Foliar Nickel Fertilizer Nutrition to Enhance Cranberry Yield and Decrease Fungicide Use

Project Overview

Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2022: $199,987.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Joseph Heckman
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Information Products


  • Fruits: berries (cranberries)


  • Crop Production: fertilizers, foliar feeding, nutrient management
  • Pest Management: chemical control, prevention

    Proposal abstract:

    Foliar nickel (Ni) application as nickel sulfate (NiSO4 aq) is a micronutrient treatment with supplementary fungal control. Nickel nutrient is an established method to improve urea nitrogen intake, increase crop yield, reduce abiotic heat stress, and supplement fungal leaf and fruit rot control.

    This research hypothesizes that applying Ni for cranberry improves yield and abates fungal control resistivity.

    Therefore, the objective of Ni treatment for cranberry production are:

    • Evaluate foliar nickel application for cranberry, including:
    1. assessment of nickel phytotoxicity, and practices for minimizing environmental impact
    2. foliar nickel contribution to leaf blight and fruit rot suppression as part of fungal control
    3. crop nutrition: improved urea nitrogen conversion by plants, yield, and abiotic stress tolerance
    • Develop best practice recommendations for cranberry Ni application

    Ni application trials will take place in greenhouse potted plants and field plot trials to evaluate these objectives. Experimental work will:

    1. Test the effect of nickel intake on cranberry growth and yield first in potted plants and then in the field, using standard ‘berryland’ soil, plant tissue analysis method, and nickel analysis protocol developed by the research group.
    2. Cultivate leaf blight fungal species, run inoculation trials in potted cranberry plants, and evaluate fruit rot development in field trials.

    The northeast Atlantic region accounts for 40% (15,700 acres, $91million-year) of all cranberries grown in the US, where most (+95%) cranberry farms are in Massachusetts (MA) and New Jersey (NJ). As a result of climate change, cranberry producers are experiencing production losses from heat stress, and an increase in fungal control requirements. A conservative cost analysis model, using results from other nickel trials, predicts 0-5% increase in yield with 10% reduction of post harvest fruit rot and <10% reduction in fungicides application.  

    Preliminary results of nickel availability in two cranberry trial soils (Chatsworth, NJ) found it has limited availability in the root zone (22±13 mg/kg), with plant tissue nickel intake of 2.1±1.2 mg/kg. Preliminary phytotoxicity trials of both direct soil introduction and foliar spraying Ni application revealed that lower nickel doses improved apparent plant growth morphology with increased plants size and leaf color vibrance (n=12). This preliminary finding indicates a potential benefit for Ni application for cranberry growers and that additional research is likely to benefit these producers. Engagement with cranberry producers is used to adopt Ni treatment to growers needs, including:

    1. teaming with the Marucci Cranberry and Blueberry Research Center (Chatsworth, NJ)
    2. collected grower feedback during field days
    3. advisory panel input.

    Outcome goals for this research are the development of best management recommendation for Ni application for cranberry growers, resulting in 0-10% improvement of crop yield, <10% reduction in fungicide applications and a significant decrease of fruit rot.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1.  Conducted research will evaluate foliar nickel application for cranberry, including:

               a.  assessment of nickel phytotoxicity, and practices for minimizing environmental impact.

               b.  foliar nickel contribution to leaf and fruit pathogen suppression for supplementary fungal.

               c.  crop nutrition: improved urea nitrogen conversion by plants, increased yield, and abiotic stress tolerance.


    2.  Best practice to apply nickel for increased crop yield and reducing fungicide applications.


    3.  Novel approach: adopting foliar nickel as part of a nutrition management plan. Incorporating foliar nickel application

         by cranberry growers using best management plan recommendations from this research and be supported by outreach


    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.