ORONO – Nanocellulose may help increase the yield of wild blueberry plants when used with liquid fertilizer applied to the leaves, according to a new study from the University of Maine.
Nanocellulose, a natural polymer derived from trees and plants that has many desirable properties, is used in research and development for a myriad of applicationssuch as packaging materials, building products, medical supplies, paint, cement, food containers and much more. Previous studies have also shown that nanocellulose can improve the adhesion of leaf-applied fertilizers and pesticides, which are used directly on the leaves; and nanocellulose could facilitate nutrient retention and uptake by plant leaves.
To understand how nanocellulose, particularly in the form of cellulose nanofibrils, could benefit wild blueberries, a UMaine research team led by Rafa Tasnim, Ph.D. candidate in ecology and environmental science, has studied how a mixture of it and foliar fertilizer interacted with plant leaves and, through this interaction, affected crop yield, water use and storage.
The nanocellulose used for the project came from UMaine’s Process Development Center, an on-campus facility that can generate a ton of it per day. They tested it and the fertilizer on leaves of common dwarf wild blueberries, which the researchers say typically make up 90% of the blueberries in a given field, and velvet-leaved dwarf blueberries growing at Blueberry Hill Farm. from UMaine to Jonesboro.
The team found a yield increase in the lowbush blueberries that received the nanocellulose-infused fertilizer, but not significantly. The researchers believe that the increased production results from the nanocellulose reducing the size of the fertilizer nutrient particles, which makes it easier for the blueberry leaves to be absorbed and facilitates increased consumption.
More research needs to be done to determine if increasing the amount of nanocellulose in the fertilizer will result in an even higher yield of common lowbush blueberries, the researchers say. The effects this might have on the yield of lowbush velvetleaf blueberries should also be investigated, they say.
“Although our nanocellulose study is in the preliminary stages, we have observed promising results using it for wild blueberries,” says Tasnim. “Nanocellulose could be one of the sustainable options for wild blueberry production in Maine.”
Other researchers involved in the study included YongJiang Zhang, assistant professor of applied plant physiology; Lu Wang, assistant research professor at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, and Mahesh Parit, a former postdoctoral research associate at the Composites Center, who is now a principal investigator at RiKarbon. They published an article describing their research and its results in the journal Agricultural science and technology.
This research builds on a previous study conducted by Tasnim that identified nanocellulose as a “potentially promising foliar fertilizer adjuvant for wild blueberries.”
The latest study, however, revealed a possible trade-off between yield and water conservation in wild blueberry plants when using nanocellulose-infused foliar fertilizers on the leaves. Velvetleaf lowbush blueberry plants with nanocellulose-infused foliar fertilizer absorbed more water and dehydrated faster, although the same did not happen in common lowbush blueberries, the researchers said.
The trichomes, or hair-like appendages, in the leaves of lowbush velvetleaf blueberries are denser than those of lowbush blueberries, which the researchers say allowed the former to interact more with nanocellulose, and therefore to absorb and use more water. at a faster pace. According to the researchers, faster water absorption could allow faster delivery of nutrients from nanocellulose-infused fertilizers.
“Nanocellulose offers an environmentally friendly approach for growers to improve fertilizer use efficiency and increase yield,” Zhang said. “In addition, we will test the use of nanocellulose to prevent frost damage in late spring, which has become more common in recent years.”
The study was published days before UMaine announced its new Wyman Wild Blueberry Research and Innovation Center, which is being built in the old town. The facility is made possible by a donation from Wyman’s, a 148-year-old Milbridge-based family business, to the University of Maine Foundation.
When the center opens in 2024, Zhang will use it for research into how different genotypes of wild blueberries will respond to global warming to build crop resilience. The facility will also help Zhang evaluate the use of biochar, a processed form of timber harvesting byproduct, to improve soil water-holding capacity, which could ultimately help Maine growers protect against drought.