Tag Archives: Agriculture

Beneficial Microorganisms in Agriculture

Beneficial Microorganisms in Agriculture

Beneficial Microorganims in Agriculture. Here’s a situation where a picture does tell a thousand words.

The picture below is a side by side comparison showing Biota Max™, a biofertilizer, (on the left) and untreated (on the right). This is a great example of the power of using beneficial microorganisms in agriculture, farming, and gardening. 

You’ll notice that the plants on the treated side are much healthier and greener. This is because the root system on the treated side is much more developed. This larger, more developed root system allows the plant to take up nutrients and water more efficiently.

Beneficial Microorganisms in Agriculture

Biota Max side by side field trial. The side on the left used Biota Max.


Beneficial Microorganisms

This field trial used Biota Max™ our unique, effervescent soil treatment. Each Biota Max™ tablet contains billions of beneficial microbes. Both beneficial bacteria and beneficial Trichoderma fungi are contained in the tablet. Included in Biota Max™ are 5 species of Bacillus, 4 species of Trichoderma fungi and Paenibacillus polymyma, a nitrogen fixing bacteria.

Beneficial microorganisms are used in agriculture as both a soil and seed treatment. Beneficial microbes are sometimes called biofertilizers, soil amendments, or soil probiotics.

As the picture so dramatically illustrates, biofertilizers help grow bigger, healthier and more vibrant plants and vegetables. This is why the use of biofertilizers and biological soil amendments is growing in agriculture, farming, and gardening.

Custom Biologicals

Custom Biologicals, Inc. manufactures a number of innovative microbial products for agriculture, including Biota Max™. We specialize in manufacturing concentrated microbial products. Our  products are ideal for agriculture, farming and gardening.

Dealer and distributor inquires are always welcome. We have both domestic and international distributor agreements available. Private labeling, customized formulations, and protected territories are also available. Protected territories are only available for our international distributors.

Contact CustomBio at (561) 797-3008 or via email at Bill@Custombio.biz.



Soil Microbes and Nutrient Recycling

Soil Microbes and Nutrient Recycling

Nutrient recycling in soil is generally performed by microorganisms. Both beneficial soil fungi and beneficial soil bacteria are the main players. Soil microbes will exist in extremely large numbers in soils as long as a carbon source exists for energy. Interestingly, in undisturbed soils fungi tend to dominate the soil biomass, while in tilled soils bacteria, actinomycetes, and protozoa dominate the soils. This is due to the fact that the later are hardier species and can tolerate more soil disruptions.

Organic Matter Decomposition by Microorganisms

The decomposition of organic matter serves two distinct functions for microorganisms. This process provides both an energy source and supplies carbon for cell growth and reproduction. Absent  a reliable carbon source, there are less microorganisms and the organisms that are present tend to be in a dormant state. This is the condition found in

Nutrient Recycling

Dawn on the road in the forest in summer

tilled and highly used soils.

In contrast, long term no tilled soils have significantly higher levels of microbes, higher levels of soil decomposition, more active carbon, and more stored carbon. In other words, these soils have a greater degree of nutrient recycling and are healthier as a results.

The overall health of soil will be greatly effected by the amount of organic carbon in the soil. This organic carbon is needed to support an active, healthy microbial population.

Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio

The break down of organic compounds by microorganisms is greatly dependent on the carbon to nitrogen ratio  (C:N). Bacteria generally start the decomposition process first. They have high nitrogen content in their cells but are typically less efficient at converting the organic carbon to new cells. Aerobic bacteria only metabolize and assimilate 5-10% of the available carbon leaving behind many waste carbon compounds.

The fungi are much more efficient at converting soil carbon into new cells. They can assimilate 40-55 % of the existing carbon. In particular, fungi are invaluable in consuming both cellulose and lignin.

Protozoa and nematodes consume the nitrogen rich bacteria and help the nutrient recycling process. They release the nitrogen as ammonia. Ammonia and soil nitrates are converted back and forth in the soil.

Microorganism communities change rapidly and continuously in the soil as organic matter is added, consumed, and recycled.

In conclusion, microorganisms are critical to decomposing and nutrient recycling. To have healthy, productive soils both a thriving microorganism population and carbon source are necessary pieces of the puzzle.

Have questions about nutrient recycling? Custom Biologicals can help. We manufacture a number of biological products that help with nutrient recycling in farming and gardening. Contact Custom at (561) 797-3008 or via email at Bill@Custombio.biz.


