HEALTHY YIELDS START WITH HEALTHY SOIL & ROOTS

Biodiverse, nutrient-rich soil is the basis of consistently good harvests. Madumbi, a South African distributor of proven bioproducts, helps farmers build up and maintain optimal soil conditions.

The goal of every crop farmer is to grow healthy plants capable of producing the best possible harvest. During the recent BioSolutions Africa-Virtual conference, Rod Bell, CEO of CropLife South Africa, reiterated that ‘healthy crops have higher yield potentials and are better equipped to withstand the effects of stress and pests than a weak crop’. Pest damage can be devastating. As a result, growers develop and constantly enhance their individual integrated pest management (IPM) programmes to minimise damage. Bell cautioned, however, that despite significant advances in pest control, this was only one aspect of overall crop production. “Pest management doesn’t affect the plants’ potential; it can only protect what the crop produces,” he said.

Madumbi prioritises plant and soil health as the foundation of a healthy crop and recognises its contribution to minimising pest control. “We believe that a mindshift change in IPM programmes is needed if farmers want to maximise their crops’ potential,” says Mark Hutton, Madumbi key account manager for KwaZulu-Natal and the rest of Africa. “Rather than focusing on above-ground plant and pest control, growers should prioritise the below-ground environment, to ensure that root and plant health are maximised. In terms of the 80:20 principle, 80% of ‘farming’ takes place underground.”

Soil Health

According to Hutton, many farmers today recognise that soil is a complex living ecosystem, and that soil organic carbon contributes to global warming. Despite this, relatively few farmers actively work to improve the health and biodiversity of their soils, and most continue to apply synthetic fertiliser. “Beneath the surface of the soil is a natural workforce and ecosystem commonly referred to as the soil food web. This works symbiotically with roots, actively locating plant nutrients. Through each of these life cycles, soil nutrients are consumed, excreted and released in different forms, resulting in nutrients being more plant-available to roots and plants, and less likely to be leached,” says Hutton. A healthy, living soil, he adds, can assist farmers mitigate on-farm challenges such as:

The soil pit provides a ‘window’ to view the activity taking place below ground.

Mark Hutton, Madumbi key account manager for KZN and the rest of Africa, in one of two soil pits dug at different locations at Everdon Estate, KZN.

  1. Soil compaction;
  2. Anaerobic soil conditions;
  3. pH above or below the optimal range;
  4. Low organic matter or carbon;
  5. Poor nutrient retention and availability due to leaching;
  6. Soil erosion;
  7. Biotic and abiotic stress;
  8. Lack of biodiversity

“It’s essential that farmers understand and harness the power and energy of the soil food web. We need to work with nature, not against it,” says Hutton.

Madumbi’s Soil and Root Health Programme

Madumbi offers farmers a comprehensive soil and root health programme, including products and expert advice. In its various studies to perfect this treatment, early research focused on annual crops, where results were easy to measure over a short period. More recently, these principles were expanded to orchard crops, with significant success. “In orchards, treatments should ideally start in the nursery and continue into the field with repeat applications annually,”

ABOVE AND RIGHT:

Photographs taken in Wartburg, KwaZulu-Natal, two months apart during the summer of 2019/2020. Both show the same avocado tree: the most severely diseased specimen in a Phytophthora-infested orchard. An annual treatment with systemic chemistry was applied to control the disease within the tree. This was followed with the Madumbi root health programme to build, support and enhance the root system, better equipping it to fight future infection.

explains Hutton. “The primary aim is to reduce the incidence of soil pathogens, stimulate root growth, increase nutrient holding capacity and uptake, and move soil from an anaerobic to an aerobic state, where needed.” In Madumbi’s standard programme, two types of beneficial fungi are applied: Trichoderma spp at planting, followed by Bacillus amyloliquefaciens. Repeated top-up applications are recommended with subsequent root flushes, tailored according to the requirements of the crop. Micronutrients and potassium silicate are also included.

“When implementing the root health programme on an existing orchard with high levels of pathogen pressure (eg, Phytophthora), it may be necessary to first apply a curative treatment as the above products are mainly preventative and cannot cure systemic infections already in the root or stem,” cautions Hutton. “Madumbi’s holistic and integrated approach to soil and root health has resulted in significant success in raising crop potential, improving yields and ensuring healthier food.”