Soil management is an increasingly important global issue. FAO estimates that 38% of global soil has been degraded, which causes the loss of soil organic matter, salinity, acidity, or alkalinity in the soil, and decline in its fertility. Especially for markets like China, with excessive chemical fertilizers and pesticides applied to intensive cultivation, soil has been largely degraded in the past decades. And now growers demand effective solutions to deal with their specific soil problems. AgroPages has invited Alltech Crop Science, TRADECORP and HUMIKEY that are key players in China and international soil amendment markets, to share their experience in soil improvement and their views on future R&D direction.
What are the soil problems that need to be addressed in the areas where your soil amendments are applied? How can your products improve soil? What are the advantages of these products?
Alltech Crop Science
With the Crop Science Department established in 1994 and operations in many European and American countries, Alltech has expanded its business and registered its products in China since 2015. Currently our products in China are mainly sold to the potato production area in Inner Mongolia, ginseng production area in Changbaishan, Jilin, ginger production area in Weifang, Shandong, and pseudoginseng production area in Wenshan, Yunnan. Continuous cropping is a common practice in these areas. The soil is generally low in organic matter with severe soil-borne diseases. Our products have shown good performance in these areas. For example, Soil-Set is a microbe stimulator that helps optimize soil microbial populations and promote natural nutrient cycle in the soil, leading to improved root growth and stress resistance of crops. Besides, it contains natural enzymatic compounds that can decompose the pathogen cell wall and reduce soil-borne diseases.
The optimum management of the world’s soils is an increasingly important issue. The FAO estimates that 38% of global cropland soil is degraded, resulting in the loss of soil structure and soil organic matter, reduced nutrient availability, salinization etc., and eventually reduced yield. As loss of soil organic matter and soil structure are the two most visible consequences of soil degradation, these should be the focus of soil amendment efforts.
The manufacture of high-quality humic acid products is a key area of focus for TRADECORP. Raw material may impact the quality of the final product for example. TRADECORP uses the best American Leonardite, the original source of humic acids used in agriculture and agricultural research, which remains the most widely studied and understood source of all humic and fulvic (HFA) sources. The products from TRADECORP may boost root growth, increase soil water storage capacity and improve microbial balance in soil.
TRADECORP have more than one of HFA product in portfolio to ensure growers have access to the most appropriate and profitable solution for their unique situation. For example Humistar / Humifirst is a purified HFA product from TRADECORP. Humistar is also used to make various derived products such as Humistar Active that has been optimised to enhance root growth while incorporating Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) to promote early growth. Other products include Turbo Root and Turbo Root WG, which are complete soil amendments and biostimulant solutions that combine TRADECORP HFAs with a complete suite of NPK, EDTA micronutrients and amino acids to ensure a vigorous crop in all circumstances. Further enhanced TRADECORP products that may be used as soil amendments include Powered By Humifirst, a special combination HFA coating for application onto the surface of conventional fertilizer granules during blending. When compared to competitors, PBH has the advantage of minimal losses of the Humic Coating during storage and application. The most recent additions to the TRADECORP portfolio include the Vegecore range which is manufactured from high-quality HFA derived from the sugarbeet industry bringing new types of HFA to the TRADECORP portfolio and also having the advantage of a better mixability profile in tankmix with herbicides and fungicides.
Our soil amendment Asalis is designed for the special circumstances. First, the high demand in the international market. There is a total of 8.09 million hectares of saline-alkali land in India and Pakistan caused by high salt- and mineral-content irrigation water, which harms the growth of crops. Second, the area of salinized soil in China is about 98.7 million ha, and this soil problem can be found in 17 provinces, accounting for more than 10% of the total cultivated land in China. It shows a huge opportunity for this product. So far Asalis has been mainly used in India, Egypt, as well as Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang in China.
Though Asalis is developed to improve saline-alkali soil, the product may also enhance crop resistance to stress, and is thus able to increase crop survival rate and economic output. Specifically on the one hand, by improving the soil environment of the plant root system and the soil structure, and reducing the concentration of free salt ions in soil, Asalis can effectively boost the nutrient absorption and utilization efficiency, and increase the microbial activity in soil. Moreover, Asalis can enhance the crops’ ability to adjust osmotic pressure and resist salinity and alkalinity by stimulating the expression of salinity/alkalinity-resistant genes in crops and enhancing the activity of relevant enzymes from crop metabolic cycle. Asalis, proved by years of field tests, has these advantages: organic and safe to environment, high efficacy, easy to use and cost-effective.
What are the challenges faced by the soil amendment industry? How does your company respond?
Alltech Crop Science
One thing I’d like to point out is that with the extensive use of soil amendments, their effects on environment and produce need to be further studied. For example, polyacrylamide is not toxic, but it can degrade into acrylamide, a toxic substance that would harm the environment.
Most soil amendment solutions today are designed to improve soil’s physical and chemical properties, such as improving soil structure, moderating soil pH. We should work more on microorganisms in soil. Microorganisms are vital for the soil. Our product Soil-Set can activate the beneficial microbes in soil and increase their abundance and diversity.