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Specific Plant Benefits Provided by Beneficial Soil Bacteria

 Beneficial Soil Bacteria

Beneficial soil bacteria cause a number of specific plant benefits. These benefits include; larger, healthier roots, nutrient processing, and secretion of plant growth regulating substances. This post will discuss each of these plant benefits in more detail.

Beneficial Soil Bacteria Help grow Larger, Healthier Roots

There are a number of bacteria that help promote plant growth and they are sometimes beneficial soil bacteriacalled Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobacteria (PGBR). PGBR are defined as rhizospere inhabiting bacteria that have a positive effect on plant growth and plant health. There are several genera that are considered PGPR including, Bacillus, Azospirillum, and Pseudomonas.

Beneficial soil bacteria, such as Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus megaterium, produce a class of chemicals called cytokinins. These cytokinins impact roots by overproduction of root hairs and and lateral roots. This, in turn, provides the plant with an increased ability to take up water and nutrients. So, as expected, a larger healthier root system provides for a healthier plant.

Enhanced Nutrient Processing

Bacteria process a wide variety of chemicals. Often times taking in inorganic compounds and metabolizing them into organic compounds. The bacteria need phosphate for DNA and RNA synthesis and for production of ATP. The benefit to the plant of this processing is the conversion of the phosphate from an insoluble form to a soluble one. Since insoluble phosphate is inaccessible to the plant, this processing by bacteria is invaluable to the plant.

Bacteria Produce and Secrete plant Growth Regulating Compounds

Along with the cytokinins, mentioned earlier, bacteria produce a number of beneficial growth compounds  that convey a plant benefit. These include plant hormones (sometimes called phytohormones) and  auxins. Together phytohormones, cytokinins, and auxins regulate plant growth, root size, and fruit formation. Ultimately, its the beneficial bacteria that either produce these compounds or induce the plant to produce these compounds.

Custom Biologicals manufactures a wide variety of biological products for use in environmental applications. Our agricultural products include Custom B5, a blend of 5 beneficial soil bacteria that convey the specific plant benefits mentioned above. Contact Custom for more information. 

Living Organic Fertilizer

mighty grow sales sheet pngLiving Organic Fertilizer

OMRI Listed and Processed with Natural Trace Minerals and Beneficial Microorganisms

Living Organic Fertilizer is a innovative, OMRI listed, biologically active fertilizer manufactured by Mighty Grow. Made from poultry litter and processed with live beneficial microbes and trace minerals, this revolutionary product is an all purpose, premium fertilizer.

Living Organic fertilizer is a 4/3/4 product and is suitable for use in organic farming, gardening, and golf course greens.

Living Organic Fertilizer is:

  • Biologically Active
  • Naturally Time Released
  • 100% Organic, OMRI Listed
  • Safe and Natural
  • Non-Burning
  • Promoties both plant and soil health. Increases soil organic matter.
  • Replaces beneficial soil microorganisms and contains both beneficial soil fungi and beneficial soil bacteria.

An often overlooked component of soil health are beneficial soil microorganisms. In fact, beneficial bacteria and beneficial fungi are largely responsible for making a wide variety of nutrients available to the plant. Additionally, soil microorganisms are responsible for mineralization and immobilization of soil nutrients.

A common element of healthy soils, is a large, diverse population of soil microorganisms. So what happens in soils that don’t have this population of soil organisms? Simple, the crops underperform and require increasing amounts of traditional fertilizers. Not only are traditional fertilizers expensive, they are environmentally suspect.

The solution is Living Organic Fertilizer containing five species of beneficial soil bacteria and four species of beneficial soil bacteria.

Living Organic Fertilizer Contains Beneficial Soil Microorganisms.

  • Beneficial Soil Bacteria
    1. Bacillus subtilis
    2. Bacillus licheniformus
    3. Bacillus pumilus
    4. Bacillus megaterium
    5. Bacillus laterosporus
  • Beneficial Soil Fungi
    1. Trichoderma harzianum
    2. Trichoderma kongii
    3. Trichoderma viride
    4. Trichoderma polysporum

Contact me for more information about Living Organic fertilizer or biologically active fertilizers at (561) 797-3008 or Bill@custombio.biz.


Living Organic 4-3-4 Bulk Label




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Plant Growth Promoting Bacteria

Plant Growth Promoting Bacteria


Great review article about plant growth promoting bacteria. The link, citation, and author are below. The author believes, as I do, that in the not to distant future, plant growth promoting bacteria, PGPB, will begin to replace chemicals used in agriculture, horticulture,

plant growth promoting bacteria

Plant Growth Promoting Bacteria

environmental cleanup strategies, and even in home gardening. This change will not be a one size fits all solution, and no doubt some new technologies and application strategies will need to be employed.

