Biostimulant success is all about timing

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Know your active ingredients and get the timing right, is the message for cereal growers, as interest in biostimulants continues to increase.

Although tempting to apply in a curative manner, biostimulants are most effective when used as plant health promoters, as part of a wider nutritional and plant protection programme.

Head of Technical Services for UPL UK & Ireland, Don Pendergrast, said: “There are some key considerations that contribute to the success of biostimulants – understanding the active ingredients, understanding what they do, and understanding when they work.

“The modes of action are different, so therefore, the outcomes can be different. Just like conventional chemistry, a planned programme will always yield the best results because products need to be used when they will have maximum impact.”

Among the many types of biostimulants currently available, two commonly used on cereal crops are Ascophylum nodusum seaweed extracts also known as oligosaccharides, and amino acids.

Recommended for use early in the programme are oligosaccharides – concentrated complex sugars extracted from seaweed. These sugars stimulate a plant to produce reductases that help with nutrient flow from the soil, and translocation through the plant.

This will result in improving the plant’s ability to access nutrition, as well as its overall health, through a boosted root mass.

Don said: “We know that the key rooting for a plant takes place in the autumn period, so oligosaccharides are most beneficial in an early application, from 2-leaf onwards on winter cereals. This is to help set a plant up to survive the winter, and be ready to accelerate away in the spring by using the enhanced rootzone to access nutrients.

“Not only are the roots improved, but in winter cereals, trials with Rooter® at 1L/ha have shown that oligosaccharides can increase the number of surviving tillers by 1-2 per plant.

“And they are still very effective on spring cereals too, when growth is rapid due to a shortened life-cycle. Trials have demonstrated on average a 5% yield increase when Rooter is applied to spring cereals.”

Whereas oligosaccharides are most effective early in the plant lifecycle, amino acids are more suited to a later position, when a crop may be experiencing stress.

Application is recommended from rapid stem extension through to grain filling, when the plant has a high-energy demand and issues such as water and nutrient stress can become acute, and foliar disease pressure can reduce green area index.

Don added: “Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, as well as providing stress relief and improving cell regulation. Plants need a continuous supply of amino acids to be able to grow.

“Providing ready-made amino acids will short-cut this process because if a plant doesn’t need to create all of its own amino acids, it will be able to better utilise its resources and improve its energy usage.

“They are also effective at maintaining and improving green area index, because amino acid glycine is a specific precursor of chlorophyll, and aids photosynthesis.

“Although amino acids are good at overcoming pinch points of stress, they should still be used proactively not reactively.

“By using a combination of active ingredients, in a programmed manner during the right stages of plant development, the potential of biostimulants to enhance crop performance can be achieved.”

Key Points


  • Use biostimulants as part of a planned programme, not as a reaction to stress
  • Use biostimulants as part of a planned fungicide and nutrition programme, not as a replacement
  • Oligosaccharides should be used to promote good root growth and tiller creation
  • Amino acids should be used at stem elongation through to grain fill, to help maximise photosynthesis and reduce plant stress.


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