Interview with Jonathan Carr, Managing Director of Amenity Land Services - 17th September 2002
Dave Saltman Good afternoon, welcome to our latest interview session.We would like to welcome the Managing Director of Amenity Land Services, Jonathan Carr to our chat room
Jon Carr Hello Dave and thanks for this opportunity to talk to your members.
Dave Saltman We will be talking about the organic revolution and ALS's Natural Solutions . So, let`s get back to basics - the products involved use Micorrhiza - what are they?
Jon Carr Mycorrhiza translated literally means 'fungus-root'. Specific fungi form a mutually beneficial relationship with plant roots and both plant and fungus gain benefits.
Dave Saltman Are they beneficial and, if so, how?
Jon Carr Mycorrhiza are hugely beneficial to most plants. They extend the reach of the plant roots by a factor of several times. They convert nutrients that the plant cannot access alone. They improve drought resistance. They create a zone of resistance against disease pathogens. They allow a seedling to establish and grow far faster and stronger.
Dave Saltman Are there many different species of Mycorrhiza?
Jon Carr Yes, they run into thousands, but two main groups. Ectomycorrhiza are mostly associated with woody species and arbuscular Mycorrhiza (endomycorrhiza) with herbaceous species such as grass.
Dave Saltman What is the difference between ecto and endo micorrhiza?
Jon Carr Ecto Mycorrhiza attach to the outside of plant roots and are associated with mainly woody species.
Dave Saltman And the endomycorrhiza?
Jon Carr Endo Mycorrhiza (arbuscular Mycorrhiza) are associated with herbaceous species such as grass and go inside the plant root cells
Dave Saltman Do all plants have this symbiosis, and in particular do all grasses work hand in hand with Mycorrhiza?
Jon Carr Most plants do, but not all, like the cabbage for instance. Most grasses benefit from a mycorrhizal relationship but some more than others.
Jon Carr Poa annua for instance will grow well with or without it, but other species such as bents and fescues will benefit greatly with it and struggle without it in the absence of high levels of constant feeding.
Dave Saltman One of our members,Biffo, asks ` How do Mycorrhiza convert nutrients?`
Jon Carr One of the mechanisms they use is that they produce enzymes which break down and unlock nutrients.
Dave Saltman Are they of more benefit in sandy soils and constructions than indigenous soils?
Jon Carr Yes, definitely because artificial constructions and sand based greens invariably have very low populations of Mycorrhiza
Dave Saltman Mycorrhiza are found in abundance naturally. Do we find the right Mycorrhiza in managed ground?
Jon Carr In a natural situation like a meadow or a forest floor they are very abundant. However in artificial or man made situations like a golf green or an urban building site, there is often only a tiny population.
Dave Saltman Is that enough and are they the right type of micro organisms?
Jon Carr This depleted population frequently will not contain enough of the right species.
Dave Saltman What is the basis of a plant and its Mycorrhiza arrangement- is there a mutual gain?
Jon Carr Yes, both gain. The plant gives the fungus carbon / carbohydrates and in exchange it gets back many nutrients that the fungus is able to reach, break down and make available to the plant. Phosphate and nitrogen are examples but the list includes trace elements and water. The reach of the fungal filaments greatly extends that of the plant roots.
Dave Saltman That's interesting, how do Mycorrhiza extend the root system?
Jon Carr The mycorrhizal hyphae grow out beyond the root zone threading past soil particles and other matter.
Dave Saltman Going back a bit, why does managed turf discourage mycorrhizal activity?
Jon Carr Compaction, lack of organic matter, chemical fertilizers, pesticides and mowing all have adverse effects on the mycorrhizal populations. Research shows that in a natural meadow situation, something around 80% of plant roots enjoy a mycorrhizal relationship. In a fairway situation this may be down to around 30% and in a golf green as low as 1%. The more intensively managed and man made the environment, the lower the population.
Dave Saltman Biffo asks `The Mycorrhiza in your products are they native and how many 'right' species are there?`
Jon Carr Our endoRoots product contains eight species of endomycorrhiza, seven of the Glomus species which suit temperate to cold climates. These are found around the world and all suit grasses. Endo Roots is applied in granular form to a surface which is spiked or tined and preferably worked in with top dressing. This makes the spores contact the root zone.
