Optimizing Monitoring and Biostimulant Practices for Sustainability in Orchards Contaminated by Herbicide Drift

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $24,974.00
Projected End Date: 06/01/2025
Host Institution Award ID: G347-22-W9210
Grant Recipient: JAL Farms
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Mary Lucero
JAL Farms

Information Products


  • Fruits: apples


  • Crop Production: biological inoculants
  • Education and Training: decision support system
  • Soil Management: soil microbiology

    Proposal summary:

         This project aims to develop assessment protocols that guide biostimulant use practices to improve crop and soil health or remediate crops  damaged by herbicide drift. Experiments will be conducted on a seedling fruit orchard that was contaminated by drift in 2021.

    Questions to be answered by investigation include: 

    • How closely do rapid and affordable, site-based assessments of leaf color patterns, microscopically detected bacterial:fungal ratios and changes in refractometer based Brix readings correlate with laboratory assessments of plant, soil, or compost nutritional status and microbial diversity?
    • Can biostimulant additions (including bioactive composts) improve plant and soil function, as measured by seedling germination bioassays and substrate induced respiration (SIR), in herbicide-treated plants and soils?
    • How long will herbicide contamination and detectable plant symptoms persist in plants and soils following biostimulant treatments?

         Results will provide farmers, gardeners, and crop advisors with empirical data demonstrating use of biostimulants for improving plant and soil health in a seedling fruit orchard recovering from herbicide damage due to drift. 

         More broadly, the project will demonstrate the effectiveness of popular on-site and laboratory assessments for guiding decisions that effectively address routine or triage-based plant and soil health demands.   

         Findings will be disseminated in underserved rural, urban, and indigenous communities through a combination of podcasting and personal communication with growers at farmer's markets, community meetings, and presentations to nonprofit organizations that support grower education. 

    Project objectives from proposal:


    • Evaluate utility of site-based and laboratory assessments of plant and soil biological health in fruit orchards for distinguishing between healthy (ie: nutritionally complete and biologically functional) and less healthy soils, leaves, and composts.
    • Evaluate effectiveness of biostimulants (compost, compost teas, and fulvic acid for improving detectable plant and soil health responses. 
    • Evaluate plant and soil responses to various biostimulant treatments in the presence of herbicides.


    • Present 20 podcast episodes that collectively:
      • describe effective visual, site-based, and laboratory monitoring techniques that support sustainable use of composts and other biostimulants. biological practices.
      • illustrate mitigation strategies that can reduce losses associated with herbicide drift or other factors that damage plant and soil health.
      • help growers, crop advisors, and general audiences gain appreciation for biological approaches to crop production. 
    • Help growers in underserved rural, urban, and indigenous communities optimize use of composts and affordable, on-site testing strategies to increase local, sustainable food production. 
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.