Soil School: Feeding microbes with bio-based fertilizer

FS Partners precision ag manager Nicole Penney.

Organic matter plays a key role in soil health, productivity, and resiliency. But building or replenishing organic matter can take a long time and a tremendous amount of organic material.

On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Soil School we visit with Nicole Penney, precision ag manager for FS Partners in Ontario. Penney notes that it takes about 200,000 pounds of organic material to increase soil organic matter by one per cent.

Research is showing, however, that there are organic matter strategies other than just simply increasing the percentage of carbon in the soil. In trials this summer, Penney and FS Partners are testing bio-based fertilizer. At the company’s Ayr, Ont. research location, she’s keeping a close eye on how soybean and corn crops respond to SymTRX10S bio-based fertilizer with sulfur (14-24-0-10S).

Penney says it’s important to note that the product contains 15 per cent recycled organic matter, which feeds soil microbes and promotes microbial activity. Trials in 2021 were conducted using a 50-50 blend of SymTRX10S and MicroEssentials in a 2×2 band at planting.

Research plots have yet to be harvested, but Penney is encouraged by what she’s seeing in the trials. In soybeans treated with the bio-based fertilizer, she’s observed a larger root mass at first trifoliate as well as a higher number of pods and seeds per pod as the crop nears maturity. Similar results are also being seen in corn plots. (Story continues after the video.)

What’s happening? Penny believes the bio-based fertilizer is helping increase soil respiration and really waking up the soil. With higher microbial activity comes increased nutrient availability. “So we’re hoping that translates into yield,” she adds.

If the bio-based fertilizer products do deliver higher yields and contribute to healthier, more productive soils, where might they fit on the farm? Penney believes a soil test is likely the best way to answer that question. Bio-based products could help farms with tougher soils, where the phosphorous is needed, or in situations where a kick from the extra organic matter is worth the investment. Higher pH fields could also benefit from more available phosphorus, which can often be tied up.

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