Advising and Testing for Intensive Agriculture
In intensive agricultural production, intensive horticulture is practiced to grow plants for specialized growing situations. The use of laboratory testing helps in making the best management decisions.
In Intensive Agriculture, crops are grown in non-traditional growing systems such as growing outdoors in a substrate growing medium, often made of peat, coir or wood products. This type of growing can be done without soil fumigation and may be the way many agricultural crops are grown in the future. The floricultural industry transitioned to this type of growing system in the early 1990’s and now there is interest from traditional agriculture, most notably the berry industry at this time. Perry Laboratory has been active in these types of growing systems since the early 1990’s and has adapted many of the techniques learned to the growing systems of today.
Many farmers utilize routine laboratory testing to help track how their fertility levels are reacting to their management practices. Routine laboratory testing gives an indication of whether the growing media acidity/alkalinity is increasing or decreasing. The concentration of soluble salts can help determine whether the irrigation practices are providing sufficient leaching to avoid an excessive accumulation of soluble salts. Routine soil testing helps determine if the fertility levels are satisfactory for the crops being grown. This in turn reveals if the fertilizer program is operating properly. A fertilizer program entails the proper fertilizer materials being used at the correct rate of application in a uniform manner. These areas are addressed in a routine testing program. When plants are in a deficient or excessive growing system, they are often affected, however do not show the symptoms immediately. When the problem is identified early enough, it can be corrected and the symptoms may not show in the plants. Problems can occur from many areas, including the use of wrong fertilizer materials, equipment failure or personnel mistakes.
For intensive agriculture, generally it is best to monitor the fertility and physical properties of the substrate that the plants are grown in. This testing monitors the consistency of the mix components, along with the uniformity of the mixing process. This data becomes the “baseline” levels that the plants will initially grow in. From this point, the routine testing will follow the effects of the cultural management practices to determine if adjustments should be made. This is particularly important for crops that are grown to be ready for sale at a particular period, such as a low availability market time.
Irrigation water testing is also very important for intensive agriculture production. The raw irrigation water may require treatment, such as acidification, in order to provide the best water for irrigating the crops being grown. Testing of the fertilizer solutions used at the nursery determines if the fertilizer materials are correct and being measured accurately and dispensed at the proper rates.
The use of plant tissue analysis determines the actual nutrient levels within the plants and can indicate possible imbalances with nutrients in the media and also the growth activity of the root system of the plants. This information can help in determining if there may be problems in nutrient uptake, unavailability of nutrients or possibly environmental problems.
Guidelines for Tissue Sampling in Various Berry Crops
|Crop||Number of Leaves||Plant Part (leaf)||Time of Year|
|Blueberries||30||Mature new growth||Beginning in Early summer|
|Blackberries||15||Leaves from midshoot current seasons growth flower clusters||Beginning in Early summer|
|Raspberries||15||Most recently matured leaves||Beginning in Early summer|
|Strawberries||10||Leaves from most recently matured||Flower bud start|