Home' Grower : September 2009 Contents The South Australian Grower -- September 2009 1 1
Adrian Spiers has cast an electron microscope over the decades-old organics industry claim that healthier plants are less
susceptible to pests and diseases -- and found it true.
ward off pests
By MATTHEW CAWOOD
THE right nutrients in the
right place on a crop plant
can be as effective as a
fungicide, a New Zealand plant
pathologist told a Riverland
conference last month.
Omnia Primaxa is an
Australian-owned group that is
commercialising NZ research. Its
chief researcher Dr Adrian Spiers
has cast an electron microscope
over the decades-old organics
industry claim that healthier
plants are less susceptible to pests
and diseases -- and found it true.
Although Dr Spiers distances
himself from the organic sector
and unscientific 'snake oil' solu-
tions, he said after studying
plant pathology for 35 years,
and going inside the plant to see
how disease attacks, he has
learned that a plant's best
defences are often its own.
"We've discovered that the
most cost effective way to
increase production is to allow
the plant to use its own
defences," Dr Spiers said.
"It's been proven now that dis-
tressed plants emit chemical sig-
nals that open them up to pests.
"Slugs tend to attack the dis-
tressed lettuces. Healthy plants
give vibrant signals that makes the
insects leave it alone. More robust
plants mean greater productivity."
Dr Spiers has a background in
fungicide research with major
NZ agencies, but he said the
more he learned the more he
realised that nutrients alone can
also stimulate some plant immu-
nity to disease.
"The best of both worlds often
seems to be certain formulations
of nutrients accompanied by a
small amount of fungicide," he
"If it's with the right nutrients,
you often only need a very small
amount of fungicide to make a
Depending on the situation, dif-
ferent nutrients can elicit different
immune responses from the plant.
Dr Spiers said low amounts of
urea can alter the properties of
water, so that its molecular
str ucture changes and it moves
differently through cell mem-
branes. But while it was under-
stood that certain responses
occur, it was often not under-
"You could have an army of
PhD students looking at this,"
Dr Spiers said his research is
focused on identifying commer-
cially-viable 'elicitors' that stim-
ulated a response in the plant,
effectively bridging the gap
between nutrition and fungal
The trick was building formu-
lations that not only stimulate
the plant, but keeping it pro-
ductive while it fought disease.
"When you stimulate the
plant, that costs energy, so you
need to supply nutrients to
make up that energy deficit
while the plant is fighting dis-
ease," Dr Spiers said.
"If you put an elicitor on but
it's costing the plant something
to fight disease, and it can't
replace that energy, it's not
going to produce as much fruit
He said the bottomline is a
more 'holistic' range of prod-
ucts, some which rely on nutri-
ents alone and some which com-
bine nutrients and chemicals,
but all of which rely on activat-
ing the plant's own defences and
minimise the use of chemicals.
Dr Spiers developed products for
Omnia Primaxa and would not
discuss the details of its formula-
tions. But Rob Clarke of Omnia
Specialities, the Australian owner
of the group, said the principle
had been established across about
1000 trials in a $NZ500,000
($A410,000) research project
funded by NZ government
Dr Spiers was in Australia last
month to address the annual
Omnia Primaxa conference in
Details: Omnia Primaxa
Healthy plants give vibrant
Plant's own defences best
'Holistic' products needed
Cucumber cases remain unsolved
A GROWER could be responsible
for the theft of more than $10,000
worth of cucumbers in Adelaide's
north, police say. There have been
12 separate cucumber robberies
during the past three months, the
most recent involving 150 bags
midway through last month.
Chief Inspector Kym Zander says
detectives are working with the
Adelaide Produce Market to try to
solve the case. "We're looking at
the possibility that it may be a
grower that's had a failed crop
and he's substituting through
theft, or it may be you know
somebody that knows cucumbers
are being grown, they're ready for
picking, and they're taking the
cucumbers and then selling at
those weekend markets across
the metro area of Adelaide," he
"It's certainly a unique theft and
the volume is something that
we're having difficulty
establishing where they're going."
Source: ABC News
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