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History of Kelp for Agriculture Seaweed Extract
History of Kelp for Agriculture Historically, the use of seaweed as a plant growth supplement stems from Roman times. The Irish also documented the use of algae on their crops to improve crop growth and yields. The earliest method of using this natural material was to collect cast kelp from the ocean shores and transport it to nearby fields. It would then be spread and dug into the soil where natural composting processes would break the material down. This composting process converted the organic compounds it contained into forms available for plant nutrition. This practice was limited to areas close to shorelines, restricting the general knowledge of the use and beneficial effect of kelp on plant growth to certain coastal zones. Presently, three manufacturing processes exist to produce concentrated liquid kelp/seaweed products for use in the agricultural and horticultural markets. The first and oldest of the three methods is the Alkaline Digestion or Hydrolysis Method. The second is the Liquid Nitrogen Process, and the third the Mechanical Cell Shearing Method. The first method and the first commercial attempt used the alkaline digestion or hydrolysis method to produce a foliar applied seaweed extract. It was developed by the Norwegians in the late 1950’s using Ascophyllum seaweed. Their process concentrated the nutrient components of kelp and improved its shelf life. This permitted the product to be marketed and transported to agricultural areas far removed from the source of the kelp deposits. The Norwegians collected Ascophyllum off the beaches, placed it in digesting tanks, and then added water and an alkaline chemical in order to digest the kelp into a sludge form. Sometimes they applied heat to reduce the digestion time. On completion of the digestion or hydrolysis, they dehydrated the sludge using more heat. This process yielded a dark brown powder often labeled as “Algifert” in the export market. Unfortunately, Kelp-based, plant growth products derived from alkaline digestion, i.e., the hydrolysis method, are of lower quality and variable effectiveness due to the loss of certain important kelp compounds during processing. As a result, this process is considered the most damaging to the sensitive natural biostimulants found within the cytoplasm of fresh kelp. The French developed the second commercial process for kelp, marketed under the trade name Goe- mar. They used liquid nitrogen to freeze kelp to a rock hard, brittle state allowing the kelp to be stored for extended periods at extremely low temperatures. Next, they continued processing the kelp with high pressure mechanical rollers. The crushing action caused the frozen water within the cell to rupture the cell walls, releasing the cytoplasm from the cells. However, the extremely low temperatures used caused destruction to the growth stimulants present in fresh kelp. This destruction diminishes the effectiveness of the resulting kelp products. In 1979, it was discovered that high levels of biostimulants were present in the cells of fresh kelp, Ecklonia maxima, found off of the west coast of South Africa. These biostimulants were responsible for the Ecklonia maxima kelp plant’s rapid growth rate. Scientists’ from South Africa experimented with these biostimulants and decided to design a new process that could extract the delicate organic biostimulant compounds without damage. The biostimulant compounds became known as Auxin and Cytokinin. The Auxin compound was found to cause increased root development and Cytokinin compound to produce greater flower initiation. Then in 1980, the experiments with the Auxin and Cytokinin compounds extraction process became a patented technology called the “Mechanical Cell-Shear Process”. For this process, scuba divers harvest fresh, crisp Ecklonia maxima kelp off the west coast of Africa. The kelp is thoroughly washed to remove sand grains, sodium salt and other impurities. Then the Ecklonia maxima kelp is mechanically reduced to progressively smaller particle sizes. These very small particles are subjected to mechanical cell shearing to release the cytoplasm and retaining a higher level of Auxin and Cytokinin compounds. The “Mechanical Cell-Shear Process” creates a product of significantly higher levels of active, organic plant biostimulants, auxins and cytokinins compounds. The higher level of the auxins and cytokinins compounds in the product means consistently higher crop yields and a requirement of smaller volumes of product to produce the higher crop yields. The Regen Earth’s kelp products of RE♦Balance-C, RE♦New and RE♦Build contain this kelp product. By contrast, our competitors use the earlier technologies, i.e., hydrolyses or chemical digestion, freezing or dehydration, to extract the biostimulants found within the kelp’s cytoplasm. These older processes destroy the kelp’s complex organic vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, and gels by heat and other harsh processing methods. Consequently, the heat and harsh processing methods reduce the effectiveness of their kelp products. This causes inconsistent crop results and the need to use more quantities of their products to match the same crop yield results as can be regularly obtained with the RE♦Start, RE♦New and RE♦Build products.
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