Water and fertiliser use in horticulture could be reduced, without lowering yields, by using biostimulants such as seaweed extract and beneficial microbes, says UK research organisation NIAB EMR.
NIAB EMR, and its research partner Dove Associates, have combined the use of biostimulants with innovative sensors that monitor substrate moisture in real time. The biostimulants have been found to reduce water and fertiliser inputs by 10-20%, and increase tolerance against abiotic stress and produce quality. Crop demonstrations are now being planned in the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands and France to promote the use of biostimulants to the horticulture sector.
The research is part of the EU-funded Bio4safe-project, coordinated by the Belgian Ornamental Plant Research Centre, which also aims to analyse the economic potential of seaweed-based biostimulants, creating new markets for seaweed producers across the 2 Seas Region – the coastal region across the southern North Sea and the English Channel.
The 2 Seas Region is known for its intensive horticulture which demands significant amounts of water and nutrients. Several EU directives aim to protect water quality by preventing N and P leaching, aim to enhance soil quality or anticipate a water shortage. Besides these legislative environmental pressures, also economic reasons force growers to reduce water and nutrient consumption.
NIAB EMR’s Professor Xiangming Xu explains that every Member State has its own regulation on commercialising biostimulants. “By 2020, the EU will implement a common European legal framework for the trade of biostimulants, but it remains unclear how their positive effects on water and nutrient use should be quantified. With this project we aim to create a standardised protocol that can be used by accredited laboratories to objectively evaluate biostimulants.”