This is a desperately important issue for both farmers and consumers in order for there to be an economical reward for the farmers that spend the extra money in paying for the more quality fertilizers and the extra time learning and practicing fertility and farm management techniques that raise quality. At present, the greatest rewards are for farmers that can grow the highest yields on the smallest budget. This is a dire situation that leads to consumers purchasing and eating substandard foods that will obviously lead to a decrease in our population’s health levels.
There is a movement however that advocates a very simple method for producers and consumer to measure the quality of their foods so that they can make informed decisions about the amount of money they are spending on produce versus the quality. For the consumers that use this method, they are empowered to measure quality and for the producer it would bring in far more demand and therefore justify the extra time needed to grow for quality, rather than getting high yields as cheaply as possible. This movement has been going for over 30 years, ever since being popularized by the late Dr Carey Reams. The method has been used almost religiously by a small niche group of farmers and consumers that have been using a simple handheld device known as a Refractometer to do just that - measure their foods quality. This movement is “The Brix Movement”.
The Refractometer works by
measuring the amount of light refracted by juices squeezed from a given crop. Light
is refracted in juices by the quantity of dissolved solids, these include natural
sugars (mainly Fructose) Vitamins,
Minerals, Carbohydrates, Enzymes, Amino Acids, Nucleic Acids, Proteins and
other dissolved solids. The premise is therefore that the more light refracted
by the juices, the more nutrients and flavor the plant put into the crop, and
therefore the better the quality.
The Refractometer measures in degrees Brix (or just Brix) and is
named after the man who came up with the scale, Adolph Brix. The Brix scale is
calibrated so that each degree Brix represents a 1% increase, by weight of, Sucrose
in pure water at 25° Celsius. So a 100 gram standard solution of Sucrose (table
sugar) in pure water measuring 10% Brix, represents 10 grams of Sucrose and 90
grams of water. Even though a Refractometer is calibrated this way, the Refractometer
measures any dissolved solid in the solution that will bend light.
The method is simple, a few drops
of juice is squeezed from the food that you are testing using a garlic press or
similar device and then placed on the prism of the Refractometer. If you have a
handheld Refractometer you simply look through the eye piece and read where the
line is and it will tell you the Brix reading. If you have a digital Refractometer,
you simply calibrate the Refractometer using distilled water, and press a
button to have it analyze the sample and give a Brix readout.
Wine growers have been using Refractometer
as a standardized piece of equipment for many years to test the quality of
grapes. Indeed a good wine year can be predicted by the Brix readings taken from
the grapes at the time of harvest. The Refractometer is also used by ketchup
companies that will pay based on Brix levels. A 3 Brix tomato will receive a
lower premium than a 9 Brix tomato. This is a typical Brix range within
tomatoes. One of the greatest victories for the movement is its usage by the Florida
USDA to grade the quality of
Impact on agriculture.
The great thing that Brix measuring is doing is changing the way producers grow their plants. Previously there has been no quick and simple way to instantly measure a plants quality, so there was no way to monitor how soil and fertilizer amendments were affecting the quality and taste of the foods. Through experimentation, growers have found that increased phosphate and calcium levels are of the upmost importance for increasing Brix levels. So too is changing the types of fertilizers being applied throughout the growing season.
Also, because sugars and other
nutrients are converted in the “photosynthesis factory”, or the leaf, it is no
surprise that growers have found that the practice of foliar feeding to
dramatically increase the Brix levels in plants that follow a regular foliar
fertilizer regiment. This is why I started my own liquid fertilizer company,
because of the Brix increases found using quality foliar sprays.
Foliar fertilizing is the art of
spraying the leaves of plants so that the plant nutrients are absorbed directly
into the leaves of the plant. The mineral ions from the foliar fertilizer
penetrate the leaves through the stomata and cuticles to reach the interior of
the leaves. The nutrients then become available for absorption by the Mesophyll
cells and utilized by the plant as food.
The Refractometer also is a great way of telling if a foliar fertilizer has been affective. Simply squeeze the juice from the leaf of a crop before spraying and then test the Brix level. Then after spraying the leaves, wait a 2-3 hours and then do another Brix test. A change indicates the foliar application has been successful. If the Brix does not change then you know that adjustments need to be made. Maybe spray a finer mist, spray later in the day when it is cooler and the stomata is open or use an adjuvant to help the mixture stick to and absorb into the leaves. There are quite a few changes that can be made.
Another impact it is having is by
changing the Organics movement which shares the same beliefs in agricultures
sustainability and foods quality as a Brix grower. Of course Organics has been
a tremendous movement because it has a guaranteed a premium paid to growers who
have avoided cheap and detrimental agriculture practices. However, just because
something is organic, does not guarantee a high Brix quality product. In fact
dumping huge amounts of organic materials can be detrimental to crops Brix
levels as it can destroy the ratios of crop nutrients needed to make high Brix.
There has to be proper nutrient management to obtain high Brix and it is
organic growers that are embracing the Brix movement.
The Brix movement has remained
relatively small for many years but is gaining momentum because consumers can
clearly taste the difference in crops that have higher Brix readings. A
conspiracy theorist may say that it has remained small because the large scale
farmers, fertilizer companies and resellers would all suffer if Brix testing entered
the mainstream, so they have made sure not to popularize its usage. If it did
become mainstream however, they would be forced to start producing and selling
higher Brix rather than passing off and selling poor quality produce to the
masses. They would benefit if they were willing to make the changes necessary.
Another reason the movement has remained small is because of the lack of University studies that are willing to corroborate that higher Brix levels correlate to higher nutrient densities, something that smaller independent soil labs have been doing for a long time. This would make a great research project for university food testing and soil testing labs.
In the meantime, until growing high Brix catches on, the best way to ensure that you get high Brix produce is to grow your own. Your health and your taste bud’s will thank you for it.
Martin CapewellAgriculture Solutions LLC