“Spray-free” is an often cited aspiration as New Zealand begins to adopt regenerative agricultural practices. An important part of the spray-free strategy is to substitute traditional chemicals with bioinoculants – soil microorganisms that promote plant health often by forming a symbiotic relationship that benefits both plant and microorganism. Particularly important in the bioinoculant market are Trichoderma fungi. Lincoln Agritech Limited (LAL) is undertaking research funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). Part of the project is to understand the relationship between plant health, Trichoderma, and bacteria that are found inside the fungi.
Applying bioinculants to replace traditional chemical sprays is not a simple substitution. Beneficial microbes form part of a large, interconnected biological and chemical web. Understanding these relationships is necessary in order to optimise the growth promotion and biocontrol characteristics of these microorganisms. Trichoderma fungi live in symbiosis with plant roots, where they can increase nitrogen use efficency and solubilise phosphate as well as protecting the plant from root diseases. They can also induce systemic resistance, meaning they can prime the plant immune system to respond more quickly and efficiently to pathogen attack of above ground parts.
Trichoderma bioinoculant research is a key focus for the recently expanded Biotechnology Team at LAL. The team comprises seven scientists and technicians, including Drs’ Robert Hill and Johanna Steyaert (formerly of the Bio-Protection Centre at Lincoln University), who have over 50 years combined research experience in Trichoderma for plant disease control and growth promotion. At the team’s disposal for research are 2000+ strains of Trichoderma collected from around New Zealand, including multiple collections curated and held on behalf of mana whenua groups.
All of the Trichoderma strains held at LAL were isolated from inside the roots of plants. This symbiosis, however, goes deeper than just the plant and the Trichoderma fungus, Bacteria live inside Trichoderma and many of these endofungal bacteria also provide plant production benefits. The Biotechnology Team is researching the role these endofungal bacteria play in the growth promotion and biocontrol abilities of Trichoderma and is developing a Trichoderma-nitrogen fixing bacterial hybrid as a means of stably introducing microbial nitrogen fixation to non-leguminous plants.
Bioinoculant capability building and knowledge transfer are key goals for the LAL Biotechnology Team. Internationally, the team provides a consultancy service for a large nursery in Sarawak, Borneo where use of fungicides has been eliminated entirely and plant productivity has greatly increased. As part of the MBIE funded project they have built and gifted a biodiscovery laboratory to an iwi-owned plant production company. Our scientists have collected Trichoderma strains on behalf of the iwi and are training staff in isolating, maintaining, trialling and using these Trichoderma within their plant production systems.
To find out how the Biotechnology Team can provide bioinoculant solutions for your plant production needs, please contact LAL’s Business Development & Marketing Group Manager, Sophie Rebbeck.