Competencies | Career

Kim Karotki

Ammo­nia reduc­tion for impro­ved growth of orga­nic basil

One of our ‘Deutsch­land­sti­pen­di­um’ scho­l­ar­s­hip hol­ders wins Green Challenge

Impro­ving the growth of orga­nic basil ‑ spe­ci­fi­cal­ly, by redu­cing the con­cen­tra­ti­on of ammo­nia in orga­nic fer­ti­li­sa­ti­on ‑ was the focus of a Master’s the­sis by Chris­ti­an Fre­richs. Fre­richs, who stu­di­ed agri­busi­ness and food indus­try manage­ment at Osna­brück Uni­ver­si­ty of App­lied Sci­ence and was one of our ‘Deutsch­land­sti­pen­di­um’ scho­l­ar­s­hip hol­ders, exp­lains the signi­fi­can­ce of ammo­nia in gro­wing orga­nic basil. Joi­ning him for our inter­view is his men­tor Eck­hard Schlü­ter, one of Klasmann-Deilmann’s pro­duct advi­sers who spe­cia­li­ses in substrates for orga­nic cultivation.

You won first pri­ze for your pro­ject in the Green Chal­len­ge. How did that feel?

Chris­ti­an Fre­richs: It’s a gre­at honour for me to have won the first pri­ze at an aca­de­mic con­fe­rence. The best thing about it for me was that I am now known in hor­ti­cul­tu­ral-rese­arch cir­cles, which means net­wor­king opportunities.

What did you find out in your expe­ri­ments with orga­nic basil?

Chris­ti­an Fre­richs: This rese­arch show­ed that pot­ted basil is a crop which is sen­si­ti­ve not only to ammo­ni­um but also to ammo­nia. In orga­nic cul­ti­va­ti­on, it’s necessa­ry to fer­ti­li­se with nitro­gen ‑ a cru­cial nut­ri­tio­nal ele­ment ‑ in orga­nic form. Howe­ver, orga­nic nitro­gen can’t be taken up direct­ly by the roots but is con­ver­ted into ammo­ni­um sub­se­quent to fer­ti­li­sa­ti­on, and con­ver­ted into nitra­te only after several days or weeks have elap­sed. As ammo­ni­um levels build up, the pH of the gro­wing medi­um fre­quent­ly rises, which may lead to incre­a­sed release of gas­eous ammonia.

Chris­ti­an Fre­richs bei der Ammo­ni­ak-Mes­sung – die­ses von ihm ent­wi­ckel­te Mess­ver­fah­ren ermög­licht, Ammo­ni­ak direkt im Pflan­zen­be­stand zu erfassen.

In the ‘real world’, how can a plant nur­s­e­ry put your fin­dings into practice?

Chris­ti­an Fre­richs: My fin­dings can be trans­la­ted into spe­ci­fic mea­su­res in terms of the natu­re and level of orga­nic fer­ti­li­sa­ti­on and how a sub­stra­te should be put tog­e­ther. I was also able to sub­stan­tia­te the posi­ti­ve influ­ence of high-qua­li­ty green compost.

Eck­hard Schlü­ter: Hypo­the­ses had alrea­dy been for­med on cer­tain aspects of this topic, and we have explo­red the­se pro­po­si­ti­ons in the past. Thanks to Chris­ti­an Fre­richs’ pain­sta­king and sys­te­ma­tic rese­arch, we now have sci­en­ti­fi­cal­ly sup­por­ted facts to enhan­ce our advi­so­ry ser­vices and pro­duct deve­lo­p­ment acti­vi­ties in the orga­nic cul­ti­va­ti­on of pot­ted herbs.

Why did you sett­le on this topic?

