Nitrogen fertilizer is a critical part of many agricultural producers’ operations and is often very costly. Now, researchers at the University of California, Davis, have discovered a new method for reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer required for growing cereal crops. Eduardo Blumwald, a professor of plant sciences, spearheaded the research.
Blumwald found a new pathway for cereals to capture the nitrogen necessary for growth. Over time, this may also help reduce the amount of nitrogen runoff that makes its way into water sources. The study he led that resulted in the discovery was published in the journal Plant Biotechnology.
“Nitrogen fertilizers are very, very expensive,” said Blumwald. “Anything you can do to eliminate that cost is important. The problem is money on one side, but there are also the harmful effects of nitrogen on the environment.”
Blumwald’s research is based on the concept of nitrogen fixation. This process converts nitrogen gas in the air into ammonium by soil bacteria. Blumwald explains that a plant may be able to produce the chemicals necessary for soil bacteria to fix atmospheric nitrogen gas. If this is possible, they can potentially be modified to generate more of these chemicals.
“These chemicals will induce soil bacterial nitrogen fixation, and the plants will use the ammonium formed, reducing the amount of fertilizer used,” he explains.
In the future, the pathway may also be used by other plants. The University of California has filed a patent application for the technique, which is now pending. Farmers who rely on John Deere equipment for planting, harvesting, and fertilizing might benefit from this discovery in years to come.