Biofertilizer: Bacteria Is The Future of Agriculture
We are living in trying times. On the one hand, we are seeing an unnervingly high rate of global population growth and on the other, we are witnessing climate change and degradation of our ecosystem. All of these pose a serious threat to food security. However, in our effort to increase global food production, we have been, for far too long, dependent upon chemical agricultural inputs – fertilizers and pesticides – that have gradually led to degradation of soil fertility levels, rendering millions of hectares of land unproductive. In the past 45 years, we have lost more than a third of the world’s productive, arable land to soil degradation.
In an effort to revitalize agriculture that supports the nearly 8 billion people on this planet, we need to leverage natural ways that are sustainable, both ecologically and production-wise. In this context, the use of biofertilizers is important to enhance fertility levels, stop environmental degradation, reduce health problems related to the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and correct the delicate balance of Mother Earth.
The Toll Inorganic Agrochemicals Have Taken On Our Soils
The indiscriminate use of agrochemicals has taken a toll not only on the arable land of the world but is also affecting our health. The problems start even before they reach the farms. Processing and synthesis of these fertilizers release noxious gases into our air leading to air pollution.
Continuous application of high amounts of chemical fertilizers affects soil fertility by damaging the fine microbial balance. This leads to the depleted microbial population not being able to effectively cycle nutrients, leading to a sort of chain reaction which necessitates more use of fertilizers to support plant growth. This vicious cycle ends in completely killing the soil, a process called desertification.
The heavy metals and other toxic compounds from fertilizers and pesticides are taken up by the crop plant and eventually find their way inside the bodies of the consumers – humans, and livestock – which can potentially lead to health issues.
Leaching of fertilizers from soil leads to them entering water bodies where they drive the explosive growth of algae. This “algal bloom” depletes all the oxygen from the water body, leaving it dead, unable to sustain any life.
Thus, inorganic chemical agri inputs not just degrade our soils and make them increasingly unproductive, they also lead to contamination of our water bodies. Their accumulation in our bodies leads to many serious health issues.
Understanding the Plant Microbiome
Plants have a very intricate symbiotic relationship with the microorganisms in the soil. While we may think that plants simply absorb the nutrition that is available in the soil, this is a gross oversimplification of how things actually are.
The soil harbors trillions of bacteria and other microbes per microgram. Many of these live in close contact with the roots of the plant in a complex ecosystem called “rhizosphere,” which literally means the sphere surrounding the roots. The association of the rhizosphere microbes can be intricate, as in a rhizobial nodule (where bacteria live inside specialized structures called nodules which are formed on the surface of the roots of certain legumes) and endomycorrhiza (where a fungus lives inside a root system, called arbuscular mycorrhiza).
Free-living fungi and bacteria do not live “inside” the plant but still have a close relationship with the plant’s root system. While rhizosphere microbes increase availability of nutrients to the plant, they also benefit from certain chemicals (especially plant nutrients, like carbon compounds) that the plant root produces that are beneficial for the microorganisms. In the case of Rhizobium and endomycorrhiza, they also get shelter inside the plant. Thus the rhizosphere is a kind of mutualistic symbiosis, where both partners are benefited.
To create better biofertilizers, it is important to understand this plant microbiome or the rhizosphere bacteria, and the various ways they help the plants.
Biofertilizer: the "What" and the "Why"
We entered the glorious age of the agricultural revolution when we developed artificial chemical entities that could boost plant growth and reduce loss due to plant diseases. This helped us grow more on less land. The prime driver of this revolution was greater crop yield.
However, in doing this, we forgot that nature was already growing plants and providing us with nutrition in her own balanced and sustainable way. In nature, there is a fine balance of many different biogeochemical cycles that cycle nutrients through a complex chain of events and participants. One of the vital participants in this process are microorganisms that degrade organic matter to free nutrients and also “fix” elements from the air to make them available to the plants for growth.
However, with agrochemicals, we sought to bypass natural ways to enhance productivity. And the results of our overdependence on these chemicals are for everyone to see.
And today, in our search for methods to help regain lost agricultural land, to save the available land from degradation, and help create sustainable agriculture, we are going back and taking a look at the natural process that helps a plant grow and trying to use them to make agriculture sustainable. In this regard, biofertilizers are our greatest hope.
Biofertilizers are a mixture of different strains of microbes that support and enhance the growth of crop plants by increasing the availability of nutrients. Biofertilizer formulations carefully select microbial strains that offer a variety of advantages to the plant – helping fix environmental nutrients, making more water available, and helping tolerate abiotic stress, among others.
How Do Biofertilizers Help Plants Grow Better?
Biofertilizers are a way of exploiting the natural processes that occur due to the symbiotic relationship of soil microorganisms and the plant. Let us understand how the different microorganisms help the plant through their activities.
- Nitrogen Fixation
Nitrogen is a vital element required for life. Nitrogenous compounds are part of proteins and the genetic material (DNA and RNA). Although air contains more than 70% nitrogen, in its elemental form (as N2), it cannot be utilized by plants. “Nitrogen fixation” is the process of converting atmospheric nitrogen to nitrates, a form that is utilizable by plants. This process is carried out by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which could be either free-living (like Azotobacter), or live inside the plant roots (Rhizobium, which lives inside nodules on roots of leguminous plants; also called plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria, or PGPR).
- Phosphorus, Sulfur, and Potassium Mobilization
All three nutrients are vital components of living tissue. Microorganisms perform different activities like phosphorus and potassium solubilization and sulfur oxidation to make these compounds available to the plant root.
Apart from these major elements, soil microbes also enhance the uptake of micronutrients like iron, zinc, copper, manganese, boron, molybdenum, chlorine, cobalt, and silicon.
Root-associated fungi (arbuscular mycorrhiza, or mycorrhizal fungi) play a major role in the solubilization and mobilization of many compounds to make them available to plants. They are often called root fertilizers.
- Plant Growth Promoters
Commercial biofertilizers are a combination of different helpful strains of bacteria and fungi that perform various activities to support crop production. Because these are live organisms, it is not necessary to add large amounts of biofertilizers to the soil. Once the microorganisms have colonized the soil and have managed to regain the intricate natural balance, only little quantities of biofertilizer application is necessary to account for minor losses due to natural processes. Thus, using biofertilizers is not only eco-friendly but cost-effective as well.
Plant Revolution: Developing Premier Biofertilizers for Home Gardens and Farms
It is clear that if we want to save the world’s farmlands, we have to use sustainable agricultural methods. And by exploiting soil bacteria, we are on the right path to not only regain lost farmlands but also protect ourselves and future generations from the massive destruction caused by agrochemical overuse.
Plant Revolution Inc. is a family-owned biofertilizer production company that has been developing world-class root fertilizers, featuring mycorrhizal products, through years of research and testing. The innovative product is a carefully developed blend of mycorrhiza and beneficial bacteria that not only support the growth of plants. Our organic fertilizers are trusted by home gardeners, farmers, and hydroponic practitioners.
At Plant Revolution, we believe that we are on the cusp of another revolution – one that is taking us back to nature. By driving sustainability through organic farming methods, we are making a planet that feeds everyone food that is safe and healthy. In turn, we are making sure that this planet is not harmed in any way.
For more information on our superior blends and details on the application of biofertilizers, check out our products page.