Aarthi Janakiraman, Research Manager, Chemicals and Advanced Materials at TechVision, Frost & Sullivan, ponders if biostimulants are the way ahead to increase the yield and productivity of the tomato crop
The tomato is one of the widely cultivated vegetables across the globe, next only to the potato. Its use in the dietary patterns of various countries and as processed and preserved foods is unparalleled. Processed tomatoes rank amongst the top 10 exported commodities worldwide. Considering its importance in the import-export scenario and its status as one of the key crops, utmost care is taken during its cultivation to ensure optimal yield and productivity. Stakeholders focus on ensuring good nutrient management that is deemed imperative for optimal growth, health, and yield along with integrated pest management techniques.
Various technologies are deployed and products used to ensure good availability of nutrients to facilitate good crop yield. Many products are used for agriculturists for providing nutrition to the soil and tomato crop. Considering the importance of the tomato as a crop, approaches that integrate practices to boost crop’s tolerance to both biotic and abiotic stresses, improve nutrient availability and increase its immune response towards pests, diseases, etc. are key to obtain a viable yield and ensure high productivity.
Across the globe, various factors result in reduced yield, shortened shelf life, keeping quality and nutrient profile in the tomato crop. Various compounds are used to overcome these challenges. Biostimulants are gaining interest as a way to ensure nutrient efficiency, stimulate plant growth and, thereby, improving yield and productivity. Many research studies have established the potential of biostimulants in improving crop yield. Apart from various research institutes, stakeholders such as Promisol S.A. have established a positive effect on the use of bio-stimulants to improve crop yield.
Biostimulants: An introduction
Biostimulants consist of a wide range of mineral, botanical or microbial substances or materials that can stimulate the natural processes in plants, improve resistance towards biotic and abiotic stress factors, and improve overall crop health. While various agricultural inputs are claimed as “biostimulants”, generally, organic compounds such as peptides, amino acids, polysaccharides, seaweeds, humic acids and phytohormones that are immediately available to be absorbed by the plant are considered as biostimulants. Amongst these, widely commercialised biostimulants include humic substances, amino acids (and hydrolysed proteins), microbes and seaweed extracts. The use of naturally derived and bio-based components make them suitable for organic farming; it also potentially reduces the dependence on chemical fertilisers. Another key advantage is their ability to stimulate the natural processes of the crop and improve its resistance towards pests, tolerance towards biotic & abiotic stresses and nutrient profile.
A research study by Boominathan et al has established the positive influence of biostimulants and even plant growth regulators (PGR) on both the physiological and biochemical traits in the tomato crop. The study showcased an improvement in chlorophyll activity, soluble protein, nitrate reductase activity, shoot length and root length using biostimulants. Another piece of research by Rigano et al established the potential of plant-based biostimulants to improve the fruit quality and nutrient profile of tomato plants. The Department of Plant Pathology and Nematolody from the University of Idaho has also conducted various research trials to evaluate the effect of biostimulants on the crop health and yield of the tomato crop.
Despite the increasing number of research studies that establish the advantages of biostimulants in improving the yield of the tomato crop, the adoption of these compounds is still in emerging stages. There is a definite need for further research to increase the commercial adoption for biostimulants. Some of the key research focus areas that can help in achieving the same includes:
Consolidation of plant responses
Consolidation of physiological, biochemical, and metabolic changes that are potentially induced in the tomato crop because of biostimulants can help in the selection and characterisation of the biostimulants and linking the response to effects in tomato crops.
Standard production processes
Considering a wide availability range of biostimulants, standard production processes will help in ensuring the chemical and biological responses in crops upon usage. Standardisation is to be implemented not only in the manufacturing process, but across the production cycle, starting from the identification and selection of raw materials, extraction processes, and treatment protocols to manufacture. Tracking of the effect of variants such as temperature, pH, pressure, etc. can help in mapping the most apt biostimulant for use in the tomato crop.
Composition, timing, dosage and effect
Most of the biostimulants contain extracts and fermented products of various natural compounds and organic substances; this makes identification of exact composition a difficult task. However, the mapping of exact composition can help in predicting effects while making them easier to mimic for future use. As biostimulants contain various organic and active compounds, it is highly likely that they are effective at a specific dosage on certain time intervals. Tracking of these factors can also improve yield and help in establishing the efficacy of biostimulants.
In conclusion, biostimulants can be potential tools to improve the yield and quality of the tomato crop in a more sustainable and eco-friendly way than the widely used commercial fertilisers. They can reduce the need for agricultural inputs and help in improving the crop’s tolerance to stresses. Biostimulants’ ability to improve nutrient efficiency in both controlled and open environments has been studied. More wide-scale efficacy trials and scientific documentation can help in establishing its impact on improving the quality of the tomato crop.
I would like to thank the TechVision Group at Frost & Sullivan who helped in providing insights for this article.
- Rigano et al, The Use of a Plant-Based Biostimulant Improves Plant Performances and Fruit Quality in Tomato Plants Grown at Elevated Temperatures, Department of Agricultural Sciences, University of Naples Federico II, Portici, 80055 Naples, Italy; Agronomy 2020, 10, 363.
- Boominathan et al, Influence of Biostimulants and Plant Growth Regulators on Physiological and Biochemical Traits in Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.), Department of Crop Physiology, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore- 641 003, Madras Agric. J., 105 (4-6): 225-228, June 2018.
- Van Oosten, M.J.; Pepe, O.; De Pascale, S.; Silletti, S.; Maggio, A. The role of biostimulants and bioeffectors asalleviators of abiotic stress in crop plants. Chem. Biol. Technol. Agric. 2017.