Are Bio-fertilizers the Next Frontier in Soil Fertility and Fertilizer Technology?

research tractor in the fieldThat is yet to be determined of course, but we do know that the biological and bio-fertilizers market is estimated to grow from a current market worth of $6.7 billion to $12.9 billion by the year 2022. What’s this mean if I am a farmer? A rapidly growing biological market aimed at the agricultural sector means farmers need to become educated about what biologicals and bio-fertilizers may and may not be able to offer them. Over the last 4 months or so I have been browsing the scientific literature educating myself about what we do and do not know about these bio-fertilizers. I have learned that due to advancements in genome sequencing it is now much easier, faster and cheaper to identify and isolate specific bacterial and fungal strains that do in-fact provide services that can improve plant growth and yield.

Some of the agronomically important services bio-fertilizers may be able to provide include: atmospheric nitrogen fixation for cereal crops (corn, wheat, etc..), bacteria that are able to convert non-plant available forms of soil nutrients into plant available forms (phosphorus and potassium solubilizing bacteria), bacteria that can compete with plant pathogenic fungi and other harmful bacteria, and specific strains of bacteria have been shown to produce plant growth regulators (Indole acetic acid and gibberellic acids) that can stimulate root growth and development. See the bulleted list below for more specific details about what bio-fertilizers have been shown to be able to achieve is science-based studies.

Bio-Fertilizers 2018 Field Testing

Tractor in Field for Bio Fertilizer

The unfortunate part is that many of these known benefits of bio-fertilizers have been tested more often under greenhouse vs. actual field conditions. That said, there is an increasing amount of evidence that these bio-fertilizers may, in fact, be able to increase corn and soybean yields in actual field environments, but our knowledge in actual field conditions is clearly more limited than what has been shown in greenhouse studies. On this note, Liqui-Grow has partnered with several biological companies that are leaders in the bio-fertilizer market. We will be testing their most promising bio-fertilizer products at several locations throughout eastern, IA and northwest, IL in the 2018 growing season. My main objective at Liqui-Grow is to identify and investigate (in-formal field research trials) new and innovative products and crop management practices that can make our customers and our company more profitable – partner with us to find out what we learn.

Known Agronomically Important Services Bio-fertilizers Can ProvideBacteria

  • Nitrogen-fixing bacteria can add 25-45 lbs N/ac/yr (Azospirillum, Azotobacter) under optimum soil conditions and thereby can increase crop yields 15-25%.
  • Application of bio-fertilizers results in increased mineral and water uptake, root development, and vegetative growth.
  • Some bio-fertilizers (eg, Rhizobium BGA, Azotobacter sp) stimulate the production of growth promoting substance like vitamin-B complex, Indole acetic acid (IAA) and Gibberellic acids.
  • Phosphate mobilizing or phosphorus solubilizing bio-fertilizers/microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, mycorrhiza etc.) converts insoluble soil phosphate into soluble forms by secreting several organic acids and under optimum conditions, they can solubilize/mobilize about 30-55 lbs P2O5/ac due to which crop yield may increase by 10-20%.
  • Bio-fertilizers act as antagonists/competitors and suppress the incidence of soil-borne plant pathogens and thus, help in the bio-control of diseases.
  • Nitrogen-fixing, phosphate mobilizing and cellulolytic microorganisms in bio-fertilizer enhance the availability of plant nutrients in the soil and thus, sustain agricultural production and farming system.
  • Bio-fertilizers are a cheap, pollution free and renewable energy sources.
  • Bio-fertilizers improve physical properties of soil, soil tilth and soil health in general.
  • Blue-green algae like Nostoc, Anabaena, and Scytonema are often employed in the reclamation of alkaline soils.
  • Bio-inoculants containing cellulolytic and ligninolytic microorganisms enhance the degradation/decomposition of organic matter in the soil, as well as enhance the rate of crop residue decomposition.
  • Azotobacter inoculants when applied to many non-leguminous crop plants, promote seed germination and initial vigor of plants by producing growth promoting substances.
Bio-Fertilizers Field Testing

References: Agriinfo