New discovery heralds reduction in fertilisers

Subterranean biodiversity can have a positive effect on the nutrient efficiency of maize and wheat, Zurich researchers have shown. Their discovery could lead to the reduction of the high costs associated with fertilisers.

The excessive use of fertilisers in agriculture makes for high crop yields – but the plants use only half of the nitrogen from the fertiliser. Now, Franz Bender and Marcel van der Heijden from the research institute Agroscope in Zurich-Reckenholz have produced results that show how unseen subterranean biodiversity has a positive impact on the nutrient efficiency of maize and wheat.

According to an article published by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the researchers took samples from nearby grazing land. They sterilised it and then added to their samples either a lesser or greater variety of soil organisms. Subsurface organisms chemically converted the nitrogen and retained it in the soil. The organism-rich soil lost only half of the nitrogen to the rain compared to organism-poor soil.

The agricultural sector could avoid the waste of nutrients and save on fertiliser costs without sacrificing high crop yields, the article added.


Photo credit: luke chan, flickr/Creative Commons

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