Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Fungi and farming

Another story which might be of interest to biological farming practitioners – American and Swiss researchers have highlighted the role that symbiotic plant–fungi relationships can play in feeding a growing population, without the need for a corresponding increase in the use of mineral fertilisers. 

The report, in Science Daily, describes how the researchers have been looking at mycorrhizal fungi which lives in the soil and interacts with plant roots.  Where these symbiotic relationships exist, plants tend to grow larger because the fungi acquire and make available for use by the plant the essential nutrient phosphate.

Phosphate is a key ingredient in many fertilisers but imported supplies can be difficult or expensive to obtain, especially by farmers in developing countries.  Over-application of phosphates can cause water pollution problems - phosphate is one of the main trigger chemicals that can cause algal blooms in surface waters which result in considerable ecological damage.

According to Science Daily, while mycorrhizal fungi typically only grow on the roots of plants, recent biotechnological breakthroughs now allow scientists to produce massive quantities of the fungus that can be suspended in high concentrations in a gel for easy transportation.  The researchers are currently testing the effectiveness of this gel on crops in the country of Colombia where they have discovered that with the gel they can produce the same yield of potato crop with less than half the amount of phosphate fertilizers.