September 26, 2020 Sound Agriculture

Putting Soil to Work for Improved Nutrient Use Efficiency

A universe of beneficial molecules exists beneath the soil. Among them, seventeen nutrients play a vital role in plant development, determining how healthy, how tall, and how fruitful the emergent crops will become. These nutrients are a valuable resource—and optimizing their efficiency can elevate crop yields and farm economics to new levels.

When the right amount of essential minerals like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus are available at critical times during the growing season, crops can flourish, reaching the upper limits of growth and production potential. Without them, plant vitality and productivity can be limited, and an overabundance of nutrients in soils can lead to waste.   

 

The Efficiency Equation

Providing crops with the perfect nutrient levels to promote high crop yield while reducing costs is an agricultural tightrope walk that growers navigate each season. Key to this balance is nutrient use efficiency (NUE)—a measure of how effectively plants absorb, assimilate, and utilize essential molecules.

By calculating NUE and quantifying a crop’s response to nutrient application, growers are able to fine-tune the input-output ratio of farm economics, strive for higher yield goals with fewer inputs, and prevent excess nutrients from entering the environment.

 

Streamlining for Sustainability

We’re faced today with the need to do more using fewer resources. In the same way that modern light bulbs are able to save energy and money by converting low amounts of electricity into high-intensity light, today’s farms are able to grow abundant crops with less fertilizer by increasing NUE.

Traditionally, growers have supported nutrient availability and boosted production by applying fertilizer at key points in the growing season. But what if they could tap into natural reserves and get more from the soil? By increasing the efficiency of nutrient use, growers can achieve that, setting up each plant to reach higher cropping goals with less fertilizer.

 

Supercharged Soil

Enhancing soil microbes—the bacteria, fungi, and microorganisms that make nutrients available to plants—is the key to boosting NUE. These microbes form complex networks and work collaboratively to complete biochemical processes that make nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous more accessible.

Conservation farming practices that support soil health such as no-till farming, cover cropping, and precision agriculture can improve NUE by increasing soil and plant health. By promoting more bioactive soils with abundant microbe populations, these sustainable methods increase nutrient availability and can help improve crop uptake.

Growers can also increase NUE with a yield-enhancing solution like SOURCE™. By activating the soil’s native microbiome, SOURCE increases the plant-availability of nitrogen and phosphorus, allowing growers to nourish crops with resources already present in the soil.

Plants get nutrition from three primary sources: they extract it from the soil, they absorb it from applied fertilizers, or they ‘signal’ native microbes that increase nutrient availability. SOURCE mimics this natural signaling system, activating microbes that convert nutrients from unavailable to bioavailable forms for efficient uptake by the plant.

Laboratory tests show that SOURCE makes the soil microbiome work harder for plants by increasing the activity of nitrogen-fixing and phosphate-solubilizing bacteria and fungi—and the results are impressive. During the 2019 growing season, growers reported an 8-10 bushel per acre increase with an 85% win rate.

 

Ripple Effect

Enhancing NUE benefits growers by increasing yields and lowering production costs, and it also has a positive global impact on the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer use and production contribute significantly to climate change, with applied nitrogen accounting for 60% of the world’s N2O emissions. Meanwhile, cases of water pollution caused by excessive nutrients and the demand for agricultural crops for food, feed, and fuel are on the rise

Improving NUE can help address many of the world’s challenges including food security, environmental degradation, and climate change by supporting higher crop productivity with less chemical fertilizer—contributing to a healthier planet, one field at a time.

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