A record final crop from a Psa-V infected and ailing Hort16A orchard in Katikati and consistent production of 12,000 trays per hectare for a Hayward green orchard in Te Puke,are thanks, say growers,to the application of plant health elicitor Agrizest. The product is also credited with helping other Te Puke green orchards consistently achieve more than 12,000 trays per hectare.
Nathan Balasingham of Indigo Limited,who developed Agrizest says it is an elicitor that improves plant health.“Healthy plants are more productive and produce better quality fruit. Agrizest is a scientific product the results of which can be observed, measured and repeated. Unlike other products on the market, Agrizest is designed to work on the biological system as a whole and not on targets such as pests and disease.
Peter Hope, who manages the Katikati orchard, credits Agrizest with revitalising the ailing Hort 16A vines and enabling them to carry a record crop of just under 20,000 trays per hectare, before they were removed. “We made the decision to cut out the vines which were badly infected, rather than try for another crop. The record final crop result means the owner had an income to re-graft to G3.”
Rob Thode of Te Puke has used Agrizest as part of his orchard management for two seasons and says it has helped achieve consistent high yields on his orchards, including those at higher altitude. What is also significant, says Rob, is the results have been achieved early in the season in week 13 with an average fruit size of 33.6 and dry matter of 0.46. Last season Rob achieved a well above average Orchard Gate Return per hectare and he’s forecast to achieve the same this year. “Agrizest is a good product and is an important part of the orchard management mix I use.” Rob doesn’t believe in cutting costs on orchard inputs, but instead says spending a little more to promote plant health can bring dramatic results.
Agrizest has been used for two years on a Te Puke green orchard, owned by Bruce Abrahams, close to where Psa was first discovered. In 2012/2013 Agrizest was used for the first time and across the entire orchard. In a drought year, and without any irrigation, the orchard produced a record yield of 12,047 trays per hectare, fruit count size 33.45 and the TZG payment was $1.67 compared to the industry average of 8170 trays per hectare, fruit count size 35.00 and TZG of $1.52. The orchard gate return was $68,026 per hectare compared to the industry average of $41,418.
“This was the best crop in the history of the orchard in terms of both yield and quality,” says Nathan. A trial was carried out in the same orchard in the 2013/2014 season. One block was left unsprayed as the control block. All other management inputs were the same. Nathan reports the Agrizest treatment delivered a lift in orchard gate returns of $2582 per hectare compared to the control block.
The Agrizest treated block achieved a record 13,394 trays with an average fruit size of 33.8 count. The higher dry matter production per hectare confirms Agrizest treatment can produce high yields of more than 12,000 trays per hectare year-on-year, says Nathan.
Control: Untreated block.
Agrizest treated block
New Zealand bioscientist Nathan Balasingham was nominated for a prestigious 2013 World Technology Award in the individual biotechnology category. The ceremony was held in New York on 15 November 2013.
The Pukekohe scientist was among 25 international nominees for the category, deemed by members of the World Technology Network (spread over 60 countries) to be doing the “most innovative work of the greatest likely long-term significance”.
Mr Balasingham, who holds a number of patents in agricultural and biofood technology, has had a 40-year career as an entrepreneurial scientist and worked extensively for New Zealand’s kiwifruit industry. He invented the iconic fruit tonic Kiwi Crush (drunk by recuperating new mothers around the world) and more recently developed ‘phytogenic elicitors’ called Agrizest and Biozest.
Agrizest is being used by a number of kiwifruit growers in New Zealand and Italy to manage the current Psa (Pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae) pandemic, which has plagued the kiwifruit industry over the past few years.
According to the Agrizest website, Agrizest spray is not a pesticide or a fertiliser but bionutrients that strengthen a plant’s defence and growth systems and enhance its ability to repair damaged cells. This in turn reduces the need for pesticides and chemical fertilisers in intensive farming and horticulture.
Biozest, a spray-on treatment, is used on many New Zealand farms to improve pasture productivity and palatability, improve environmental and soil stress tolerance and increase stock productivity and milk yields and stock quality. The Biozest website claims that the product could increase farm productivity by over $1000 per hectare.
These two products were peer reviewed by the WTN panel. They deemed that the sprays were part of a global portfolio of sustainable revolutionary solutions to improve the agricultural productivity and nutritional value of food, helping to avert world hunger and poverty.
“For the Agrizest and Biozest technology to be peer reviewed and nominated by this global community of people in science and technology is priceless,” says Mr Balasingham.