Dave Saltman Is it true that increased Mycorrhiza population can help to discourage Poa annua, and if so why?
Jon Carr Recent research shows that there is a correlation and that mycorrhizal association strengthens bent grasses and other desirable species at the expense of Poa annua. This is probably because these species depend more on a mycorrhizal association than does Poa. Inoculating Mycorrhiza therefore tips the balance of competition power in favour of the beneficial species at the expense of Poa.
Dave Saltman What do you mean by inoculation? It's a term that is used quite frequently.
Jon Carr The process of spores contacting the roots is 'inoculation'.
Dave Saltman And what are depletion zones?
Jon Carr The zone immediately surrounding a plant root that is rapidly depleted of nutrients. The extended reach of the mycorrizal network enables roots to access nutrients far beyond this zone, but only provided the mycorrhiza are present!
Dave Saltman Why do organic products cost more to buy?
Jon Carr Organic products cost more, but give far more benefit than chemical fertilisers. A 12-0-8 conventional gives 20% N & K and 80% worthless carrier. Its organic equivalent gives the same N&K but the 80% in mostly made up of materials of great value to the soil and soil micro-organisms. This may include kelp, carbohydrates, humus and materials from a multitude of animal and vegetable organic sources.
Dave Saltman Do you see the retail price becoming more competitive in the future?
Jon Carr Organic products may also include selected tricoderma fungi, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and selected fertile soil bacteria. All of this costs, but the benefits are huge. In time, as these types of products are produced in greater volume, costs will come down for sure.
Dave Saltman Weight for weight do organic products provide good value for money?
Jon Carr I would argue that they do, taking into account the reduced incidence of disease (therefore fungicides) and the generally improved strength of the sward, which reduces renovation work.
Dave Saltman If the incidence for disease can be reduced using an organic program, surely cost would at least balance?
Jon Carr We feel that it does, particularly where users are experiencing high levels of disease due to intensive use of chemical fertilisers followed by regular fungicides which creates its own cycle of disease, and quite a lot of users agree with this assessment!
Dave Saltman If cost is balanced, do the other benefits to the soil and plant then out weigh traditional inorganic programs?
Jon Carr There are other benefits environmentally in that organic products are low in salt content. Apart from eliminating the risk of scorch damage, low salt content and a slow release of nutrients at a level that matches the seasonal demand of plants (driven by seasonal microbial activity) means that there is less leaching of nutrients into the environment. However, I must add that there is still a place for some conventional fertilisers within a mostly organic programme and very occasionally fungicides. Long term we are sure that the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers will decline due to tighter environmental controls and cost of registration.
Dave Saltman There must be downsides to Mycorrhiza fungal activity?
Jon Carr To maintain activity a source of carbon such as kelp is very helpful or the Mycorrhiza will not work well. In winter they will slow down.
Dave Saltman What about waterlogged areas - will the organisms be of benefit?
Jon Carr Waterlogging will create anaerobic conditions that do not suit any of the beneficial micro-organisms. Drainage and aeration are always important. In the opposite case, drought, Mycorrhiza is great. lt improves drought resistance and can mean the need for less irrigation.
Dave Saltman Now that is an important point but if you don't mind, I'd like to move on. We know that ALS have been involved for many years on what you call 'Natural Solutions' systems. What's it all about?
Jon Carr We first got involved in the early 90's when we met a Belgian company, DCM who, having specialized in total soil sterilisation, recognised that sterile soil is both infertile and actually encourages disease. They set about reintroducing organic matter and selected beneficial microorganisms with dramatic improvements to plant growth and health. Our interest developed from there.
Dave Saltman Why do you see the need for 'Natural Solutions' ?
Jon Carr We recognise very real benefits in turf and plant quality, without disease problems or with greatly reduced disease. With so many pesticides going off the market and a demand for more environmentally friendly solutions it is a direction we must all move in.
Dave Saltman If that's the case what do you see as wrong with traditional systems?
Jon Carr The continuous application of traditional (chemical) fertilisers and fungicides creates a cycle of dependency like a drug habit. Along with other problems, like sand construction and compaction it creates a semi-sterile soil, which is infertile and prone to disease. Fungicides treat symptoms rather than the causes of disease.
