Potato growers switch focus to plant health in fight against blight

A leading crop technology firm is inspiring agronomists and growers to think differently in the fight against blight and other potato diseases by focusing on plant health rather than the reliance of pesticides.
Engage Crop Solutions, leaders in crop solution nutrition, has developed a complete nutrition programme that invigorates the health of the potato plant, so it is equipped to limit susceptibility to critical diseases, rather than rely on conventional pesticides to kill off potential threats.

With the number of pesticides that are available to growers being dramatically cut, Engage has been working to create a range of new technologies to help overcome the issue and help reverse the trend of potato growers cutting back on crops.

Agronomist and director of Engage, Andy Aspinall, says “optimising crop health” will be key to the future of profitable potato crops. He explains:

“Just 5-10 years ago, potato growers had numerous pesticides at their disposal. They now have far less in their armoury and that means we need to think ‘outside the box’ and take a new approach.

“The potato plant is under attack from at least 75 diseases and nonparasitic disorders, many of which consistently cause yield losses.

“With fewer chemical options available to fight the diseases, we need to instead look at building resilience into the crop. This process is critical as growers work to protect the potato plant and secure the maximum yield.”

Engage have been running field trials focused on the reduction of susceptibility to potato blight as it is one of the most feared fungal diseases of potato and is spread worldwide in all major potato growing areas.

The trials have been used to develop three unique formulations that provide key elements and maximise the plants health processes. These are Fortify Cu, Bio-Chel Ca and Sentinel and they are applied as part of the normal spray routine.

In 12 trials across the UK and Ireland over the past five years, the programme from Engage has consistently proven to significantly reduce the incidence of or completely prevent infections from blight.

In the most recent trial during the challenging summer of 2022, a full programme of application was applied to a test crop while the control received a normal spray routine. The test crop saw a 6.4% increase in marketable yield but, crucially, the plant made higher levels of chlorophyll, was stronger, and critically, free of disease. The control crop had lower chlorophyll levels, were visibly weaker and although were not infected with blight did show widespread early signs of the bacterium, blackleg.

Fortify Cu maximises vascular flow and cellular processes to support crop health and limit damage from abiotic and biotic stress factors while Sentinel is a unique liquid stabilised silicic acid that delivers high amounts of available silicon nutrient to increase cellular growth potential and strength to support the health of the crop.

Calcium is the essential element for potato tuber growth and storage and Bio-Chel Ca is unlike any other calcium source as it is completely available to the plant. The plant is able to draw calcium in at higher levels than other calcium products and ensures the growing plant doesn’t need to rely stored calcium in the tuber. Andy adds:

“This unique programme shows we can nutritionally equip potato plants to be far healthier to reduce the potential of infection from disease and address a key challenge of the limiting the use of pesticides.

“Plus, these advanced inputs have been designed to deliver nutrients and have secondary benefits to the health of the plant. For example, the silicon in Sentinel strengthens the plant but also utilises salicylic acid as this aids in silicon movement and keeps it mobile for longer. Salicylic acid has a secondary benefit as the plant can use to support its own salicylic production which will bolster its immune system.

“Similarly, Fortify Cu has a naturally high negative charge which elevates the leaf’s own negative charge, helping prevent pathogens passing into the leaves so readily. Bio-Chel Ca has a lower pH and is high in plant lignin and sugars which plants can use so it softens the leaf wax and stimulates leaves and roots to take up more of the available calcium.

“Many potato growers are considering scaling back because of the challenges they face but advanced solutions like these will be key to ensuring we can continue to produce healthy, profitable crops and preserve food security.”

Fortify Cu

Fortify Cu assist crops by maximising vascular flow and cellular processes to limit susceptibility to stress and to support the growing crop during recuperation from both abiotic and biotic stress pressure. Consistency in trial results have shown by applying Fortify Cu as part of the growing program, will limit the plants susceptibility to pathogenic pressures.

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Bio-Chel Ca

Calcium has long been known as the essential element for potatoes in both the production of increased numbers of strong and healthy growth, and for maximising dry matter to ensure optimal shelf life/storage, and reducing the risk of calcium related disorders such as internal rust spot. The mobility of calcium is always an issue and many supplementary calcium fertiliser products contain nutrients that make them difficult to use when calcium demand is at its highest. Bio-Chel Ca allows maximum flexibility in application and timing to ensure crops get maximum effect whenever it is required.

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To further strengthen the haulm of the crop regular applications of Sentinel can be applied. Sentinel is a unique new silicon nutrient for foliar application to increase the strength, growth and health of the crop. Sentinel provides silicon in a form that can be accessed by plants, alongside salicylic acid to aid silicon movement and support crop health, this unique combination strengthens crops and reduced crop susceptibility to biotic stress pressure.

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