Natural processes help protect plants
PRODUCTS developed by Australasian research could play a vital role in protecting crops during the predicted El Nino event.
According to key researcher and producer of Ectol, John McKay, his company’s low-cost product, Ectol Protect and Grow, utilises plants’ natural protection processes.
“The product can be sprayed across large cropping and horticultural areas, potentially saving the millions of dollars invested in crops often lost in challenging weather events,” he said.
University of South Queensland climatologist Roger Stone is warning that Australia should brace itself for drier conditions as an El Nino weather pattern looks increasingly likely.
Mr McKay said that on the frontline and most at risk are cropping farmers and horticultural growers.
“This Australasian product has now been proven in a number of scientific research projects and is now used on multiple farms, growing a broad variety of crops.
“It has been shown to protect crops against frost, cold shock and heat, improves plant health and crop yields, and will not damage flowers or crops,” Mr McKay said.
Mr McKay was first approached by farmers about 10 years ago after they lost consecutive crops from frost. “They were close to desperate. “These highly experienced, worldleading farmers were looking for low cost protection, but unhappy bankers had eliminated any consideration of funding wind machines, helicopters for spraying, or overhead sprinklers.
“The big question we asked was why can a cabbage survive under snow, but a grape vine, tree crops or even cereal crops struggle to resist a frost?”
This led to investigative research, product development and substantial trials including the input of some ofAustralia’s most esteemed scientists, including Colin Young, Mike Walker and Sally Bound from the University of Tasmania.
“We researched plants that could survive this major frost stress event and determined the biochemicals that afforded the plant protection,” Mr McKay said.
“These naturally occurring plant products are present in all photosynthesising plants, but to varying degrees, so the challenge was to extract these biochemicals from high producers and apply them to the more frost sensitive plants.”
Plants with high concentrations of these protective biochemicals include seaweeds and specialised terrestrial plants.
The range of the biochemicals includes plant growth promotants, enzymes, complex sugars and minerals.
These materials either directly protect plant cells or stimulate the plant to produce its own protective materials.
“Ectol Protect and Grow ‘has incorporated these diverse materials, and conducted many crop trials to determine the application protocols, and is now being regularly used for frost and heat stress in tree crops, vines, cereal crops, field crops, pasture and fodder crops,” Mr McKay said.
“Ectol should be considered a low-cost tool in frost control and stress minimisation, which has saved many millions of dollars of farmers’ income in Australia and New Zealand in all but the most extreme weather events.
“As a Victorian farmer explained, he had invested half a million dollars into his crop, so spending a few dollars on protection made sense,” he said.
PROVEN PROTECTION: Merrigum grower Jimmy Singh talks frost protection with Ectol’s Russel Speed.