Understanding the biochemistry behind seaweed extracts and why they are active in plants is helping to underpin the development of novel products aimed at stimulating crop growth and protection as well as soil health, by Olmix, based in Brittany, France.
Dr Maria Matard-Mann, research project manager at the company says a group of compounds present in seaweed, but not found in land plants, are sulphated polysaccharides. “When spreading these on crops the plant does not recognise sulphated molecules and considers them as aggressors.”
This has the effect of stimulating the plant’s natural defences, which can prime it to respond better to disease and environmental (abiotic) stress such as drought, according to the company.
Founded in 1995, Olmix initially focused on trace elements and clay products for animal and human health and nutrition. It subsequently expanded into seaweed products and made its first foray into plant care in 2006. Its first seaweed-based biostimulants were launched in 2015. Among various acquisitions to augment its plant care portfolio and market reach was Nottinghamshire-based Micromix, in June 2018. Olmix employs 800 staff and has a turnover of €166m (£145.85m).
Seaweed used in its products is harvested on the Brittany coast and processed in Brehan. Of the 700 species found in the area, green and red are mainly used by the company, with green tending to have more of a biopesticide effect and red, biostimulant properties, it says.
Didier Blin, product manager, plant care at Olmix explained how the company had adopted an Integrated Plant Care Management concept aimed at enabling plants to withstand attacks from pests and diseases, improving plant nutrition and improving soil quality.
“We are not just another seaweed dealer. Olmix is the only company that offers a holistic view of plant management. Integrated Plant Care Management is based on a range of biosolutions that have a positive influence on all the physiological factors that impact yield potential: resistance to biotic and abiotic stress situations, ability to capture value from nutrients and soil quality,” he said.
The company works with research institutes and universities across Europe, including the University of Nottingham.
Micromix sales manager Chris Gamble, who is planning UK trials of biostimulants this autumn says: “This is the first time in agriculture we are saying let’s look at the interaction between trace elements and biostimulants in a way that understands what the molecules do.”
Fabrice Sablé farms 170ha near Guilliers, Brittany. He grows 50ha milling wheat, 4ha potatoes, 35ha forage maize and 6ha fodder beet. He runs a 135-cow dairy herd and has recently launched an ice-cream making enterprise. He also sells electricity produced by an anaerobic digester to France’s national grid.
In the 2018 growing season, Mr Sablé did tramline trials using three applications of fungicide compared with three applications at the same timings of Olmix’s Algomel Proact, a seaweed-based foliar fertiliser and biostimulant.
The fungicide-treated wheat yielded 9.5t/ha and the Algomel Proact-treated wheat, 9t/ha, says Mr Sablé. “There was a small reduction in yield with Algomel Proact but we did not use any fungicide.”
Mr Sablé also used Algomel products on his potatoes, comparing them with fungicide treatment. Eight applications were made at eight-day intervals for both treatments. Potatoes yielded 40t/ha with the fungicide treatment and 37t/ha with the seaweed-based products. “I was happy the yield was quite close to the fungicide yield and we had no problems with quality. I did not save a lot as the price of the fungicide was the same as the Algomel products.”
Supplying local restaurants and small retail outlets, Mr Sablé is aware of French consumers becoming increasingly concerned about pesticide use so his target is to reduce it.
Fabien Bocher farms 60ha of arable land near Saint-Connec, Brittany. He grows winter wheat, maize, potatoes, winter and spring barley, oilseed rape and linseed. Soils are loamy.
The farm operates a min-till system. Growing cover crops in autumn is compulsory in Brittany to reduce N losses into water courses, with Mr Bocher opting for phacelia, white mustard and black radish due to their fast growing characteristics. The farm uses 90t/annum of chicken manure as an organic fertiliser, mainly on spring crops.
Looking to improve soils on land he bought some years ago, which had a soil pH of 4.8-5.2, Mr Bocher applied lime followed by Olmix’s Geo2 solid product which is aimed at boosting humification and soil structuring and aeration. “We had a difficult field where there were issues with preparing the soil and erosion. This was seven years ago. Now we have good soil structure, a lot of earthworms and it is easier to prepare the soil.”
In terms of crop nutrition, Mr Bocher says he has seen good results when using Explorer from Olmix, a biofertiliser which is placed close to the seed at drilling. It is a blend of trace elements and seaweed-derived extracts which is said to stimulate soil biological activity and mineralisation of organic matter.
“We have seen faster development of maize compared with using DAP. In hot conditions, maize treated with DAP showed drought stress but in crops treated with Explorer, leaves were green and in good condition.”
Mr Boucher said he has been able to reduce seed rates from 95,000 seeds/ha to 75,000 seeds/ha as a result of using the biofertiliser and that maize yields were 9.8t/ha in harvest 2018 compared with neighbours’ yields of 9t/ha who were using DAP.