Sustainable Fertilizers Are Getting Greener

Sustainable Fertilizers Are Getting Greener

Until recently, the sustainability of a greenhouse plant nutrition program wasn’t really much of an issue.

“Looking back 10 or 15 years, I think growers related the concept of ‘sustainable’ to ‘organic.’ At the time, organic production was so difficult and had so many regulations, no one really wanted any part of it,” says Janet Curry, National Key Accounts Manager for Daniels Plant Food.

But that’s no longer the case.

Whether it’s pressure from big retail customers, pull-through interest from consumers, a better understanding of sustainable practices, or just a desire to “do something for the environment,” organic and sustainable plant nutrition programs seem to be on the rise in greenhouses across the country.

“With better education and some new products coming on the market, growers have gradually realized it’s attainable. I think we now see growers really looking for ways to grow sustainably,” Curry says.

episode of Floricast.

Organics Don’t Work The Same Way

As organic fertilizers and practices have improved, many growers have been able to achieve the same quality results as they do in conventional nutrition programs. But while the results may be similar, it’s critical to understand that the process to achieve them may be completely different than what you’re used to.

“There are many different organic fertilizers on the market, and they simply don’t respond in the same way inorganic fertilizers do. There’s a lot more variability in how an individual fertilizer is going to impact the nutrient management program for different growers,” Williams says. “We don’t really have definitive standards to manage nutrition when they are used.”

With an inorganic fertilizer, effects on the plant are generally predictable and consistent. “For example, with a traditional fertilizer, growers know what’s going to happen to the root pH, and what the salt level of the root medium should be for different crops,” Williams says.

Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, often rely on microbial activity to break down organic compounds and make the nutrients available for plant uptake.  Different organic fertilizers have different rates of mineral breakdown and nutrient availability depending on various external factors, such as temperature.

There are often extra salts and other “stuff” in organic fertilizers in addition to the nutrients, Williams cautions. Those salts can build up over time and become a problem.

Another issue to keep in mind is that specific products sometimes have counterintuitive effects on the crop.

“Daniels’ organic product works almost opposite of everything we learned in school about synthetic fertilizers,” Curry says. “With synthetics, if you want your crop not to stretch in cool, cloudy conditions, you cut the feed back. With Daniels, you can actually increase that feed rate and the plant will stay compact.”

Adjust Your System

While the idea of trying to manage through these challenges might seem daunting, Williams says sustainable fertilizers can fit relatively smoothly into a nutrition program–once you understand how they work in your specific production system.

3 Tips For Shifting To Sustainable Fertilizers

1. Start small. Begin using new fertilizers on a single bench, and try not to change anything else in your production process. This will make it easier to notice any changes in comparison to your standard nutrition program.

2. Monitor, monitor, monitor. Organic and other sustainable nutrition products tend to work significantly different than traditional inorganic fertilizers. Increase your normal efforts in keeping an eye on EC and pH levels in the root zone to account for those differences.

3. Make adjustments based on your own growing conditions and practices. Organic and sustainable fertilizers work differently for each grower based on individual production conditions, from temperatures to water quality.

“I recommend starting small,” Williams says. “Keep everything else the same, but change the fertilizer for the plants on one bench and monitor the nutrition, the pH and the EC. It takes a lot of time and effort, but do a weekly or every-two-week check of the pH and EC of the crop to see how the new fertilizer is changing those factors.”

The baseline for comparisons is your experience with traditional fertilizer programs. By monitoring EC, for example, you’ll be able to see if the organic fertilizer is causing a salt build up in comparison to the fertilizer your more familiar with.

But even these proven measurement benchmarks require some adjustment when moving to a sustainable fertilizer program.

“It’s a little more difficult to use pH and EC as decision-making tools with organic fertilizers because we’re not as sure about what the fertilizer is going to do. With inorganics, we have the ability to make whatever combination we want. It just takes a little more care to figure out how these organic formulations, which don’t tend to be as balanced as inorganic fertilizers,” Williams says. “But if you start collecting that information over time, you’re going to know what it will do in your production system.”

Topics:

Leave a Reply

More From Fertilization...
cannabis-nutrients

October 21, 2016

How To Select The Best Nutrients For Growing Cannabis

With a little bit of knowledge about the requirements of cannabis plants and how they absorb and utilize nutrients, you can confidently select the products you need without breaking the bank.

Read More
dramm-ferticart-feature

September 19, 2016

New Fertilizer Injector Cart Provides Full Aeration And Agitation

The new 50-gallon Ferticart from Dramm is designed to keep chemicals such as fungicides and plant growth regulators — as well as nematodes — viable through constant recirculation.

Read More
Roots with plant media background XL-W

July 2, 2016

University Of Florida Offering Online Nutrient Management Course In July

Topics include common nutrient problems, essential nutrients, fertilizer types, how to interpret a fertilizer label, managing total nutrient level, pH, and EC, onsite testing, and growing media.

Read More
Latest Stories
cannabis-nutrients

October 21, 2016

How To Select The Best Nutrients For Growing Cannabis

With a little bit of knowledge about the requirements of cannabis plants and how they absorb and utilize nutrients, you can confidently select the products you need without breaking the bank.

Read More
dramm-ferticart-feature

September 19, 2016

New Fertilizer Injector Cart Provides Full Aeration And…

The new 50-gallon Ferticart from Dramm is designed to keep chemicals such as fungicides and plant growth regulators — as well as nematodes — viable through constant recirculation.

