Haldimand farmer’s success with no-till planting technique could lead to developments in microbial fertilizers
MP Susan Truppe holds an Austrian Pea grown in soil populated with helpful microorganisms while A&L Biologicals Research Director holds the same plant grown in soil that didn't have the same microfauna in place, leading to a weaker, smaller plant during a press conference in London, Ont. on Friday March 20, 2015. (MIKE HENSEN, The London Free Press)
A Haldimand-area corn farmer with an engineering degree, Dean Glenney had a question he couldn’t answer.
Why, when he planted corn along the remains of a fence row, did it grow better on virgin soil?
“For the first year, the corn was two feet higher in the fence row, in what had been undisturbed soil, and that planted a seed in my head,” Glenney said.
So how could he spread the benefits to his whole field?
Over 20 years, Glenney has worked on solving his question. Now, his no-till technique — corn is planted without disturbing the soil — has had great results. He regularly gets yields of 300 bushels an acre, growing corn in the exact same spot for 20 years, while nearby farms average half that.
His doubling of the average North American yield attracted the attention of A & L Biologicals, a London company located in the airport industrial area.
For George Lazarovits, research director at A&L, Glenney’s big yields provided a challenge.
“We were trying to identify, what did he do, why are his yields double that of the average farmer in Canada, or North America?”
A&L determined the answer lies not in how much fertilizer or organic nutrients are already in the soil, or sprayed onto the field, but on the health of the ecosystem of microorganisms that live in the soil.
Microbes live inside the corn plant to help it use nitrogen and phosphorus for better plant growth. They also help fight off diseases.
But A&L needed more money to study what makes up the fungal and bacterial communities in a healthy soil ecosystem, which in turn leads to bigger crop yields.
Friday, London North Centre MP Susan Truppe announced a $1.19-million federal grant to help fund that research. The money comes from a federal agricultural innovation program.
Corn is one of Ontario’s major crops. Nationally, 13.1 million tonnes were grown in Canada last year.
With numbers like that, boosting the per-acre yield could be a boon to farmers and others.
Lazarovits said the money will be used to pay for help from Western University researchers. The field trials will start with 20 corn fields in Ontario. In time, the research could lead to microbial fertilizers, said Lazarovits.
The idea is to find out what microbes make the plant more efficient using the same amount of fertilizers, said Gregg Patterson, A&L’s president.