Like other living things, plants can be stressed too. But unlike animals that can move away from adverse environmental conditions, plants must stay where they are, rooted to the spot. As a result, plants have had to develop mechanisms to cope with stress as much as possible. Unfortunately, this adaptation to stress usually means that something else must be sacrificed.
How plants respond to stress
Generally, plants are considered to be under stress when the environmental conditions around them are not ideal for growth. It is estimated that key agricultural crops may only be producing about 30% of their genetic yield potential due to environmental stress.
Environmental stress can reduce crop productivity directly such as when poor growing conditions like drought and salinity limit water uptake and inhibit cell expansion; or when cold conditions lower the activity of important enzymes that control growth.
But plants that are experiencing stress can also intentionally slow their growth through stress-triggered cell signaling. In this way, plants divert energy and resources away from normal growth processes and towards mitigating the stress. For example, in response to lack of water, plants can reduce stomatal opening in order to conserve water. This in turn, decreases the rate of photosynthesis and slows growth. Plants may also increase the size of certain organs to adapt to stress. For example, under dry conditions, plants can increase root length to search for moisture. In doing this however, they may sacrifice the growth of other important organs linked to yield and quality.
What you can do
Good nutrition is important for overall plant health, but current scientific research is also discovering the usefulness of biostimulants in mitigating plant stress. The European Biostimulant Industry Council describes a plant biostimulant as “a material which contains substance(s) and/or microorganisms whose function when applied to plants or the rhizosphere is to stimulate natural processes to benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, and/or crop quality, independently of its nutrient content.” Last year, our team conducted trials with several biostimulants including plant hormones, fulvic acids and seaweed and generally saw positive results on yield and ROI. With high fertilizer and crop prices along with challenging climatic conditions, biostimulants can be a great addition to a cropping program. Your SynergyAG rep can discuss suitable options for your farming operation.
– Ikenna Mbakwe, PhD, PAg
Head of Research