Chris­ti­an Fre­richs: I had alrea­dy inves­ti­ga­ted the ammo­ni­um sen­si­ti­vi­ty of pot­ted basil in my Bachelor’s the­sis. Fol­lowing on from this, I then wan­ted to find out the extent to which ammo­nia ‑ a dif­fe­rent sub­s­tance, which is also released after orga­nic fer­ti­li­sa­ti­on ‑ is cau­sal for lower yiel­ds and crop dama­ge. A par­ti­cu­lar chal­len­ge in my Master’s pro­ject was mea­su­ring the ammo­nia. This is a gas­eous com­pound for which an estab­lis­hed mea­su­re­ment tech­ni­que is not yet avail­ab­le. I the­re­fo­re had to deve­lop a metro­lo­gi­cal sys­tem for my own use. Thanks to finan­cial sup­port from Klasmann-Deilmann, I was inde­ed able to put my ide­as into prac­ti­ce. The com­pa­ny pro­vi­ded me with both the equip­ment I nee­ded for this sys­tem, and the substrates and fer­ti­li­sers that I used in the fer­ti­li­sa­ti­on experiments.

Eck­hard Schlü­ter: Orga­nic-gra­de basil is by far the most important of all pot­ted-herb crops. So we have a long track record of joi­ning for­ces with Osna­brück Uni­ver­si­ty of App­lied Sci­ence to explo­re issu­es rela­ting to its cul­ti­va­ti­on ‑ invol­ving fer­ti­li­sa­ti­on, substrates and scia­rid infe­sta­ti­on. And, in some respects, Chris­ti­an Fre­richs’ rese­arch ‑ both his Bachelor’s and his Master’s ‑ builds on this groundwork.

How did the con­ta­ct with Klasmann-Deilmann come about with your scho­l­ar­s­hip under the ‘Deutsch­land­sti­pen­di­um’ scheme?

Chris­ti­an Fre­richs: This scho­l­ar­s­hip fun­ded by Klasmann-Deilmann has enab­led me to place my stu­dies on a finan­cial­ly sound foo­ting. Con­ver­se­ly, I hope the fin­dings obtai­ned from my Bachelor’s and Master’s rese­arch will bene­fit the com­pa­ny as well. Even when the scho­l­ar­s­hip peri­od was over, I remai­ned in clo­se con­ta­ct with Mr Schlü­ter, who lent me his exper­ti­se with the experiments.

Eck­hard Schlü­ter: I was deligh­ted to be able to moni­tor the pro­gress of the­se tri­als. A dis­tinc­ti­ve fea­ture of Chris­ti­an Fre­richs’ work was its strong real-world app­li­ca­ti­on: it sci­en­ti­fi­cal­ly inves­ti­ga­ted spe­ci­fic ques­ti­ons ari­sing from hor­ti­cul­tu­ral pro­duc­tion. A par­ti­cu­lar prio­ri­ty for me was that this prac­ti­cal focus be incor­po­ra­ted into the expe­ri­men­tal design and into the dis­cus­sion of the results.

What are your plans for the future?

Chris­ti­an Fre­richs: I com­ple­ted my Master’s degree on 6 Octo­ber 2017, sin­ce when I have been working at the Bor­ken district office of the North Rhi­ne-West­pha­lia Cham­ber of Agri­cul­tu­re. Here I’m respon­si­ble for a pro­ject on the reduc­tion of nitra­te leaching from land used for gro­wing vege­ta­bles. The focus is on spi­n­ach cul­ti­va­ti­on. For me, this pro­ject is a way of deve­lo­ping my know­ledge and skills fur­ther ‑ whe­re­as, over the last three years, I was loo­king at the nitro­gen balan­ce in substrates, in this new rese­arch the empha­sis is on the nitro­gen balan­ce in soil. My aim is, once the pro­ject is pro­per­ly up and run­ning, to publish a doc­to­ral the­sis on this topic as well.

Eck­hard Schlü­ter: Of cour­se, it makes us proud that our sup­port has hel­ped launch a high­ly pro­mi­sing rese­arch care­er. We‘re sure that, as in his pre­vious work, Chris­ti­an Fre­richs will approach his new pro­ject with gre­at pas­si­on and sci­en­ti­fic rigo­ur, and wish him all the very best in his future endeavours.

Thank you for tal­king to us, and the best of suc­cess for the future!

Click here to watch Chris­ti­an Frerich’s 

&”>his video for Green Challenge.