Monitoring Plant Health

January 30, 2014


Plants can tell us many things if we are willing to observe and listen. We are always looking for ways to monitor plant health and nutritional integrity in the field. When we are able to monitor nutritional integrity and correlate balanced attrition with disease and insect resistance, we have a solid basis for preventing potential crop challenges by maintaining balanced plant nutrition throughout the growing season.


We have used a variety of tools to monitor plant health in the field. Each has it own distinct benefits.

Visual monitoring is of course the foundational first step. Once we learn to read the visual cues, we can observe that plants are signaling constantly. Plants have a multitude of expressions. Leaf margin definition, leaf shape, leaf size, stem size, stem flexibility, strength of reproduction, flower and fruit uniformity, calyx size, and other signals all give us indicators of overall plant health.


If we want to evaluate nutritional status early, before the plant begins providing visual cues, we need to use instruments to evaluate what is happening. We have used a variety of tools and parameters to monitor plant sap; refractometer, pH, EC, and nitrate, potassium, and calcium meters to monitor levels of soluble nutrients in the plant sap. These tools gave us valuable insights, but still had limitations.


With the nitrate meter for example, we discovered that when plants become really healthy and begin synthesizing complete proteins efficiently, the nitrate level in plant sap would drop to almost nothing. Yet the plant would have generous levels of nitrogen, only in the form of peptides and proteins which did not read on the instrument.


For all of these reasons, I was quite excited to learn about the results being produced with sap analysis technology pioneered in the Netherlands by NovaCropControl laboratories. Not only were they able to measure the nutrients in plant sap very accurately; they were able to analyze a broad group of twenty-one data points. in addition to all the macro nutrients and standard trace minerals, they are also measuring plant sap pH, EC, sugar content, as well as micro-elements which are not usually measured such as cobalt, molybdenum, silicon, selenium, and others.


We have been sending plant samples for analysis with this technology and have found that we can monitor nutritional integrity much more accurately than with a typical dry matter tissue analysis. In addition we can detect nutrient imbalances as much as three to six weeks earlier than with a tissue analysis, giving us a great opportunity to correct any potential shortfalls well before they have an opportunity to impact plant health or yield.


We are in the process of bringing this technology to North America and are pleased to be hosting a two-day seminar in March where this technology and its capacity for evaluating plant health and nutritional integrity will be thoroughly described. 

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