In his World Technology Summit speech, Mr Balasingham cited a recent United Nations report that states that, globally, 1.4 billion people are dependent on small-holder agriculture. “The report says that supporting those farmers to be more productive is one of the quickest ways to lift people out of poverty and sustainably nourish a growing global population. Large-scale farmers’ productivity also has a big impact on poverty and hunger.”
“For farm productivity to increase, farmers need technology to improve the tolerance of crops, pasture and livestock to pests, disease and also environmental stresses such as frost, drought, nutrient deficiencies and soil salinity.”
Mr Balasingham was also elected as an Associate of the World Technology Network, which gives him direct access to the most innovative scientists and technologists around the world.
Founder and Chairman of the World Technology Network James Clark said in a press release, “The World Technology Awards programme is not only a very inspiring way to identify and honour the most innovative people and organisations in the technology world but it also is a truly disciplined way for the WTN membership to identify those who will formally join them as part of our global community.
“By working to make useful connections among our members, we look forward to assisting Nathan Balasingham in continuing to help create our collective future and change our world.”
The kiwifruit disease, PSA, is never far from kiwifruit growers’ minds but Katikati orchardist Peter Hope believes he already had the best insurance in place before the threat came to light.
For the last five years Mr Hope and wife Barbara, who manage two kiwifruit orchards as well as their own, have used the New Zealand-made biological spray Agrizest to boost vine health Healthy and vigorous vines have paid dividends in greater productivity, Mr Hope says.
On one established, 2ha orchard growing gold kiwifruit he expects production to top 20,000 trays per hectare this year, a harvest that will be at the high end of the industry scale.
A green kiwifruit orchard that’s just producing its fourth crop is carrying an estimated 15,000 trays a hectare.
“You can’t get that sort of production unless they are healthy,” he says. “Once you’ve got healthy plants all the other things start to happen for you.”
Agrizest, a certified organic agricultural compound, strengthens a plant’s defence system and enhances its ability to repair damaged cells. It was just what some of Mr Hope’s vines needed five years ago when a failed experiment with trunk girdling left the plants weak and their leaves small and yellowing.
It was late October when the leaves should have been big, glossy and pouring goodness into the plant that Mr Hope had a chance conversation with Te Puna grower and horticultural consultant Mike Muller about the ailing vines. Mr Muller suggested they might benefit from Agrizest.
“We put it on and within five days the leaves turned from yellow to a nice deep, dark green and the orchard hasn’t looked back since,” Mr Hope says.
The benefits from Agrizest continued in the following and subsequent years. “We had big leaves right at the beginning of the season and it was especially noticeable in the second and third years. The orchard matured really quickly.”
Mr Hope applies Agrizest four times a season, twice before and after flowering, as recommended by Agrizest inventor and marketer, horticultural scientist Nathan Balasingham.
The regime is “well and truly” a good investment at $300 per hectare, Mr Hope says. “We may cut out other things but not Agrizest, especially with PSA around. The healthier your vines are the less likely you are to pick up disease.”
Agrizest works by suppressing bacterial diseases, of which PSA is one, by switching on the plant’s own defence mechanism contained in its essential oils or phenylpropanoids.
The benefits of Agrizest are not just confined to kiwifruit, says Mr Hope who has used it to good effect on avocado trees, young fruit trees, the family vegetable garden and even on Mrs Hope’s roses.
“It had a big effect on the roses. It just makes everything start to hum along. Everything just looks healthy and has good vigor.”
Mr Balasingham, a former DSIR scientist with a Master of Horticultural Science with first class honours in biochemistry and more than 30 years in research and development, said Agrizest enhances the plant’s ability to resist pests and reduce disease damage.
Agrizest is one weapon in growers’ armoury against disease, Mr Balasingham says.
“Agrizest will give growers a payback whether they have PSA in their crop or not. The improved fruit quality and quantity will deliver improved returns. All our independent trials show an increase of more than $5000 per hectare.”
© Scoop Media
Trials conducted during the last three years in Italy and New Zealand show the elicitor Agrizest can reduce the destructive impacts of Psa-V on kiwifruit vines and deliver higher orchard gate returns in the disease environment, says Nathan Balasingham, of Indigo Ltd.
Nathan, who developed Agrizest, says it is not a cure for Psa but assists plant in their response to pests and diseases and environmental stress.
Nathan presented his research results at the Psa 2013 International Conference at Mount Maunganui last November.
The product helps plant to produce phenylpropanoids or essential oils, which are involved in protecting plants from light, ultra violet rays and heat damage, from mechanical, wind or hail damage; and from damage caused by low temperatures and by pests and disease.
(Image - Richard A. Dixon and Nancy L. Paiva 1995 American Society of Plant Physiologists Vol7 pp 1085-1097).
