When examining conventional fertilizer's impacts on agricultural sectors, many positive results come to mind — such as increased yield growth and a more productive method of managing cropping systems.
However, as noted in a recent article by the Flatwater Free Press, an immoderate use of nitrate fertilizers on cropland can have detrimental health consequences for our drinking water. Influxed water nitrate levels have been correlated with escalated levels of pediatric cancer. As the Flatwater Free Press states, there are few ways to enforce “rules meant to protect our groundwater.” The article expounds on current efforts to resolve this problem but notes there hasn’t been much success. With this in mind, I would like to propose a possible solution.
As stated in a February 2021 article by doctoral researcher Eduardo K. Mitter, “Biofertilizers are living microbes artificially added to plant systems that enhance plant nutrition by either mobilizing or increasing nutrient availability in soils.” To understand how biofertilizers work, take for example the primitive microbes found in the root systems of legumes like soybeans and alfalfa. These organisms are called nitrogen-fixing bacteria because they convert complex nitrogen into a simpler, more plant-usable form. This process is known as nutrient cycling. Harnessing the power of microbes found in root systems, such as Azotobacter and Rhodospirillum, agriculturalists can now increase elements like nitrogen in their cropping systems. Biofertilizers are applied with standard in-furrow application equipment and are growing increasingly popular in many parts of our state. Using biofertilizers will accomplish the same results as many standard fertilizers and will result in many benefits.
First, farmers will see decreased production costs, seeing that biofertilizers require less product to yield the same result and are widely the cheaper option.
Second, biofertilizer studies have shown that for many farmers, utilizing these products has resulted in better yield growth and soil health, thus benefiting the long-term health of their cropland. Finally, biofertilizers cannot run off into our drinking water. Because biofertilizers contain living microbes naturally found in our ecosystem, they do not produce the same negative effects on our environment compared to overapplied, conventional fertilizers. Nitrogen-specific biofertilizers that are applied with standard starters during planting provide nitrogen supplementation without the risk of fertilizer runoff. Examining the current issue of increased nitrate runoff into our drinking water, it is apparent that biofertilizers provide a potential solution to help this issue.
Although biofertilizers aren't a perfect solution for all farming systems, they may alleviate some of the nitrate runoff issues we are having. Not to mention, they will provide financial benefits along with improved soil health. Increasing education about biofertilizers and other solutions that can aid in the runoff issue will be imperative going into the future.