Some of the key points:

  • In healthy soils, there are 108 to 10bacteria per gram but in stressed soils this number greatly decreases to as low as 104 bacteria per gram.
  • A number of different bacterial species are currently used in agriculture; however plant growth promoting bacteria are only used on a small fraction of available crops.
  • Bacteria are used for:
    • Nitrogen fixation
    • Phosphate Solubilization
    • Sequestering Iron
    • Producing Phytohormones
    • Producing Gibberellins,  Cytokinins,  Indoleacetic Acid, and Etylene
  • Bacteria affect plants in indirect ways like through competitive exclusion, and modulating the effects of stress.

The conclusion of the article is that the use of bacteria in agriculture has come of age. Taking advantage of microbe-plant interactions will be the future of agriculture. Additional studies will be needed, however, the commercial use of plant growth promoting bacteria will be more prevalent in the coming years.



Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 963401, 15 pages
Review Article

Plant Growth-Promoting Bacteria: Mechanisms and Applications

Bernard R. Glick



Custom Biologicals, Inc.  manufactures a number of microbial products with plant growth promoting bacteria (PBPG). These biofertilizers contain both beneficial soil bacteria and beneficial Trichoderma fungi. Distributor inquires, both domestic and international are always welcome. Private formulations and protected areas are available. Contact Custom at (561) 797-3008 or via email at Bill@Custombio.biz.


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What do Soil Organisms Do?

Nutrient cycling in the dry savannas

What do Soil Organisms Do?

We’re all aware that our soils are teeming with life, from the microscopic (bacteria) to the macroscopic (earthworms). In this post, we’ll examine some of the common soil organisms and discuss what they do in the soil.

First, the players. Here’s a list of common soil organisms. Keep in mind that the soil ecosystem is extremely varied and small changes in common soil characteristics (pH, water, temperature, nutrient levels) can have a large impact on the species found in the soil.

  • Bacteria – both aerobic and anaerobic. As many as 100,000,000 bacteria per teaspoon of soil.
  • Fungi – singled celled and multi-celled. Several yards per teaspoon.
  • Protozoa – one celled animals. Several thousand protozoa per teaspoons of soil.
  • Nematodes – also called roundworms. 10-20 nematodes per teaspoon of soil is typical.
  • Arthropods – includes insects, spiders. Several hundred per cubic foot.
  • Earthworms – One inch or more long. healthy soils will have 5-30 earthworms per cubic foot.

As you can see, healthy soils contain a wide variety of soil organisms. From simple single celled organisms, to more complex organisms like insects and earthworms.

The Value of Soil Organisms

From a farming perspective, a diverse active population of soil organisms has four main benefits; nutrient cycling, enhancing soil structure, enhancing plant growth, and controlling plant disease. Each of these benefits could be a topic on their own. I’ll just summarize the benefits here.

Nutrient Cycling – Probably the most important from a farming perspective, soil organisms help store nutrients in the soil and create new organic nutrients. Soil organisms are continually transforming and recycling nutrients. The key tasks of decomposition, mineralization, immobilization, and mineral transformation are all performed by soil organisms.

Enhanced Soil Structure – Crumbly, well aerated soils tend to support the most crops. Soil organisms are the key component of soil structure.

Enhanced Plant Growth – Beneficial soil bacteria and beneficial soil fungi produce a wide variety of plant hormones. These  hormones stimulate plant roots.

Controlling Plant Disease – Soil organisms have a wide variety of ways to deal with plant predators. Some of the microscopic organisms complete with pathogens for food sources. Insects and protozoa tend to consume some of the harmful plant organisms, keeping their populations in check.

Each type of soil organism fits a unique niche, playing a different role in nutrient cycling, enhanced soil structure, and controlling plant diseases and plant predators.



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Sustainable Development Key for UN Action Agenda

Sustainable Development Key for UN Action Agenda

Sustainable development is one of 5 keys for the UN’s action agenda over the next few year. The major components of the sustainable development plan are halting farmland expansion, close yield gaps, reduce waste, shift diets, and use inputs more strategically.

Using inputs mores strategically is a key element to the use of biofertilizers and beneficial microorganisms. Sustainable development is a planetary goal and the United Nations plan to be a key player in this effort.


July 12, 2013

Sustainable development is one of the five priorities of UN Action Agenda for the next five years, and food, nutrition security and sustainable agriculture figure prominently in that plan.