The humic and fulvic acid (HFA) market is one of the most confusing and least understood aspects of the global agricultural input market. The exact origin of HFA in soil is still not fully understood by scientists, HFA are somehow derived from decaying plant residues although the exact pathway is not understood. This lack of fundamental understanding of the exact source origin of HFA is further compounded by the use of inconsistent language related to HFA by both manufacturers and governments around the world. Globally, almost all government testing and registration protocols focus on quantitative HFA tests to determine “how much” HFA are in the bottle, rather than utilizing qualitative tests that measure and focus on “the quality” of the HFA in the bottle”.
As a consequence, it is natural for both retailers and growers to be confused. In TRADECORP’s view the confusion and lack of consistent and accurate tests to measure the quality of HFA is the biggest challenge for the global soil amendment sector. TRADECORP’s response is twofold: first, to continue to produce and further enhance the efficacy of our high quality HFA humics range, and second, to educate the market about humic and fulvic acids in general.
The soil environment is very complicated. There are different types of salts in saline-alkali soil, and due to the influence of the groundwater level, salt contents in the soil of the same area could also be different. Therefore, improving saline-alkali soil should be conducted in a systemic way, and a lot more work is required.
Our company is committed to improving the rhizosphere and enhancing the crops' stress resistance with its natural and safe products, so as to make the dream of “reaping a good harvest in saline-alkali soil” come true.
What are the development opportunities for soil amendments in China/Globally?
Alltech Crop Science
Soil pollution control is a pressing task for China today. There are mainly two approaches to secure an arable land area of 120 million ha: the reclamation of uncultivated land, and the largescale improvement of medium/low-yield farmland. So, from the perspective of soil amendment demand, the market for these products in China has a great potential to grow.
Besides, I think more importance will be attached to integrated solutions rather than a single product in the course of the sale and promotion of soil amendments, and more attention should be paid to the role of microorganisms in soil improvement in the future, such as their role in the decomposition of residues and nutrient cycle in soil.
Given the high rates of degradation of global agricultural soils and noted benefits of HFA products for crops, in both healthy or degraded soils, the promotion of HFAs in the soil amendment sector is of fundamental importance, both within China, and on a global scale.
The most obvious way to help reduce the loss of soil organic matter is through the application of composts and plant residues to the soil, and this should always be encouraged. Composts are a source of fiber and nutrients for healthy soil microbiota and plant growth, and contain dilute forms of HFA, beneficial for plants and soil structure. Certain quality control factors are important in the manufacture of compost, such as ample heat during the composting process to kill any pathogens, reducing the number of viable weed seeds, and ensuring low sodium and chloride levels in the final compost.
However, the addition of composts alone is not always an economic solution. For example, composts are a bulky material and costly to transport over large distances. As a result most of the compost produced globally is consumed locally, near the site of production. Humic and fulvic acids, however, can be obtained from different sources, concentrated, and this allows humic acids to be transported economically through the agricultural supply chain, to areas where they are needed.
The primary saline-alkali soil in China accounts for 10% of its cultivated land area. With the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the potential saline-alkali soil and secondary saline-alkali soil areas are increasing annually, while per capita cultivated land is decreasing. Hence, the exploitation of salinealkali soil has become an extremely urgent task for China. And the government has been attaching more and more importance to soil improvement over the past few years. These present unprecedented opportunities for companies to develop new materials and products for soil improvement that are safer, and more efficient and convenient to use.
Are there any unknown fields or unsolved problems of soil amendments that you are very interested in? And what is your company’s plan for the next five years?
Alltech Crop Science
Alltech’s largest market is Brazil, where biological fertilizers/ agents and microbial metabolites are often used together. This solution can address a majority of soil-borne diseases, such as the tricky clubroot in China, and can greatly reduce the use of chemical pesticides. However, the uses of microbes and metabolites in combination are rarely adopted in China. I am very interested in this area and would like to do more research on it in 2020.
In the future, we will be committed to the registration of new products and to introducing more Alltech products to China, including soil amendments, crop protection agents, nutritional agents and regulators. In addition, we will proceed with our channel building and seeking partners, so as to make Alltech's products and technologies available for more regions and more crops.
So far, the soil amendments that have been registered by the national agricultural authority mainly include MSG fermentation broth, oyster shell, calcium carbonate and gypsum. There are many other natural, pollution-free soil amendments from Europe, America, Japan and South Korea etc., which can improve the soil aggregate structure while reducing the adverse effects of salinity. Our company will continue to develop safe, organic, efficient and user-friendly soil amendments in the years to come.
Taking into account different salinity types and their special conditions such as water sources and geographical characteristics, HUMIKEY has developed a complete set of soil amendment portfolio with our rich R&D experience. In the future, the region-specific and salinity-specific integrated solutions will be developed.
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This article was initially published in AgroPages 'Annual Review 2019' magazine. Download the PDF version of the magazine to read more articles.