Many farmers spend hours on end fertilizing their crops with harvest in mind. This though could now be one less worry for farmers, as a new crop capable of fertilizing themselves are in development, as reported by modernfarmer.com.
Bayer have joined forces with a startup company to help with the development of the crop. It is hoped that these self fertilizing crops will help eradicate the need for farmers to spread high amounts of nitrogen on their crops, saving them time and money in the long run.
The new startup company, yet unnamed, has joined with Bayer, an agrochemical company, to help develop the crop further with aims of selling it in future. While they have also joined up with Gingko Bioworks, a company which designs custom microbes based in Boston, USA.
The process and why:
Gingko have been given the job of coming up with a method of getting nitrogen fixing bacteria to stick themselves to plants, theoretically they wouldn’t normally stick to.
The reason behind the development is due to plants not being able to absorb nitrogen in its natural gas form. Most plants cannot do this alone and need a ‘helper’. To crops in the legume family (beans, lentils, peas) this ‘helper’ is a bacteria from the Rhizobia family. It resides in the soil, remaining mostly dormant, until it attaches to a host. It then gains hold of the plants roots and helps form spherical nodules. These nodules them convert nitrogen to ammonia to be digested by the plant.
These bacterias therefore create most if not all of the ammonia found in soil, helping them become rich and fertile lands for plants to grow. The relationship is a win-win for both parties, as the bacteria needs nitrogen and plants need ammonia.
This new self fertilizing method would help farmers of corn and wheat greatly, as well as other grass crops. This is because these crops do not attract these nitrogen fixing bacteria, meaning they need us to step in as helpers. This is done through the spreading of fertilizers rich in nitrogen by farmers.
Estimates made by the FAO suggest that by 2018 the world will be topping the 200 million tonne mark, for fertilizer use. This, they warn, will have many disastrous knock on effects. These include having to use petrol and gas to make the fertilizers, which have a harmful effect on the environment. Fertilizer, as we know, can cause the death of many insects and animals upon it’s overuse and pollution of habitats.
The Idea and why:
The main idea behind this joint venture by Bayer and Bioworks is to help farmers reduce costs, labour times and also help the environment.
The idea consists of attempting to entice nitrogen fixing bacteria to plants they wouldn’t normally go near. Should they become successful in their bid, this would be a huge leap forward for the agricultural industry and indeed the Tillage industry. It would surely lead to a significant reduction in fertilizers being spread, if not eradicate the need for fertilizers permanently. This would also have a positive effect on the environment, with less petrol and gas being used to produce said fertilizers.
The project is set to be a difficult task though, with teams expected to analyze hundreds of thousands of bacteria in order to find the correct ones. They then have to grow these custom made bacterias in a lab with the desired qualities and find a way to turn them into a form which can be sold.
The companies involved say they are hopeful of finding a way to make the project work, using the already symbiotic relationships of bacteria on legume plants as a reason as to why it will. All that is left though, is to find a way to develop this symbiotic relationship with plants with plants who normally wouldn’t allow it.
The company, should the find a way to be successful, will achieve in doing something which can change the face of crop growth in the world. Though there are other ways to make farming more sustainable (crop rotation), this would surely make farmers lives an awful lot easier.
It would not only save time, energy and money for farmers, but also would help protect the environment from harmful fertilizers. Let’s hope these self fertilizing crops are the future of farming.