Photo by Peggy Greb (K9434-1)
One casualty of America's agricultural revolution were valuable native soil fungi that enabled crops to grow well with less water, nutrients, and pesticides.
Increased agricultural productivity has been largely dependent on high levels of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. There is a growing interest in reducing this dependency by encouraging biologically based systems to enhance productivity and product quality on farms.
That's exactly what ERRC's chemist Philip E. Pfeffer and his co-workers, along with the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, hope to accomplish by helping farmers reestablish the beneficial soil organisms called Mycorrhizal fungi.
Application of AM fungus inocula in large-scale agriculture is cost prohibitive due to the large volumes of inocula needed. We developed technology for on-farm production of AM fungus inocula in enclosures filled with compost and vermiculite in cooperation with the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm . This past year, we determined that supplemental nutrient addition throughout the production period did not influence inoculum production, and that inoculum produced via this method increased potato production approximately 45%. The inoculum yield from a 25 sq ft plot produced on a small farm will be enough inoculate 167 acres. Since the materials for this method cost approximately $50, this technology has the potential to decrease farmers' costs and increase profits as well as decrease the environmental impacts of fertilizer application.
We have made significant progress in identifying key metabolites during the fungus/plant interaction and have also identified several key recognition events during the symbiosis.