How Plant Growth Regulators Help Agriculture and Horticulture Fight Modern-Day Challenges?
Plant growth regulators are organic compounds which regulate and govern various physiological aspects of plant growth and development. Plant growth regulators like auxins and cytokines initiate changes in plant growth by targeting different stages in plant life cycle including bud development, xylem differentiation, flowering, etc. This feature of plant growth regulators makes them an ideal component of modern-day agriculture and horticulture which is faced with challenges like land degradation, irregular monsoons, and climate change related disruptions.
In developing economies like India or Brazil, one major limiting factor to full-fledged growth of the national economy is the stagnant agriculture sector. Traditional farming practices, lack of innovation, and inability to invest in agriculture due to low farmers’ income have resulted in agriculture not being able to cope with other sectors of the economy including manufacturing and services. To break this vicious cycle of lack of innovation and low income, a sustained effort from public and private institutions is needed. While subsidies, direct benefit transfer, and freebies to the farming community are forms of governmental support, innovative products like plant growth regulators are the contribution of the private sector.
How Plant Growth Regulators Can Help Agriculture and Horticulture Sector?
It may sound surprising, but growth regulators have been in use in horticulture and agriculture in the Middle East since ancient times. In this part of the world, olive oil was regularly used to promote the growth of fig trees. Similarly, it has been a common practice to subject pineapple trees to smoke from fires for faster floral initiation. Today, plant growth regulators perform this very function; they govern and regulate almost all the facets of plant growth and development. Plant growth regulators or hormones are organic chemicals which help in modifying the physiological processes in plants. Plant growth regulators can be both synthesized or natural and are mainly classified into two types: plant growth promoters and plant growth inhibitors.
In case of tropical countries like India and Brazil, agriculture is largely dependent on rainfall; moreover, other agricultural inputs like fertilizers are also scarce in quantity. As a result, regulating plant growth becomes even more necessary to maximize the benefit from the rainfall and other inputs. Along with this, as concerns of climate change and global warming grow, adoption of sustainable agricultural practices has become extremely necessary. All these factors have increased the demand for plant growth regulators and have played an instrumental role in pushing ahead the global plant growth regulators market.
Plant growth regulators like auxins help in plant growth by promoting cell elongation in plant tissues. Moreover, naturally occurring auxins like Indole-3-Acetic Acid, 4-Chloro Indole-3- Acetic Acid, Phenyl Acetic Acid, etc., also help in seed germination which is crucial for farmers depending solely on rainfall for crop production. In the last few decades, artificially synthesized plant growth promoters like Naphthalene Acetic Acid, 2-Methyl-4-Chlorophenoxy Acetic Acid, etc., have been developed so as to perform unique functions like xylem differentiation, thus helping in organ growth. Plant growth promoters like cytokines help in faster cell division and overcoming apical dominance. Cytokines, thus, promote development of dormant buds and stimulate leaf blade growth. One of the most popular applications of plant growth regulators in horticulture is promoting early ripening of fruits. Plant growth promoters like gibberellins even aid in increasing the size of fruits. Take the example of Promalin®, a plant growth regulator recently launched by Sumitomo Chemical India Ltd., a leading chemical company based in India. Promalin® is specifically designed to help in boosting the apple production which has led to its huge demand in Himalayan states of India including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Horticulturists in these states have, thus, found a good solution in the form of Promalin® to tackle the problems related to productivity of apple trees.
However, not all plant growth regulators stimulate growth; as mentioned earlier, a class of plant growth regulators called plant inhibitors, in fact, prevent excessive growth in plants. Many plant growth inhibitors like ethylene and abscisic acid promote abscission and dormancy induction of buds and seeds. Plant growth regulators like abscisic acid also play a vital role in avoiding dehydration of plants during droughts by bringing about changes in plant physiology such as closing of stomata. Another group of plant growth hormones called Jasmonates develop chemicals responsible for inducing plant defense mechanisms against pest and pathogen attacks.
Future Prospects for Plant Growth Inhibitors in the Agriculture Sector
Extreme climatic conditions triggered by global warming pose the biggest threat to agriculture and allied sectors. Growing scarcity of water resources, rapidly increasing rate of land degradation, and rising food insecurity have compelled researchers and agriculturists to look for unconventional ways to improve food production. Plant growth regulators, along with mechanization of farming, drip irrigation techniques, and organic farming, have provided a ray of hope to farmers and horticulturists in a rather grim situation. Moreover, both in vitro and field tests with respect to plant growth hormones have been largely successful and produced desired results. An increased awareness and regular adoption of plant growth regulators in agriculture and horticulture sectors is now the logical step ahead.
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