When someone is selling you a biological fertilizer, what do you think it’s made of? Some people don’t really understand what that biology reference means but some assume that it refers to feeding bugs in the soil. Often it is hard to comprehend exactly what these biologically-designed fertilizers do. However, they do more than feed biology, they are great for the soil, and they can help a grower’s bottom line by utilizing fertilizer better. When thinking about food for biology in your fertilizer, several food sources come to mind. Cane molasses is well researched and widely accepted as a superior carbon source for feeding biology and promoting soil microorganisms, thus helping plants utilize the resources around them.
There are a great variety of crops and production systems throughout the PNW (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) to experiment with. There are expensive tracts of irrigated production ground, as well as dryland country ranging from 6 inches of annual rainfall to 35 inches within this diverse system. In addition to being one of the largest commodity producers in wheat, Washington State is leading production in specialty crops such as spearmint oil, cherries, apples, pears, asparagus, and near the top in the country for products such as blueberries, potatoes, apricots, and grapes. As for the hops capital of the USA, the global demand for aroma and flavor in beer has pushed Washington State (eastern side) into the #1 spot and producers want to be to the wire first. The Liquid Carbon Based Fertilizer (L-CBF) approach goes beyond the food source for biology and taps into better chemistry for a healthier plant.
QLF Agronomy works with hop growers in the region, and in 2019 tracked the growth of a newly established hop yard, comparing the grower’s standard practice to a carbon-based approach. Quality Liquid Feeds manufactures out of Granger, Washington, and formulates with high-quality QLF cane molasses through their L-CBF line up of carbon-based agronomic blends. A customer wanted to push a late spring planting of a new variety of hops. New boutique varieties for craft beers are driving most of the demand for growers to replace older varieties. This past spring had several challenges and the overall lack of vigor in their newly planted hops provoked the crop production mangers to trial some new ideas and products. L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP (monopotassium phosphate) starter blend was implemented along with Kelpak (seaweed extract from Kelp) in multiple applications. Root drenches, starter bands and several foliar applications were utilized with this combination. As dense hop canopies are highly suspectable to mildews (powdery and downy) as they reach maturity, crop protection spray passes with fungicide also carried the L-CBF + Kelpak formula. With plant health and efficiency in mind, QLF Agronomy manufactures LCBF’s phosphorus fertilizers with MKP. This unique fertilizer in these hops improved plant health and resilience. It is easy to see why there is an EPA registration on MKP (NUTROL label). Also included in UAN 32-0-0 liquid nitrogen applications was a 10% inclusion of L-CBF BOOST 4-0-3-2S. Hops are grown with a drip system in place and have the usual routine applications of liquid fertilizer through the water during the growing season. The differences were obvious and the control group received no BOOST or L-CBF fertilizers. Other than that, they had very similar planting dates, total nutrients applied, watering protocol, and crop protection inputs.
The goal of new plantings of this perennial crop is to begin the first year to return on your initial investment. As you can see from the photos below, the differences were dramatic. These fields were planted from the same lot number of the rootstock. Only a farm road split the fields and results. The hops treated with the QLF Agronomy program were not only able to be harvested in year one, but they were also uniform and consistent. Ultimately the L-CBF treated acres did produce a good harvest. More importantly, the grower was able to supply his customers with a highly desired new hop variety that had limited availability. The field across the road was clearly uneven and inconsistent. It was not able to be harvested and remained in the field until winter when a hand crew removed it at an additional cost to the grower. Those plants are less likely to start off strong next year, as they did not get a BOOST in their first year.