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Biologicals for Drought

In drought-stricken years, the uncertainty of low yields can make it challenging to conduct trials and explore new agricultural products. Questions arise, like:

"Is a biological product really a sensible choice during a drought year or is it better to wait for more favourable environmental conditions to run a trial?"

It’s important to consider the role of soil biology and its impact on germination and early plant health in drought years. If used and applied properly, the right biological products can be a huge asset at planting to develop a strong healthy plant from square one.

We are going to share some of the research we are currently working on to back up these claims.

Over the years, we have observed results in drought years, where crops have held on an extra week, or where the root development in the treated side allowed a producer to actually pull off a crop.

The first time we saw this was in 2019, on a field of lentils (above) in Foremost, Alberta where this producer had about 2'' of rain during the growing season. Both sides of the line are not ideal, but it was clear to see what ACF-SR was able to do to the treated side.

Since then, we have put a lot of resources and research into the "WHY?"

The focus of our research at the tail end of 2023 and into 2024 has shifted due to new findings in genome sequencing of the bacteria we use. The findings have been groundbreaking when it comes to the discussion around drought.

What does genome sequencing mean?

Every living thing on earth has a genetic footprint. It just so happens that because bacteria have been around for billions of years, they have much more information in their DNA than any other living thing on earth. Below is a chart quantifying this:

When we began observing at the DNA footprint of the bacteria species we use, the WHY became a lot clearer. Below is a breakdown of functionalities built into the DNA of 2 of the bacteria species we use in our products:

What we found most interesting about this data is how much of it relates to plant stress and drought tolerance. Look at the percentage number on "stress response." Stress response can technically mean any stress a plant has during the growing season. However, there are other parameters to consider when thinking about drought tolerance in this data. Let's take a closer look at the gene data mapping breakdown of all 4 species in our A*LIVE Seed product... The parameters highlighted in blue are directly related to drought stress in a plant. The numbers are high in every single one of these species.

Gene data mapping is a great start to understand the functionalities of our biological products. What about data on plants? This is where things get really exciting.

Dr. Polina Volkova, Doctor of Biological Science and our Director of Research has set up trials in our greenhouse, where all data compiled is statistically relevant. This was done with 2 methods:

  1. With artificial soil: to remove variances in soil parameters and to quantify what our bacteria can do when applied exclusively on seed, under more controlled environments.

  2. Soil trays: where we set up 144 trays, looking at 1020 different plants (treated and control) with different soil medias (productive and non productive soil).

Below is an image of the artificial soil we used in a seed treatment trial on wheat under drought conditions (where watering was eliminated shortly after planting). You can see the plants on the right have much better root development and in fact, the treated plants had a 33% faster germination rate.

As for the tray method, below are "control" and "treated" images showing a mix of grass seed 9 days after planting, under "simulated drought conditions."



The results from this trial above are staggering. After 9 days, there was an extra inch of growth in the treated and roughly 50% better plant growth overall - all under drought conditions, where these trays received no water from March 25 - April 3.

Now, let's look at some data on soybeans using these two methods of trialing:

Soybean Run, Experimental Setup

  • 3 “treatments”:  Control, Seed Treatment liquid, and Seed Treatment Powder

  • Seed Treatment dose equivalent to recommended field dose

  • Each treatment had 8 x 1020 plants

  • Each tray had 24 seeds, so 192 soybean plants in each treatment group

  • All trays subjected to equal PAR (photoactive radiation), temp, humidity

  • All trays randomly relocated in the greenhouse bays every 48 hours

  • All trays receive identical water whenever watering occurred


Product Dosing – A*LIVE Seed

  • Seed treatment was performed (or control – just water) on March 15, in the morning

  • Planting performed March 15, afternoon

  • Humidity domes kept on the trays through March 25


Second Product Dosing – Brewed ACF

  • Additional dosing (ACF brewed material) applied to half of the trays in each treatment group, chosen randomly, on 3/28

  • Standard field dose rates were applied

  • Watering of trays was intentionally low (to simulate drought conditions) from March 25 through April 3.

Below is a graph showing the soybean length, average per tray, with the grey line as "control."

During the period of "drought," the results become even more impressive:

This data shows the trays that received treatment, some with seed treat only, some with combined seed treat and brewed ACF, dramatically outperformed the control trays under drought conditions.  

Plants treated with our biologicals, whether seed treatment alone or seed treatment plus brewed ACF grew during the drought conditions. The control group (with zero product) lost biomass during the drought.

This backs up what we've seen in the field on soybeans, and something we will continue to work on.

For more on soybean research, click here for more replicated work we've done with this crop.

Let's go back to our strains of bacteria we use and what they will do to directly improve a plant's ability to withstand drought conditions... By the way, we encourage anyone to use Google or ChatGPT to learn more about these bacteria. There is a lot of public information and research out there on these individual strains:

Bacillus licheniformis:

  • Produces exopolysaccharides for soil aggregation

  • Improves soil structure and water retention

  • Enhances soil moisture availability for plants during drought

Bacillus amyloliquefaciens:

  • Secretes antimicrobial compounds and plant growth-promoting substances

  • Suppresses pathogens and promotes plant growth

  • Induces systemic resistance in plants against drought stress

Bacillus subtilis:

  • Produces antimicrobial compounds and enzymes

  • Inhibits pathogens and stimulates plant growth

  • Induces systemic resistance in plants, improving drought tolerance

Nitrobacter winogradskyi:

  • Converts nitrite into nitrate, promoting nitrogen cycling

  • Increases soil fertility and nutrient availability

  • Supports plant growth and drought tolerance through improved nitrogen uptake

Rhodopseudomonas palustris:

  • Fixes nitrogen, providing plants with supplemental nitrogen

  • Increases nitrogen availability for stress-related protein synthesis

  • Supports plant resilience to drought through enhanced nutrient uptake

Nitrosomonas europaea:

  • Converts ammonia into nitrite, facilitating nitrogen cycling

  • Enhances nutrient availability for plant growth

  • Supports physiological functions in plants during drought stress

With the increasing frequency of drought years in the prairies, the evidence and scientific research we are conducting overwhelmingly supports the need for our proven biological solutions. Proper biologicals don't just offer a glimpse of hope; it is an essential part of the solution.

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