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Biologicals in Drought Years

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

In drought-stricken years, the uncertainty of low yields can make it challenging to conduct trials and explore new agricultural products. Questions arise, like:

"Is a biological product really a sensible choice during a drought year or is it better to wait for more favorable environmental conditions?"

It’s important to consider the role of soil biology and its impact on germination and early plant health in drought years. If used and applied properly, biological products can be a huge asset at planting to develop a strong healthy plant from square one.

Typically, when evaluating a farm's annual productivity, we tend to focus on what's visible above the soil, such as plant growth and yield. However, the true foundation of agricultural success lies beneath the surface—in the soil itself.

Some common themes we observe in almost all of our ACF-SR trials include:

  • faster germination

  • improved biomass

  • better root development

The answer lies in our approach of nurturing both the soil and plant roots with beneficial microbes close to seeding time, rather than solely focusing on what's above ground. While it's crucial to provide essential nutrients to the plant, it's equally vital not to neglect the soil and the intricate biology responsible for fostering robust root systems.

So, how does this relate to drought tolerance?

ACF-SR brings about structural enhancements to the soil, facilitating deeper water penetration. The microbes within ACF-SR promote root growth, including the development of fine root hairs that can efficiently absorb water from deeper soil layers.

In addition to improved water uptake, plants treated with ACF-SR tend to be healthier and exhibit increased nutrient absorption. This is due to the microbes ability to convert inorganic nutrients into organic, water-soluble forms, thereby enhancing nitrogen and phosphorus uptake.

Beyond these effects, ACF-SR boasts two additional mechanisms that bolster drought resistance. The microbes form 'biofilms,' akin to super-absorbent polymers, which retain water in the soil, reducing evaporation and transpiration and conserving precious water resources. Moreover, the photosynthetic microbes in ACF-SR generate additional water through their metabolic processes.

In the image above, the plant on the left received ACF-SR treatment during the trial, while the plant on the right did not. This stark contrast in growth is not an isolated occurrence but a pattern we've observed across various soil types, climates, and crop varieties.

In essence, soil biology, which drives root development, serves as the linchpin for drought resistance and resilience against various stresses that can affect plants. We liken a healthy root system to a robust immune system in our bodies.

According to a study in Applied Soil Ecology, plant-associated microbial communities, including nitrogen-fixing bacteria like ACF-SR, play pivotal roles in enhancing crop productivity and bolstering resistance to both biotic and abiotic stresses, with a particular emphasis on drought.

To delve deeper into this, a publication from the National Library of Medicine underscores the potential of plant growth-promoting microbes (PGPR), such as ACF-SR, in conserving water resources and enhancing plant growth. PGPR can directly boost plant growth by increasing the production of phytohormones, siderophores, biofilms, and exopolysaccharides, while also improving nutrient availability in the rhizosphere. Indirectly, PGPR can protect plants from pathogen attacks.

This picture above tells the story. On just over 2 inches of rain, this lentil crop by Foremost, Alberta, really had no chance. The only difference here was that ACF was sprayed on the right side. Above ground, it was clear that the plant was much more resistant to drought, but it all started early on in the season, when roots were starting to form.

These are the plants side by side. For us, the biggest take away was the difference in root development. During the drought, the plant on the left was able to use water much more efficiently than the plant on the right.

With the increasing frequency of drought years, the empirical evidence and scientific research overwhelmingly support the integration of proven biological solutions like ACF-SR into our agricultural practices. ACF-SR doesn't just offer a glimpse of hope; it is a tangible part of the solution.

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