Copper has been used in agriculture as a micronutrient and a fungicide for decades.
As a micronutrient, crops need copper to make proteins and carbohydrates as well as lignins, which are essential to stem strength.
With a price tag approaching $14 per acre, copper probably isn’t ordered as often as it should be. Pro Ag Distribution of Langley, B.C. aims to change this with a foliar copper application at a fraction of the price: $4 per acre.
A 2006 study published in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science found that while copper deficiency is not widespread in prairie soils, where it does occur, it can cause a drastic reduction in seed quality and yield of most cereals. That said, a little goes a long way with a little over two and a half to five pounds an acre doing the trick.
Pro Ag Distribution claims its ionized copper product is more effective than conventional alternatives. Plants absorb nutrients as ions, or charged particles.
“We have to look at ways to reduce dependence on chemistry and learn to farm in a healthier manner,” says Paul Sinkevich at Pro Ag Distribution. “Going back and working with the known properties of basic elements might be part of the solution.
“Copper is anti-microbial. Silver is anti-fungal. So the combination would be a big boost to protecting crops. We’ve had nano-sized particles of copper and nano-sized particles of silver in a solution together, and they’re quite compatible. We’re testing it against fusarium, sclerotinia and other fungal diseases. We’re testing it in the lab right now and we’re lining up trials for this summer to start the registration process.”
The pitch for nanoparticle silver, however, is blunted by both its cost and environmental concerns. A 2019 paper published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences states “silver is the second most toxic metal to aquatic organisms after mercury,” and that agricultural nanoparticles can leach silver ions into the environment, where they are “persistent, bioaccumulative, and highly toxic to organisms.”
Sinkevich’s ionized heavy metal idea is based on his favourite visualization: spread the entire surface of a big table with basketballs. How much contact those basketballs have with the table surface?
Now remove the basketballs and spread the entire surface with golf balls.
Compare the number of contact points with big balls to small balls. Even without the demonstration, common sense tells us the small balls have more contact points.
“It’s the same thing with foliar spray products. If we make copper molecules tinier, they’ll have more contact points with the leaves, and the efficacy of copper will rise,” says Sinkevich.
He says Pro Ag has developed a technology that makes ionized copper particles thousands of times smaller than liquid fertilizer processed in the conventional manner. Asked how he downsizes metal particles, Sinkevich laughs, “That’s a secret. We’re not telling. It’s our proprietary system.”
He did say the metals go through an acid bath as one step.
Pro Ag literature states that conventional copper products contain 10 percent bio-available copper, while their nano-sized ionized version contains 99 percent.
“Our ionized copper ranges in size from 0.01 nanometres to 0.16 nanometres. The smallest molecule of ionized copper is smaller than a molecule of water, or H20. It does a phenomenal job of getting into the plant quickly.
“Nutrien has introduced a new sulphur product that’s close to the size of a micron. But a nano-sized particle is a thousand times smaller than a micron.”
He points out that copper is already registered as a fertilizer for all crops, so their product is available now and it has a big advantage over alternatives. It’s already ionized, so plants can access it immediately. Normally, when you apply copper sulphate as a foliar, it takes three or four days to ionize, then the plant can uptake the copper. The other factor, of course, is that the particle sizes are so small that coverage is much better.
“Last August we got registration for ionized copper as a bactericide to control bacterial blight in blueberries. Now we’re continuing research so we can add other crops to the label.”
Spraying ionized silver on a 1,000-acre wheat field seems a bit rich in some people’s opinion, but Sinkevich says it may have a major benefit.
“We’re mainly working with ionized copper, but silver is another element we’re testing as a foliar spray. We can do this with silver, copper, iron and gold. We’ve sent ionized silver samples to labs to check efficacy on various diseases.
“Copper is anti-microbial. Silver is anti-fungal. With both elements at work, we can improve crop health, and therefore crop yield. Obviously silver will cost more than copper. Copper is four bucks a pound. Silver is $19 dollars a pound.”
He says Pro Ag got into the copper business eight years ago, providing copper to water treatment plants across Canada. Pro Ag is currently testing an ionized copper spray as a defence against COVID-19.
“COVID isn’t really that hard to kill. It’s actually relatively easy. Research at the University of Beijing showed up to four days of residual COVID kill on hard surfaces with ionized copper.”
Chinese studies show that the COVID virus enters human nasal passages and remains there a day or two before moving into their lungs. COVID did not move into the lungs of people who used ionized copper nasal spray.
“Unfortunately copper isn’t even recognized as a medical ingredient in Canada. It would take a long time and a lot of money to get it registered here. We’re a small company. We just don’t have it.
“But we are moving forward with an ionized copper disinfectant spray that’s showing very good efficacy on a variety of different kinds of organism. We expect to see ionized copper in cancer treatments in the future.”
He adds that organisms and bacteria cannot live on copper. There’s a company called Copper Grip that makes copper door handles for hospitals, nursing homes and schools.