Using microbes to deal with active production problems shows continued results.
In this article, we look back on a project undertaken with a Queensland fruit (grape) grower who partnered with us to use microbes to fight frost in one of his vineyards. This article was used across both ABC radio and print channels to show just how effect microbes can be in fruit production settings.
Tony Thompson knows the financial pain that frost can cause to grape crops.
Two years ago frost caused devastating damage to his Kurrajong vineyard, between Stanthorpe and the New South Wales border.
"In 2014, instead of 20 tonne of white muscat I got two tonne and it was probably folly to try and pick it," Mr Thompson said.
"You've got to go looking for grapes, rather than the grapes are right there in your face and the labour is almost ridiculous but we just needed some white muscat to be able to put some wine in our cellar door."
The microbes are being sprayed onto Tony Thompson's vineyard near Stanthorpe. Mr Thompson also owns the Flame Hill vineyard at Montville on the Sunshine Coast hinterland and it was there he met Dave Jarrett, from Sustainable Soil Solutions, and agreed to trial a microbial product to fight frost.
"Basically we're looking at frost resistance due a particular microbial species in grapes," Mr Jarrett said.
"Microbes are the most important factor in healthy soils. "By actually spraying the Pseudomonas fluorescens microbe onto the upper levels of the plant, we found a natural frost resistance has occurred."
Dave Jarrett says microbes are the most important factor in healthy soils.
"A lot of the damage caused by frost is actually not the icing or the cold itself; it's actually a bacteria that's living on the plant and that particular bacteria releases a protein.
"The protein is doing damage to the plant at times when the temperature drops significantly and what Pseudomonas fluorescens does is actually goes in and knocks that bad bacteria out.
"This is the third year of trialling the microbe in the Coonawarra area of South Australia and we've identified consecutively in those three years that frost resistance has occurred in grapes."
Mr Jarrett said the trial carried out by Mary Kennedy from Grapevine Consulting in South Australia resulted in a significant increase in productivity.
"It's been huge, we've actually noticed between a 25 and 45 per cent yield increase," he said.
"The grapes were actually protected and not lost due to the frost.
"The trial's been over several different properties and several different areas within those properties so it's been rather significant.
"Pseudomonas fluorescens is a naturally occurring microbe in the soil and we're just touching the surface of what we know of microbes, so it's very experimental."
Buds are beginning to burst from the grape vines with the start of spring. Tony Thompson was keen to experiment with the microbes at his Kurrajong vineyard.
"With the way the emerging climate is we're getting slightly warmer months during winter, we're actually seeing premature bud burst in some early varietals, in particular vigorous young vines," Mr Thompson said.
"And then we get a subsequent frost or two and with those heavier frosts, we get a situation of frosting on the cordon [the section of vine running horizontally above the ground], and a loss of crop.
"That initial frost that kills that initial bud burst will lower your production of grapes by anything up to 90 per cent."
The microbes being trialled on Tony Thompson's vines were bred in a laboratory, but Dave Jarrett said certain species could also be brewed on-farm in an aerated tank to reduce costs.
"If we put the right microbes in and keep the temperature and aeration right, we can breed those different species that we require," Mr Jarrett said.
Frost damage to grapevines is most common in September and October during the early growth phase.He didn't believe the microbes posed a potential health risk to humans.
"We don't believe so but in saying that, as with any type of material, including compost, where there are live organisms you always should take care and use breathing apparatus and gloves.
"The costs of putting microbes out is significantly cheap, compared to traditional, chemical-type bombardment, it works out to be around $50 a hectare.
"Effectively we're finding any crop that is prone to frost could receive some sort of protection by using the microbes."