“Phenylpropanoids also enable the plant to convert soil nutrients to a plant-available form. The phenolic hormone salicylic acid interacts with jasmonate and ethylene, and regulates the plants’ repair, growth and defence system.”
A split block trial conducted using Agrizest in a highly susceptible Hort16A gold orchard in the epicentre of the Psa epidemic in New Zealand in 2010/2011, showed the elicitor treatment increased yield by 21 per cent compared to the control.
The market yield was much higher at 28 per cent, because the elicitor treatment also improved fruit quality. The net increase in returns to the orchardist was more than $17,000 per hectare. “The increased yield was not at the expense of fruit size. A higher proportion of the increase in yield was in the larger fruit size grade,” says Nathan.
In a case study, a Katikati Hort 16A orchard which showed Psa disease symptoms in spring 2012 was successfully managed using Agrizest and Biozest with a record 22,000 trays per hectare in the low-diseased block, and 14,000 trays per hectare in the moderately-diseased block. The average fruit size was count 33, higher than in the industry average.
“The high OGR ($210,000/ha) has placed the orchardists in a strong financial position to replace the Hort 16A vines with a more resilient variety,” says Nathan.
Agrizest was also used on a seven hectare Hayward variety orchard in Aprilia, Italy, decreasing the impact of Psa on productivity. The orchard yield increased from 90 tonnes in 2010 to 280 tonnes in 2012.
“Trunk exudates decreased from 80 per cent to 60 per cent and in 2013 – only six vines had exudates and only on the laterals. The plants were under less stress and therefore the orchard saved on the irrigation bill by more than 500 Euros per hectare. The average fruit size also increased.”
Agrizest and Biozest used on newly grafted vines are helping achieve full canopy cover and production quickly.
Nathan says a G3 block, grafted in July, achieved full canopy cover by the following February.
Psa is a stress-induced disease. There is an excessive use of fertiliser in the kiwifruit industry in New Zealand, which has led to physiological diseases and salinity problems.
Applications of excessive potassium fertiliser locks up the magnesium in soil particles and prevents adequate uptake, into the foliage. During the second stage of the growth cycle, the scarce magnesium in mature leaves is trans-located into the young leaves. As a consequence, the older leaves suffer breakdown. High salinity in kiwifruit orchards is also resulting in premature leaf fall.
“Blocks treated with Agrizest are relatively free from leaf breakdown and premature leaf fall and have healthy productive leaves.”
The elicitor has also been shown to help overcome damage caused by spring frosts, helping restore a healthy canopy by blossom time.
It may sound like the fabled silver bullet, but is it? Mr Balasingham has a Master of Horticulture science degree, with first-class honours in biochemistry, from Massey University and 36 years experience as a researcher and in research and development management.
He says he has the trial results to prove many of these claims.
He estimates Agrizest's immediate value to the horticulture industry alone at $100 million in improved orchard returns, and has asked the Government to champion it in a public-private partnership.
His enthusiasm shines out of his face as he explains his invention and answers questions. "Of course you have scepticism," he says. "It's natural. But then you should say: 'I'm going to find out'. Don't dismiss me without doing that."
He urges doubters to test his product for themselves, saying it is made of natural ingredients that will not harm plants. It is seaweed-based with extracts from coconut, aloe, palm oil, lecithin and soy beans.
Growers who have tried Agrizest report positive results.
Some are enthusiastic, while others are more cautious.
In an industry where claims of wonder drugs, fertilisers
and soil treatments proliferate largely unchallenged, they
have learnt not to rush to try something new.
But scientists say they have concerns about the efficacy of Mr Balasingham's field trials and doubt that Agrizest is the panacea he claims it to be, though most would not speak on the record.
Mr Balasingham complains of "standoffishness" and obstruction by industry bodies and Crown-research institutes. He says this attitude is frustrating and partly because of "patch protection" in a competitive funding environment. "I've done all the work I need to prove Agrizest works. They're a bad bunch."
Malaysian-born Mr Balasingham first studied plants' responses to attack at Massey University in the 1970s, but it wasn't till the plant genome was published in 1996 that he was able to see the details of a defensive system that triggered the release of essential oils.
The oils, or metabolites, determine the colours in flowers, fruits, seeds and leaves and the flavour and bouquet in flowers and fruit. They strengthen the defence system against pest, disease and ultraviolet damage, repair damaged cells and help the plants take up nutrients for growth. They also harden cells, so fruit and vegetables are crunchier.
In a search for a way to switch on these oils, Mr Balasingham remembered the teachings of his youth.