Read More
Roots with plant media background XL-W

July 2, 2016

University Of Florida Offering Online Nutrient Manageme…

Topics include common nutrient problems, essential nutrients, fertilizer types, how to interpret a fertilizer label, managing total nutrient level, pH, and EC, onsite testing, and growing media.

Read More
Agro-K

May 19, 2016

Agro-K Expands Distribution In New England Through Part…

Agro-K, which manufactures conventional and organic foliar plant nutrients, will distribute its full line of foliar fertilizers and soil biological products through NEAG.

Read More
Fertilizer Rates Feature Image

January 29, 2016

Bioworks Releases New Higher Nitrogen Fertilizer For Or…

Verdanta N-Vita 9-4-3 promotes foliar growth and features a slow release process, making nutrients available for a longer period of time.

Read More
Primrose Downward Leaf Roll From Calcium Deficiency

January 11, 2016

How Calcium Plays A Critical Role In Plant Health

Supply vegetables and poinsettias with a healthy amount of calcium to avoid tip and leaf burn.

Read More
Sustane Research Greenhouse 2015

January 7, 2016

Fertilizer Manufacturers Aim To Deliver Sustainable Sol…

Industry experts discuss the latest trends to help ensure 2016 is your best year yet.

Read More
Fertilizer Rates Feature Image

August 12, 2015

Selecting Fertilizer Rates For Several Spring Bedding P…

Fertilizing bedding plants can be difficult due to the differing needs of the large variety of plants that we grow. Many operations do not grow enough of any one crop to cater the fertilizer specifically for each crop. Therefore, grouping crops with similar fertilizer requirements and having two to three fertilizer strengths available is a practical way to ensure plants are getting the fertilizer they need. With many new plant varieties on the market, we wanted to conduct a trial at Cornell University to determine best fertilizer rates for several common bedding plant crops. 22 Bedding Plants Studied To Establish Fertilizer Rates Plugs and rooted liners of 22 crops (Table 1) were transplanted into 4-inch (500 mL volume) round pots with a commercial peat/perlite based substrate. The plants were grown in a glass greenhouse at Cornell University during the spring season at a spacing of one plant per square foot. Heating set […]

Read More
NSOrganicPlantFood3-1-1_featured

June 13, 2015

UMASS Fertilizer Trials Recommend Nature’s Source Organ…

In a recent online fact-sheet at its Extension website, the UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment lists Nature’s Source Organic Plant Food 3-1-1 as “the best liquid organic fertilizer,” according to Dr. Douglas Cox, Stockbridge School of Agriculture. It is called-out by the Extension after a number of years of studying the use of organic fertilizers for growing commercial greenhouse crops. The trials evaluated traditional water soluble and granular slow-release chemical fertilizers. Dr. Cox recommends Nature’s Source Organic Plant Food 3-1-1 as a liquid fertilizer that is readily available, cost effective, OMRI-listed and with good label directions for greenhouses. He also mentions the ease-of-use in how it mixes well with water and can pass fertilizer injectors. “Nature’s Source is currently the best liquid organic fertilizer,” Cox wrote in his article “Organic Fertilizers – Thoughts on Using Liquid Organic Fertilizers for Greenhouse Plants,” “I have seen no foliar chlorosis yet with this fertilizer. Nature’s source is widely available and a great […]

Read More

January 9, 2015

6 New Fertilizer Products For Healthy Plants

These five products add even more options for delivering nutrients to the root zone.

Read More

January 7, 2015

Fertilizers And The Future

As growers look for new ways to cut costs and conserve resources, fertilizer and equipment companies are offering products that strive to save water, reduce toxic runoff and keep chemicals out of the equation.

Read More

December 31, 2014

Gain Greater Control Of Fertilizer With Automated Ferti…

University researchers look at integrating irrigation and fertilization with the help of water sensors to reduce fertilizer treatments and improve application timing.

Read More

October 30, 2014

Basics & Beyond: Comparing Substrate Fertilizer Ame…

Cornell University researcher determines if substrate-incorporated slow-release fertilizers can be used to replace or reduce the need for liquid fertilizer for four spring crops.

Read More

July 24, 2014

Using Controlled Release Fertilizers To Produce Garden …

Researchers determined whether or not garden mums can be grown with controlled-release fertilizer, and if it reduces fertilizer leaching, as compared with water-soluble fertilizers.

Read More

March 14, 2014

New Foliage Pro Fertilizer Offers Complete Nutrition Pl…

Dyna-Gro Nutrition Solutions has developed a process it says is capable of keeping all 16 essential plant nutrients in solution form.

Read More

January 30, 2014

OASIS Grower Solutions Introduces New One-Bag Hydroponi…

The new 16-4-17 Hydroponic Fertilizer from OASIS Grower Solutions (OGS) is a one-bag solution that replaces two-part systems traditionally used by commercial hydroponic growers. It is specifically formulated for commercial hydroponic production of lettuce, herbs and vegetables.

Read More

December 30, 2013

Fertilizer Changes Growing Mix pH

When considering a fertilizer's influence on media pH, you need to know its acid or basic reaction.

Read More

December 30, 2013

Basics & Beyond: Fundamentals Of Phosphorus Nutriti…

Phosphorus is an essential element, after all.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]