Mike Wainwright, our agronomist, was recently asked some questions about the importance of correct nutrition and irrigation.
How widespread commercially is managing feed and water to promote crop growth and quality in soft fruit?
Hortifeeds work with their customers to manage fertiliser and water inputs as much as practical (as is practical or as much as possible), as this leads to the best combination of crop quality and quantity. However, the degree of control and monitoring varies on the scale of the operation and how technical their set up is. The bigger the business, usually the tighter control on inputs, including nutrients and irrigation. Of course, this is not always the case! Many customers benefit from our specialised feeds, designed to suit specific crop needs, such as strawberries and blueberry mixes. Hortifeeds’ wide range of soluble fertiliser mixes, designed to suit all crop situations, are relied upon by many customers. Other customers may use straight fertilisers to provide the basic nutrition and use our industry standard trace element packages to compliment the straight fertiliser inputs, to ensure consistent and straightforward stock tank mixing. Some larger customers prefer us to manufacture bespoke feed packages to meet their individual requirements, based on water quality and crop requirement.
What quality parameters can be influenced (fruit size, flavour, firmness, shelf life, etc.)?
All crop quality parameters can be enhanced through correct use of nutrition. Having the ideal strength and balance of nutrients at all stages of the crop cycle will help to ensure the best product performance in terms of marketable yield, flavour, texture and shelf-life.
Calcium is a vitally important element for fruit development and shelf-life. Calcium movement is governed by xylem transport with the transpiration stream, so it may not be present in fruit at the optimum levels. Foliar sprays of Inca®, the leading calcium mobility product, have been shown to improve both yield and shelf life of soft fruit.
Biostimulants also have a role to play in maximising fruit yield and quality. Applications of HortiBoost, Hortifeeds unique combined biostimulant, have resulted in significant increases in yield and fruit quality in trials at New Farm Produce in Staffordshire.
What are the key elements to consider / measure in terms of irrigation scheduling for quality?
The combination of conductivity of the feed solution, in both drip and drain and run-off percentage, is key. Irrigation volumes and timing must be calculated to ensure the conductivity in the bag doesn’t rise too high or drop too low. If the conductivity of the bags rises due to the presence of excess sulphates for example, we recommend applying HortiFlush. This product has been designed to remove excess salts and built-up deposits by the synergistic effect of acidic and surfactant components. Optimising conductivity, combined with correct fertiliser balance, leads to even and consistent fruit quality throughout production.
Are any particular nutrients more influential or important than others?
Each of the essential nutrients and trace elements have a role to play in optimising fruit yield and quality, so getting the correct balance of each of these is key to ensuring consistent crop quality and yield. Growers should keep in mind that the mix of nutrients needed will change depending on the stage in the cycle of the crop. Using Hortifeeds Soft Fruit CoirMix (or Peat Mix, depending on substrate used), in combination with adjustment of quantities of calcium and ammonium nitrate fertilisers, allows growers to provide the right conditions at each stage. A vegetative feed with a higher nitrogen content is an excellent start in producing good-sized, vigorous plants. As flowers begin to develop, a fruiting feed with higher potassium and calcium will maximise fruit production and quality.
What are the most common mistakes made by growers in terms of irrigation scheduling or feed?
Some growers may not alter their feed during the season, resulting in crops not getting certain nutrients when it’s critical. Hortifeeds work alongside their customers to ensure the feeding programme is optimised for their crops at each stage of the cycle.
How can you optimise nutrition and water availability?
Use of a horticulturally designed advanced wetting agent, such as HortiHydrate Pro, will help to maximise availability of water and nutrients throughout the growing media and mitigate the effects of uneven drippers. HortiHydrate Pro has been formulated with the latest surfactant technology to optimise growing conditions. It lowers the surface tension of all growing media, allowing uniform wetting. By creating a good moisture profile, the plant has 100% of the growing media to grow in. This means crops have better access to more nutrients and benefit from a healthier growing environment.