His family followed Ayurvada, a Sri Lankan and South Indian culture that had at its heart a basic rule that said don't put on your skin anything that you would not put in your mouth.
"I started to see that the molecules I needed were in the food they talked about - different seaweeds and high- oil-content foods such as coconut.
"I realised I could extract the molecules out of commodity products I could easily lay my hands on, and that wouldn't harm me."
The ingredients are commonly found in the food industry, except one which is used as a cosmetic, and are relatively cheap to buy in bulk overseas and to import. He mixes them in vats in his Pukekohe factory in different strengths. A lighter version is marketed as Nature's Curator for home-garden use.
Agrizest works by tricking plants into thinking they are under attack, he says. They respond by releasing their essential oils. "The result is a plant bursting with health."
Massey University professor of molecular genetics Barry Scott says Mr Balasingham's claims are plausible. "There are active components that may be present in a concoction of chemicals from a natural product. But let's see this written up somewhere so that it can be appropriately peer reviewed and a conclusion drawn about its effectiveness."
Mr Balasingham says Agrizest has been tested in trials on apples, kiwifruit and grapes. The results show a marked increase in tree and vine growth, a lift in fruit production and an enhanced ability to resist pests. A grape trial showed 10 per cent more flavour characteristics.
But he admits the trials have not been published in science or trade journals, except in one case in an insert at his own expense.
"I have done everything I can to show that what I say can be substantiated," he says. This is backed by packhouse data and grower testimony. "The quantum change is so huge that you don't need statistical analysis. It is too obvious."
His work on Agrizest has not been peer reviewed, either. (Update: Agrizest have been peer reviewed by scientists in over 60 countries and Nathan was nominated for the 2013 World Technology Award).
"I am the inventor. I don't have peers," he says. "If I had peers, they would have invented it themselves."
His confidence in the value of Agrizest to the world is unbounded. He ranks it alongside the introduction of dwarf wheat varieties in the middle of the last century, which became known as the green revolution, and says it will lift New Zealand as a trading nation above its low-cost South American rivals.
Despite feeling frustrated at a negative reception by the science community, he has high hopes that Agrizest's potential will be fulfilled.
He took his case to Agriculture Minister David Carter this week, asking him to be bold and initiate a private-public coalition among the agriculture and horticulture industries to take up Agrizest nationwide. He says Mr Carter gave him a good hearing, but made no promises.
Agrizest's environmental abilities, if they can be proven, could be its biggest attraction.
Mr Balasingham says he has trials under way that will show Agrizest- treated pasture allows more efficient digestion in livestock, reduces methane emissions, lifts food-to-energy conversion and strengthens immunity to disease.
He has identified a group of essential oils enhanced by Agrizest that signal root systems to "ooze out" substrates to encourage proliferation of microflora. These microflora fix nitrogen and supply it to plants.
By converting nitrogen and other fertilisers to plant-available form and preventing leaching, farmers will be able to cut fertiliser use.
He is patenting his invention overseas and his vision is to sell the world rights - except for New Zealand - to a multinational company.
This would give New Zealand a head start, while the company developed the international market.
With a $300 billion potential world market - based on using four sprays a year on 1.5 billion hectares of managed cropland - he thinks he will get a high price for his invention.
At the same time, New Zealand should not miss out, if it takes up Agrizest.
"Sure, it will make me wealthy," he says with a grin. "But it will make everyone else wealthy too. Why can't we all be wealthy?"
How does it work in the orchard?
APPLES: Hamilton grower Paul Christey's orchard was used for trials over the past three years and showed a 15 per cent increase in tree growth, particularly among young trees, a five-fold lift in apple production, a 50 to 86 per cent reduction in leaf-curling-midge damage, 82 per cent less mite damage and a marked improvement in colour intensity and fruit size.
He says he cannot understand the science, but is pleased with the result. "It makes the trees do all the things we want them to do. Rather than chucking on nitrogen for growth or potassium for lots of fruit, it seems to stimulate the different pathways within the plant so it gets all those critical process working better." The saving in miticide use was worth it alone.
After cautiously using Agrizest at first, he is now spraying it across "a big chunk" of his orchard, including export crops. The feedback from overseas buyers has been positive about the apples' colour, density and sugar content.
"I wouldn't say it is a panacea for all things evil in the pipfruit industry, but it is a useful tool, and cheap enough," he says.
Pipfruit New Zealand chairman Ian Palmer is also trying Agrizest, but says it is too early to talk about results. He has talked to growers who have used it, however. "It sounds almost too good to be true, but it does work a bit. There are results, so that is encouraging."
