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Originally published in Fertilizer International 508 | May-June 2022

Waking up the microbiome

Due to the lack of a proper food source, roughly 75 percent of microbes in soils are dormant or asleep. While dormant, these microbes cannot do their usual job, such as optimizing nutrient availability and helping alleviate water stress on the farm.
To overcome this problem, Arizona-based Heliae® Agriculture has developed PhycoTerra®, a superior soil microbial food manufactured from natural sources. This tailor-made microalgae product, manufactured using the company’s proprietary technology, provides an ideal, balanced meal for the soil microbiome, including bacteria and fungi. By feeding the dormant microbes in the soil, PhycoTerra® helps improve soil structure, nutrient availability, and water holding capacity on farm fields. A living soil is a healthy soil and – by waking up the microbiome – the application of PhycoTerra® helps the soil profile develop a diverse and thriving microbial ecosystem (Figure 1). This is important, given that an active microbiome is crucial for both healthy soils and therefore healthy farmer profits.

Side by side comparison of soil

Figure 1: In contrast to a typical soil (left), the application of PhycoTerra® (right) improves soil aggregation and structure, as well as promoting a healthy soil microbiome as shown in the agar plate. By ‘waking up’ the microbiome, these improvements enhance the soil’s ability to support crop growth.

PhycoTerra® can be easily mixed with liquid fertilizers alongside other common crop inputs. This makes it simple to incorporate into existing nutrient management plans as a soil health building component. PhycoTerra® is also pasteurized and therefore safe and easy for retailers and growers to store and handle.

Benefits of liquid fertilizers

Liquid fertilizers help maintain crop productivity and long-term soil fertility by adding crucial nutrients to the soil. Different formulations can be applied at different crop stages during the growing season to match crop nutrient demands. Examples include:

  • Ammonium polyphosphate (e.g., 10-34-0) applied with seed as a ‘starter’ or ‘pop-up’ phosphorous source to fuel early plant growth at the start of the season.
  • Liquid nitrogen products (e.g., UN32, UN28, AN20, ATS, etc.) applied as a side-dress on corn to help meet the rapid mid-season increase in nitrogen demand.
  • Specialty liquid fertilizers (e.g., KNO3, KTS, CAN17, CN9) used to improve the quality and size of fruit and nuts as these crops develop and mature.

Liquid fertilizers are associated with high nutrient use efficiency because application timings can be closely aligned with actual plant demand. Nonetheless, liquid fertilizers can still benefit from the addition of a component, such as PhycoTerra®, that specifically promotes soil health and biological integrity (Figure 2). Its inclusion alongside liquid fertilizers has been shown to optimize nutrient availability in the crop.

Adding PhycoTerra<sup>®</sup> to a range of different liquid fertilizers

Figure 2: A soil microbial food, such as PhycoTerra®, can be added to a wide range of different liquid fertilizers as a soil health building component.

Holistic soil management – by taking account of overlapping physical, chemical and biological properties – helps improves soil health and field performance. Custom liquid fertilizer blends can adopt this holistic approach by incorporating a soil microbial food. This helps integrate and achieve several soil management goals via a single product application.

Optimizing liquid fertilizers

Another distinct advantage to liquid fertilizers is the degree of customization that is possible by blending different components together. This flexibility and adaptability allows the final liquid mixture to deliver additional benefits beyond just crop fertilization, including waking up the soil microbiome and improving soil health. Adding PhycoTerra® to liquid fertilizer programs allows growers to optimize their crop inputs by combining the addition of both nutrients and a pasteurized microbial food to soils (Figure 2).

PhycoTerra® is easily mixed with liquid fertilizers such as 10-34-0 or UN32. This not only provides the nutrients the crop needs but also allows the grower to improve their soil health at the same time. Applying these enhanced liquid blends allows the same farm infrastructure (e.g. tank, irrigation, liquid planter kit, etc.) to accomplish more work in the field without any extra complications.

Demonstrated soil quality improvements

Research trials and field results have repeatedly demonstrated the benefit of mixing PhycoTerra® with a liquid fertilizer program. Many opportunities exist throughout the season to awaken soil microbes – from the beginning of the season with a high phosphate starter, to a mid-season side-dress nitrogen application. Doing so helps provide crops the nutrients they need by improving soil health and quality. Adding a soil health building component to liquid fertilizer programs is now becoming easier thanks to innovative technologies such as PhycoTerra®.