Nutrition - Advertorial

Growing the Healthy Kernel: the New Agricultural Challenge

Article sponsored by OMEX

With the increasing pressure of feeding a growing population and a reduction of arable land due to factors such as salinity, urbanization and overgrazing, today’s agriculture is facing the biggest challenge yet: growing healthy and nutrient dense crops. Yield targets in the last few decades have reached the maxima never dreamt of during the early days of the green revolution; however, soils have been depleted at rates exceeding their replenishment. Crop choices are often dictated by economy rather than agronomy. In addition, changing cultural practices such as the reduction of tillage, the tightening of rotations, the global movement of pests, the evolution of resistant pests and the management of newly introduced genetics and pesticides, have led to an increase in disease pressure and a selection of fit and aggressive pest pathotypes.

Plants have a nutritional relationship with their environment including their pests. Protein and carbohydrate breakdown in planta is often the sign of increased susceptibility. The protein synthesis and sugar movement translates into the plant’s wellbeing, resistance and triggered immunity.

Germination is the first phase in a plant’s life that dictates its health or susceptibility to diseases and pests. Seed germination, at microscopic level, is a complex process involving many individual reactions and phases including protein hydration, subcellular structural changes, respiration, macromolecular synthesis, and cell elongation. During these processes, hydrolytic and proteolytic activities increase, leading to the degradation of stored carbohydrate and protein reserves. Specific nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, boron, zinc, copper and manganese are in high demand at these stages, especially in cold and wet prairies soils.

In addition to the changes at the microscopic level, germinating seed has to face an array of soil- or seed-borne pathogens such as root rots, Alternaria and many others. Breeding efforts have led to the introduction of varieties with single and multiple gene resistances with prolonged efficacy and durability in the field.  Seed treatments provide a great deal of control of these pathogens; however, they also directly or indirectly affect the nutritional makeup of the seedlings. Choosing the right combination of a seed treatment and primer nutrient dressing may help mitigate nutrient shortages and fight early-season diseases and rots.

After emergence, seedlings undergo a variety of changes that impact growth and development. Early-season stresses affect these processes and expose the seedlings to weed competition, nutrient deficiencies, pathogens and pests. The recent advancement in foliar feeding can help mitigate these stresses and correct deficiencies, which aids in the defense against diseases and pests. The right combination of pesticides and nutrients may improve crop health beyond enhancing growth.

When plants switch to flowering mode, they lose their ability to photosynthesize at full capacity. They may remobilize soluble nutrients from older tissues to active areas of growth and reproductive organs. It is no surprise that the flowering period of a crop is also often the primary period of attack by pathogens and pests.

The best outcome is maximum yield and optimum quality. In retrospect, growing a healthy kernel starts with the seed and continues with good agronomic management throughout the growing season. The right combination of genetics and good agronomic practices leads to an optimum outcome.

Figure 1. Wheat seedling at the early stages of their growth and development. The untreated check is on the left and the treated (Fungicide seed treatment + Primer Mn combination). Tan spot and leaf blotch are noticeable on the check while the treated exhibits healthy foliage.​

Figure 2. Head sizes, spikelet and kernel numbers of the untreated check.​

Figure 3. Head sizes, spikelet and kernel numbers of wheat treated with a fungicide seed treatment + Primer Mn combination.​

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