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Biology for Drought Tolerance

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

In drought years, it can be difficult to run trials and try new products because of the uncertainty of low yields.

Does ACF-SR make sense in a full program during a drought year? Should you wait for moisture and good environmental conditions before looking at running a trial?

We believe it should be the opposite. Here's why:

Obviously, your plants need water to give you an ROI on your input costs. Where does that ROI come from though? We tend to look above the soil to determine how much your farm makes in a year. In reality, we should be looking under the soil.

Why is it that we always see better root development using ACF in our trials? That's because we are feeding the soil and plant roots with biology, rather than feeding what's above the soil. It IS important to feed your plant, but it's equally as important to not forget about your soil and the biology that creates large roots systems.

What does this mean for drought tolerance?

ACF-SR actually makes amendments to the soil structure, allowing water to go deeper. The bacteria in ACF-SR help the roots grow deeper while creating more hair roots so they can absorb water from deeper soil.

In general, the plant is healthier and able to uptake more nutrients as the bacteria help in transforming inorganic nutrients into organic, water-soluble forms. ACF-SR also improves nitrogen and phosphorous uptake.

There are 2 additional mechanisms responsible for the enhanced drought resistance. The bacteria form "biofilms" that will help to retain water, much like super-absorbent polymers. This, in turn, helps to reduce evaporation and transpiration, conserving water. Also, the photosynthetic bacteria in ACF-SR actually generate water.

Above - plant on the left had ACF-SR applied in this trial. The plant on the right did not. We have countless photos like this, from different soil types, climates and crops.

Soil biology, driving root development is the key to not only drought resistance, but really, any stress that can be caused to the plant. We like to compare a healthy root system to a healthy immune system in our bodies.

According to an article from Applied Soil Ecology, plant-associated microbial communities, such as mycorrhizal fungi, nitrogen-fixing bacteria (ACF-SR) and plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (ACF-SR), enhance crop productivity and provide stress resistance. These plant growth promoting bacteria represent a wide range of root-colonizing bacteria with excellent root colonizing ability and capacity to produce a wide range of enzymes and metabolites that help plants tolerate both biotic and abiotic stresses. Their roles in the management of abiotic stresses such as drought are only beginning to gain attention.

To further expand on this, This article from National Library of Medicine states: PGPR could be effectively utilized in developing strategies to facilitate water conservation strategies of plants. They have the ability to improve plant growth directly by enhancing level of phytohormones, siderophore, biofilm, and exopolysaccharides production and by increasing the nutrient availability in the rhizosphere or indirectly by protecting plants from pathogen attack.

This picture above tells the story. On just over 2 inches of rain, this lentil crop by Foremost, Alberta, really had no chance. The only difference here was that ACF was sprayed on the right side. Above ground, it was clear that the plant was much more resistant to drought, but it all started early on in the season, when roots were starting to form.

These are the plants side by side. For us, the biggest take away was the difference in root development. During the drought, the plant on the left was able to use water much more efficiently than the plant on the right.

It seems that these drought years are happening more often. According to science and many many years of research, a proven biological like ACF-SR should be a part to the solution.

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