthy soils produce healthy plants. 

This is correct but incomplete.

We need to ask the question, what creates healthy soils? “Healthy plants”, is the right answer. 

Without the contribution of plants, soil is just decomposed rock particles; sand, silt, clay.

Plants contribute the carbon, the sugars, the energy that serves as a fuel source, and substrate to develop microbial populations that build organic matter and mineralize nutrients and make them available to plants. The humic substances and humus clay complex are the result of plant contributions to the ecosystem.

Healthy plants create healthy soil.

The key adjective in this statement is ‘healthy’. Unhealthy plants do not create healthy soil. In fact, the opposite. 

Unhealthy plants create unhealthy soil. 

In this post a few days ago, Robert Kremer described how the root exudates of GMO crops can increase the virulence of soil-borne pathogens. But wait, root exudates are supposed to be a good thing, no?

The influence of root exudates on soil microbial communities is determined by the complexity and quality of the compounds they transmit through the root system, not only the quantity of exudates. 

Unhealthy plants will transmit simple carbohydrates, non-reducing sugars, amino acids, and other compounds in ratios that enhance the virulence of pathogens, by providing them with a ready food source. 

Healthy plants at higher levels on the plant health pyramid transmit more complex carbohydrates, reducing sugars, polysaccharides, enzymes, and complete proteins, as well as plant secondary metabolites. 

Unhealthy plants may also transmit some of these compounds, but in different ratios from healthy plants. 

The different ratios of complex carbohydrates, enzymes and secondary metabolites produce a different microbial community response in the rhizosphere. 

Unhealthy plants that transmit a lot of simple sugars favor the development of a disease enhancing soil microbial community. They increase the virulence of disease pathogens present in the soil. 

Healthy plants that transmit more complex compounds favor the development of a disease suppressive soil microbial community. They decrease the virulence of disease pathogens in the soil, and actually convert them to have a symbiotic relationship with the plant instead of a pathogenic one. 

While healthy plants create healthy soils, unhealthy plants create unhealthy soil. This is why focusing on optimizing plant health in the current growing season provides such big soil health rewards. 

GMO crops generally have different carbohydrate and amino acid profiles from their non-GM counterparts, which produces a different soil microbial community. 

2020-09-25T11:44:39-05:00September 24th, 2020|Tags: , , |

How GMO’s can influence soil microbiology

On several occasions, we have observed GMO corn crops and GMO corn stalk mulch produce a soil environment that enhanced disease, sometimes dramatically. Why would it be the case that GMO crops produce a disease enhancing soil environment, where non-GMO corn produces a disease suppressive environment?

Other research has identified that GM plants have altered carbohydrate and amino acid profiles in the root exudates, which seems to be a probable mechanism for producing an altered rhizosphere microbiome.

Robert Kremer and I approached this conversation in our podcast interview:

John: Earlier you mentioned the impact of genetically modified plants themselves, apart from glyphosate and AMPA. How do GMOs impact the soil’s microbial community?

Robert: Well, there’s not a lot of information. We found with soybean, for example, that genetic modification can have what are called pleiotropic effects—indirect effects due to the genetic modification that are in addition to the intended effect. In other words, effects that are in addition to the effect of making the plant resistant to glyphosate. And so there are things that can happen in the root system—with some of the early genetically modified soybean varieties, anyway—that even without being treated with glyphosate, the roots seemed to release a lot more carbohydrates or soluble carbon and amino acids. This is problematic because it attracts a lot of microbes that readily use this material, and many of those can be potential pathogens. So you have a potential problem not only with some root pathology, but it’s also possible to build up these segments of the microbial population and carry them over from year to year.

Another situation where we find these effects is in corn. Not in all varieties, but in many varieties that had been genetically modified to be resistant to insects using Bt, there was a side effect where some of the corn stocks would have a lot more lignin than others. Lignin is very difficult to decompose. That’s one of the reasons we sometimes see a lot of that residue being carried over for two or three years in the field—there’s so much lignin that it can’t decompose very fast.

And I think there are other situations that can occur. I had a Brazilian student here who looked at some of the nutrient composition. Some of the omega fatty acid ratios were changed in soybeans due to the genetic modification; that kind of thing. Now, I can’t say for sure if that has changed with some of the more recent cultivars, because I haven’t been looking at that very closely over the last few years. But, as you know, in our commodity agriculture, these varieties change almost from year to year. Some of the varieties that we were using fifteen years ago are not available anymore. So that’s always another problem. You just don’t know whether the effects of these newer varieties are any better or any worse unless somebody has a research program that’s addressing it.

John: Your first point is very intriguing. In essence, what you’re describing is that these crops and these plants may have the capacity to actually develop a disease-enhancing soil profile—which is interesting when you consider the long-term implications.

Robert: Right. That was a completely unexpected result that we had. And we were comparing it to some of the old non-GMO varieties like Williams 82 and Maverick, and they had much lower soluble carbon and amino acid release. So it was quite interesting, to say the least.

2020-09-21T20:35:48-05:00September 22nd, 2020|Tags: , , , |
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