Scientists develop new fertilizers for drought, should supply plants with nutrients and water in a controlled manner

27. 6. 2023
New fertilisers being developed by scientists at Mendel University in Brno in collaboration with a commercial partner could help plants overcome drought stress. The natural-based preparations should provide crops with a controlled supply of nutrients according to their current needs and should also help plants retain available water. Due to their composition, the fertilisers should be environmentally friendly and easily degradable.

The granular fertiliser is based on ordinary potato starch, which scientists have supplemented with special substances that allow the controlled release of the necessary nutrients. “Synthetic superabsorbent polymers capable of repeatedly binding and releasing up to 500 times their weight are now commonly used in agriculture to retain water in the soil. However, they are problematic in terms of biodegradability, remaining in the soil for a long time. For this reason, we focused on developing natural alternatives that would not burden the environment,” said Petr Škarpa, head of research at MENDELU.

Experts from the Faculty of Agronomy are cooperating on the development of fertilisers with the company ESCUBE, s.r.o., with which they have previously created, for example, so-called bioenergy drinks for plants. Test granules are currently being developed in the laboratories at CEITEC BUT, which the scientists would like to take directly to the field next spring. “My colleagues will incorporate the selected nutrients into granules made up of a hydroabsorbent for water retention. These granules will be able to absorb water and at the same time release it together with the nutrients into the soil environment in a controlled manner,” described Škarpa.

It is the optimal distribution of not only water but also nutrients that is crucial for plant growth. “It is important that the nutrient supply respects the demands of the crop during its growing season. Our aim is to increase the utilisation of the nutrients supplied by fertilisers, which depends on many factors and the presence of water is one of the main ones. For example, nitrogen is reported to be found in harvested products at less than half of the total amount applied by fertilisers,” he said.

In the first phase, scientists will test fertilisers adapted to the specific needs of wheat and poppy. “Poppy sown in spring is very susceptible to drought at the beginning of growth. Because it has small seeds, it also has low germination energy, making it all the more susceptible to abiotic stresses such as drought. Problems with poppy emergence plague many farmers in the country every year. If we can partially solve this problem, I would consider it a success,” said the MENDELU expert.

However, the number of modifications to the proposed fertiliser seems to be inexhaustible in the future. “The variation of possible fertiliser components is wide, and besides nutrients, other biologically active substances can be used that will be useful for the chosen crop at a particular development stage,” added Škarpa.

Special granular fertilisers would be applied to the soil depending on the needs of the crop before sowing, at sowing and also during the growing season. The scientists also plan to test an innovative solution where the fertiliser would be applied to the seed itself. The farmer would then sow and fertilise the field in a single step. “The nature of the substances needed to produce hydrogel-based fertilisers allows us to incorporate the seed into the fertiliser during its preparation. Especially for crops with small seeds, such as poppies, this offers the opportunity to test an innovative planting procedure,” explains Škarpa. “Our aim is to innovate poppy cultivation technology that is particularly useful in dry areas,” he added.

In addition to poppy seed, it could also be possible to cover, for example, rape, wheat or maize seed, according to Škarpa. This year, the scientists will focus on testing laboratory-prepared fertilisers in container experiments, while next year they would like to test the finished products directly in field conditions.

Contact for more information: Ing. Petr Škarpa, Ph.D., +420 602 528 841,, Department of Agrochemistry, Soil Science, Microbiology and Plant Nutrition AF MENDELU

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