A handy tool that every farmer interested in nutrient density and maximising production and quality is the refractometer, also known as a brix meter
The refractometer is a precision device used to measure the brix, mineral sugar content of saps and liquids. This measure indicates the levels of proteins and minerals hence this is known in general terms as the nutrient density of the plant. The relevance of this in agriculture is that the farmer can easily measure the mineral sugar level of a crop or product. It is noted that these mineral sugar levels in a plant can and do alter during the course of a day. This can mean that a refractometer is invaluable for farmers wanting to achieve the best quality in crops including hay and silage, fruit and vegetables and even milk and meat. For instance, wine makers use refractometers as a matter of course to determine the optimum picking time of fruit as determined by sugar levels.
The Benefits of using a refractometer to monitor plant nutrient density
- Refractometers can be used to measure the progress of a crop as it grows to maturity. It is said that if the brix can be kept above 12 at all stages of growth of the plant, no pest or disease problems will ensue.
- Delaying the time of harvest can double the quality of produce. For example, hay or silage cut first thing in the morning may only offer a sugar level of 10-12% in the finished product (3-4% in the growing plant). If deferred until the sun triggers higher sugar levels (10-12% in the same plants), the harvest has the potential to increase to 25-28% sugar.
The Benefits of using a refractometer to monitor farm inputs. As well as measuring the sugar in plants, a refractometer can also be used to measure the quality of farm inputs.
- Measuring the mineral sugar level of foliar fertilisers such as kelp and fish, compost and worm teas, can be of benefit when comparing products and predicting effectiveness prior to purchase and application.
- When applying fertiliser, especially liquid fertiliser, a mineral sugar level should be taken before fertiliser application and then an hour after application. If the sugar has increased by clearly 2 percentage points, the fertiliser is likely to be of considerable benefit to the plant. If not, the application of the fertiliser at that particular time in the plants growth stage needs to be reassessed.
A refractometer is also a handy tool when checking your fruit and vegetables. That way the best value eating can be made based on nutrient density rather than appearance!
Inspired by Gerhard Grasser, Agrisolutions P/L