Armed with impressive trial data, representatives of Heliae Agriculture exhibited their proprietary PhycoTerra soil amendment product at the recent Organic Grower Summit in Monterey, CA, promising growers better crop performance and decreased use of water and other inputs if they apply the microalgae solution.
Longtime produce industry operative Doug Ranno, vice president of sales and marketing for Heliae Agriculture, told OPN that PhycoTerra is the result of years of research that began at Arizona State University to utilize microalgae technology to creative innovative products. Researchers have done work with biofuels as well as pharmaceuticals, but the best early results have come from agriculture. The company has secured 14 patents for its processes and products with PhycoTerra being its first star.
Ranno said the product is available for use on both conventional and organic crops, and is a perfect fit for organic fruit and vegetable production. In a nutshell, he said that when added to soil, the microalgae solution improves the quality of the soil microbiome and thus improves plant quality and yield. At the OGS show, representatives were showing soil comparisons in test tubes that clearly illustrated the more substantial nature of soil once treated with the PhycoTerra product. Representatives call it an increase in soil aggregation.
With increased soil aggregation comes greater water retention, which, in turn, improves water utilization and creates a healthier root mass while using less water and other crop inputs. The company’s research data shows that application of PhycoTerra can lead to quicker growth and an earlier crop as well as greater yields. One trial showed increased yield weight on a romaine even while reducing nitrogen input. Another test, specifically with PhycoTerra Organic, showed significant water savings on a variety of different soil types. Growers also reported greater resistance to diseases such as verticillium wilt. Ranno said the disease resistance factor is especially valuable to organic growers who have fewer options in their tool box to fight plant diseases.
A trial on an organic strawberry farm in Santa Maria using the Portola variety resulted in increased yields that returned $4,000-$5,000 in additional sales per acre. The trial report showed that the cost of the PhycoTerra application was $125 to $250 per acre.
Ranno said application rates vary greatly depending upon the application method and the needs of the crop. “It’s not a one size fits all product. On cotton, a grower might use a quart an acre one time during the season. We have strawberry growers that are making an application once a week.” He added that in-line as well as foliar applications are approved for the product, which has the added food safety advantage of being pasteurized.While the company has conducted trials on more than 40 different crops, Ranno listed berries, almonds, cherries and apples as the commodities with the most complete data set. He said there is also quite a bit of data on romaine cauliflower and broccoli. But he also noted that while trials are still ongoing, PhycoTerra has proved its worth and sales are ramping up accordingly.
Ranno is a big proponent of the entire biologicals sector, noting that growers – especially organic growers – are using more and more biologicals as a more natural way of improving their production.
Heliae Agriculture is manufacturing PhycoTerra at its facility in Gilbert, AZ. Ranno said other production facilities will be established as sales increase. The product is available through regular crop input distribution channels.