Greytown grower Jamie Burns sprayed a row of 90 trees with Agrizest, missing out 10. "There's a huge difference between the two areas. The general tree health looks amazing."
She then used it over all the orchard. "We were sceptical at first. There's a lot of snake oil in this industry. But it's surprisingly good, especially against mites, and it's cost-effective and eco-friendly, too." She believes Agrizest will take off, once word spreads.
KIWIFRUIT: A Te Puke green and gold kiwifruit grower, Rob Bayly, has used Agrizest for three years. He says it has lifted undersized green fruit, improved his pack-out numbers and halved instances of a core disorder in gold kiwifruit. He finds it particularly useful in helping stressed vines. However, he questions Mr Balasingham's claims of a $4000-a-hectare lift in orchard-gate returns, saying that in his experience the rise and fall of returns can be caused by a variety of unspecified factors. He would like to see independent and thorough trials. "But it has its uses," he says. "When you have something that is lacking, that's when it works best."
Tauranga kiwifruit grower Peter Hope says Agrizest saved one gold orchard he was managing. "The vines were very yellow and the leaves were small. We were advised to use Agrizest. Five days later, the plants were nice and green and the orchard was looking really good." He believes Agrizest is responsible for him receiving his first bonus for early fruit in four years.
GRAPES: Mike Lane, of Clive River Vineyard, Hawke's Bay, who grows chardonnay and pinot-noir grapes for Montana, has noticed an improvement in his vine growth. The leaves are shinier and bigger and the grape yields and ripeness are marginally improved. "We're talking about 3 to 4 per cent riper, which is significant, because a 0.1 per cent increase in brix [sugar content] can be worth $5 a tonne."
CITRUS: Gisborne grapefruit, orange, tangelo and mandarin grower Guy Cumming says Agrizest does everything claimed about it. Old grapefruit trees that once produced juicing fruit now have supermarket- quality fresh fruit. His fruit grow with more vigour, their skins are cleaner, they taste better and they have improved colour. "The transformation has been quite remarkable. I'm scared not to use it now," he says.
DAIRY: Opunake farmer Mike Walsh sees Agrizest as a useful tool as he moves gradually towards farming organically. He sprayed a couple of paddocks in June. "Man alive, did I see some results," he exclaims. Growth was up to 30kg of dry matter a day, compared with 10kg to 15kg normally. "The grass just took off. Everything grew, clovers and all. And the cows ate it all, right down and evenly across the paddock - even the urine and dung patches." The cows had been dried off, so a milk- production comparison was not done.
- The Dominion Post
Nathan Balasingham's card reads: "Growers want a silver bullet. There was none in the market. So I invented Agrizest." Shy and retiring he is not.
He believes he has invented a product that boosts the growth, yield, colour and flavour of fruit crops - apples, kiwifruit, citrus and grapes have benefited so far - and of pasture.
He goes further and claims that it reduces pest, disease and environmental stress damage and further still in claiming that it will reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions.
WHEN FARMER Henry Schipper’s vet rung him earlier
this year with a proposal to try a new plant extract
on his pasture, he agreed as there was “nothing to lose”.
On his 107ha Hauraki Plains farm Schipper applied Biozest
to half the property. He says the effect on milk production
was almost instant.
“As soon as the cows go on Biozest treated pasture, the fat
and protein content in milk shot up,” he told Dairy News.
Urine samples from treated and untreated paddocks are
also said to show Biozest reduces urea excretion by 33%.
Schipper, who has trialled Biozest for four months, plans to keep going with it.
“In fact, I will do the whole farm with Biozest this season. My milk production from treated pasture definitely went up. I think it helps the animals utilise grass better.”
Schipper, who milks 300 cows, says 2011-12 was a great season and Biozest further helped push his returns up. In a bad year, he expects Biozest to offset production drop by lifting fat and protein content in milk.
Biozest, a liquid, is mixed with 50-500L of water. Schipper applies about 1L of Biozest per hectare. He says there have been no animal health issues so far. Feed costs are also less as pasture growth is improved.
Biozest is marketed by Indigo Investment, whose managing director Nathan Balasingham describes the product as “a new generation product”.
Biozest is an example of the new science ‘biomimicry’, where nature’s own process is cleverly imitated, he says.
“Biozest is made from plant extracts. It is prepared by a process that preserves the potency of the cell stimulant obtained from plants.
“The Biozest cell stimulant is the same natural stimulant that is present in animal, plant and microbial cells. Used at extremely low rates, it will increase the metabolic behaviour of the microorganisms to high activity levels. Microorganisms treated with a continuous supply of Biozest maintain the maximum metabolic rate.”
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