Research project Sustainable cultivation in container and open field using materials of local origin with enhanced microbial life and ready for use growers of ornamental plants
Main research question
In the horticultural sector, the almost exclusive use of peat as a growing substrate is receiving more and more critical attention from society as this is a fossil-based raw material. In addition, for the cultivation of ornamentals in open field, mainly farm manure is used; a carbon source and soil improver with a narrow base. Growers of ornamentals are also now required to adapt crop protection schemes, with implementation of IPM (integrated pest management), such as the use of commercially available micro-organisms. This four-year BI-O-PTIMAL@WORK project aims at developing an integrated route to enable growers of ornamentals to deliver high-quality products that are cultivated in a more environmentally-friendly and low-residue way. We focus on the replacement of peat and manure by more sustainable products, making better use of available beneficial micro-organisms. To achieve this goal, intensive open collaboration is set up throughout the value chain.
Cooperation is a "must" because soil improvers and peat substitutes must be tailored to the needs of the culture system, both in terms of the product itself as well as product information. We interview growers to learn about their experiences with micro-organisms (their "tacit" knowledge) and share this information as feedback to the producers of new substrates. We are committed to a total approach, which covers aspects of substrate quality, soil quality and nutrient efficiency, biocontrol and cultivation methods. Finally, we examine whether managment residues and compost can increase the efficiency of commercially available microorganisms by acting as a colonization environment.
In previous projects we have demonstrated that compost and management residues can be good peat substitutes in container cultivation, and good soil improvers in outdoor open-field applications. The potential of a specific microbiology that enhances plant growth and increases disease resistance has also been explored before. The logical step in this project is to achieve a demonstrable sustainability in cultivation practice through an optimized microbiology of the cultivation substrate or soil, in which the peat has been replaced by local and sustainable compost and locally available green management residues (e.g. sod from heathlands). This will lead to a reduction of the use of plant protection products and of nutrient losses. By proactively responding to the increasingly stringent sustainability requirements, the project contributes to the development of high-quality floricultural Flemish products that stand strong in the international market. Costs due to diseases, ineffective treatments and excessive pesticide or fertilizer use may be reduced, which would generate economic added value. We also provide training on optimized cultivation and fertilization methods via the 'Bio-optimal Telen network', an innovative advice service in the area of peat substitutes, biocontrol products and optimized fertilization recommendations.