Benefits of protected agriculture on Agave blue in mesh-shaded nurseries

From a cultural perspective, tequila (a product distilled from the Agave tequilana weber blue variety,) is considered both a drink and the national symbol par excellence. In Mexico in 2016, about 942,000 tons of agave was ground in states which are designated as having a guarantee of origin for cultivating agave and for tequila production (Consejo Regulador de Tequila, 2017).

For the micropropagation of the plant, a protected agriculture system (shaded nursery) is recommended, where the plant is acclimatized for a period of 9 to 12 months, before being transferred to the field (Torres et al 2006). This process is known as hardening, and has some advantages in terms of greater control over biological variables: morphology, physiology and plant adaptation, to mention a few (Crespo et al 2013, Prieto and Alarcón, 1998 and Rodríguez, 2008), and of physical variables such as irradiance, temperature, relative humidity and higher crop density. We should not ignore the benefits that fertigation represents for mesh-shaded nurseries, when used with seedlings of the closely related species Agave potatorum Zuuc, where it shows a greater development of and additional growth in the number of leaves, leaf dry weight, leaf area, stem diameter, dry stem weight, number of primary roots, root volume and root dry weight (Enríquez et al., 2016)

Agave blue in mesh-shaded
Shadow mesh in the practice of protected agriculture.

Although the continuous monitoring of shade-grown crops generates more productive yields, agave micropayment is no exception: the controlled environment, the adequate mixture of substrates and the application of an optimal irrigation system (intensity and periodicity) are what ultimately determine effective physiological development of agave (Sanchez et al., 2012), as well as in its proliferation and sanitary conditions (Tlapal, 2013).

As for pest control, the use of shading mesh provides greater control and effectiveness, for example in the use of biological controllers, A. tequilana anti-pathogens, which cause wilting by dehydrating the tissue and / or tamponade of the vascular bundles (Tequila Regulatory Council, 2005) triggered by several mycotic species of the Fusarium genus (Cuevas and Domínguez, 2007 and Tlapal, 2013).

Agave blue
The best protection for the cultivation of blue Agave is the shade mesh.

Because of industrial processes, uniformity and the modernisation of crop management tecniques, A. tequila is considered monoculture, which increases the risk of disease. When using micropropogation methods with A. tequila in an environment protected by shading mesh, the genetic diversity of the species is greatly increased, as this method is carried out by a sexual pathway which encourages genetic mixture, something which does not happen when using the traditional technique used in the collection of rhizome shoots with direct transplanting, and without genetic recombination which is sensitive to any changes (Vicente and Del Real 2007).

The use of a mesh protected nursery is an option that undoubtedly improves the quantity and quality of the blue Agave plant, allows for greater control of pathogens, increases the efficiency of the fertilizers used, as well as preserves the diversity of the genetics of the species.

shade net
The shade mesh improves the quantity and quality of blue Agave plants.

Biologist Julio Alejandro Freitas Montes
Agricultural Statistical Information Technician
State Information Office for Sustainable Rural Development (OEIDRUS); in Jalisco

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