Dave Saltman You're not wrong, sometimes as a Groundsman I've felt that I have been going round in circles. Is there no place for traditional fertiliser or fungicides in your systems?
Jon Carr Yes there is! In winter or early spring, organic products won't respond like IBDU nitrogen or a 'turf tonic', so these are still needed. When disease is already rampant, a fungicide is still needed. Natural Solutions is about preventing disease getting the upper hand rather than treating an existing problem.
Dave Saltman Pathogens are present in the soil, so what your saying is that by hardening the plant naturally you improve its immune system.
Jon Carr Yes, that's right, but you also create a zone of resistance in the soil by filling it with competing organisms.
Dave Saltman What are the key essentials therefore in Natural Solutions?
Jon Carr Introducing organic matter and humus from a wide range of animal and vegetable sources, introducing beneficial microorganisms such as Mycorrhiza, trichoderma fungi, and a variety of fertile soil bacteria. Finally, aeration and decompaction is vital for a living soil.
Dave Saltman Bio organic products are expensive as we discussed earlier, but you feel that a bag of Natural Solutions is far more cost effective?
Jon Carr As I said, a traditional 12-0-8 fertiliser gives only 20% nutrient as N & P and 80% is worthless filler. It is also high in salts, which can cause scorch and does raise the salinity of the soil and pH causing problems. Our equivalent is mostly organic which means that the 80% is made up of kelp, carbohydrates, amino acids, humus, vitamins, trace elements and other things beneficial to the soil, to soil microflora and ultimately additional plant food. You therefore get many times the nutrient factor plus an extended release. You also save on fungicide use and wetters.
Dave Saltman Why is salinity a factor?
Jon Carr The high salt levels in traditional fertilisers bind strongly onto the soil and lock up water that would otherwise benefit plants. The organic products we use are very low in salts and some of the bacteria we introduce actually disassociate salts already there, cleaning up the soil and improving soil structure. This improves drought resistance.
Dave Saltman What about disease reduction?
Jon Carr Disease pathogens are always present but if you can increase the balance of good over evil, they will not be a problem. We do this by introducing and feeding a strong, diverse microflora into the soil, which competes for space and nutrients with disease pathogens and creates healthy plants, less disease prone, because they are less stressed.
Dave Saltman Lee asks,` If 80% of an inorganic fertiliser bag is a useless filler why is it included?`
Jon Carr Chemical fertilisers need a carrier such as clay, grit, etc, to which the active ingredients are attached. Slow release fertilisers have polymer coatings which are not nutrients.
Dave Saltman 80% is a huge waste that's 20Kgs of back ache!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dave Saltman Moving on - what are the benefits of Natural Solutions?
Jon Carr Several varieties of naturally occurring endo-mycorrhiza fungi, trichoderma fungi and a wide variety of fertile soil bacteria. The organic inputs we select also act as food sources or catalysts for these organisms. Apart from the disease inhibition aspect, these organisms also convert and make available macro and micronutrients which are often 'locked up', as Phosphate often is for instance.
Dave Saltman Over the last ten years what lessons would you say you've learned ?
Jon Carr We never stop learning and don't know it all! Ten years experience has taught us that there is still a need for some conventional fertilisers, particularly in the early spring or winter periods. Just like using fungicides, it pays to vary the programme inputs as pathogens can adapt and acquire resistance. Aeration and decompaction are key to success as most microflora is aerobic. Liquid inoculants alone are not enough for reliable results! The answer lies in the soil!
Dave Saltman With EU directives, many of the chemical products that we know and love are going to disappear - so do you see a big future for Natural Solutions?
Jon Carr Yes, for sure. Over 600 compounds are being lost over the next two years. New solutions are needed and these lead the way.
Dave Saltman Better working with nature than against?
Jon Carr That's right, Dave and we still have a lot to learn about nature's solutions!
Dave Saltman Well, I would very much like to thank you Jonathan for your time and effort- nearly two hours worth - I hope that we haven't bored the pants off everybody. And a thank you to all our members who have joined us this afternoon.
Jon Carr Good night Dave, mine's a pint!
Dave Saltman Goodbye