Also the UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability has identified this as a key issue and calls for a 21st Century Green Revolution that increases productivity, but also drastically reduces resource intensity and protects biodiversity at the same time. Economic growth with resilience to environmental threats will be central to the agenda of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June this year, which aims to map out a pathway of sustainable development for the planet. The ’Zero Draft’, the document states a resolve to fight hunger, eradicates poverty and work towards just and economically stable societies.

Food security is critical to this mission. The threats are numerous: repeated food price spikes; shortages of good-quality land and water; rising energy and fertilizer prices; and the consequences of climate change. Already, somewhere between 900 million and a billion people are chronically hungry, and by 2050 agriculture will have to cope with these threats while feeding a growing population with changing dietary demands. This will require doubling food production, especially if we are to build up reserves for climatic extremes. Durable food security and agricultural growth depend on development strategies with resilience built in from the start. To do this requires sustainable intensification — getting more from less — on a durable basis.

Food security is being threatened from many directions, not least from unsustainable forms of agriculture that are degrading the soil, water and biological diversity – problems that will be exacerbated by climate change. Time has come to turn again, therefore, to sustainable agriculture – ensuring that farmers, and particularly small producers, have the support they need to grow nutritious food in ways that meet human needs today, while protecting vital environmental resources for future generations. Time has come also to capitalize on our efforts in regional cooperation – ensuring that we avoid food protectionism and, instead, use our regional strengths to build flexible and resilient systems of food security.

As governments face up to the current economic storms, they must ensure that everyone, everywhere, has enough to eat. This is a clear humanitarian and development priority, but it is also a political imperative; food insecure people make angry citizens. The first priority, therefore, is to check the resilience of social safety nets – and, if necessary, bolster them to meet the immediate crisis. But the region also needs to look to the future. As this study emphasizes, the world’s food system has become increasingly fragile.

Combining Traditional and Technological

Farmers around the world will need to produce more food and other agricultural products on less land, with fewer pesticides and fertilizers, less water and lower outputs of greenhouse gases. This must be done on a large scale, more cheaply than current farming methods allow. And it will have to be sustainable — that is, it must last. For this to happen, the intensification will have to be resilient. Developing resilient agriculture will require technologies and practices that build on agro-ecological knowledge and enable smallholder farmers to counter environmental degradation and climate change in ways that maintain sustainable agricultural growth.

There was a silent and constructive revolution happening in Punjab with Nanak Kheti to save the environment, regenerate ecological resources to bring back soil productivity and re-establish ecological balance in the farms Organic farming in Punjab is called as “Nanak Kheti”; it means having farm produce by methods and techniques, which are congruent with Mother Nature. It involves zero tillage of land as well as abolition of all the synthetic chemicals which farmers were using to enhance their farm produce. Organic farming has now become a fad with young farmers and some of them have compelling reasons to shift to organic farming from traditional farming.

The farmers opting the Nanak Kheti have a mission, vision and action as they had taken pledges to start natural farming in one go or in a phased manner. Women folk who were ousted from the farming sector by chemical farming had opted for it on a large scale and even from their kitchen gardens, they were saving about Rs 2,500 per month. The experiment of ‘Nanak Kheti’ (natural farming) is a fitting reply to chemical farming in the state. There are at least 400 families who have opted for Nanak kheti in their kitchen gardens, while efforts are also being made on the commercial level. This kind of natural farming has not only reduced the input cost but also provides vegetables to the users. Farmers in Nanak Kheti were using Jeevamrita (a cow urine based microbial preparation) to revive microbial activity in soil.

Mulching is an essential part of natural farming. With the adoption of Jeevamrita and mulching, the farms are again becoming wealthy in soil health. Besides, the farmers for Nanak Kheti are using inter crops, plant residue, fallen leaves, bushes, weeds and sometimes even the wheat straw or the paddy straw cuttings spread in the fields to cover the naked soil. For pest control, month old butter-milk kept with Copper and iron piece is used. Farmer had spent only Rs 100-200 on inputs per acre as against Rs 3000 by a chemical farmer. There is need to train the young farmers how to practice organic farming. Each one of us can make a contribution towards a better Earth, so let’s work towards it beginning today itself.

“Once I was spraying chemicals on sugarcane and the chemicals were so pungent that I had bouts of dizziness and passed out. I was lying unconscious in my fields for two hours before someone spotted me. From there on I started organic farming with a vow to protect the environment”, informs Jasbir Singh (44) of Hindupur village, who is cultivating an organic farm for the past six years. “Even if the produce of wheat per acre in an organic farm is less, but that gets compensated as organic wheat is being sold at double the price. Normal wheat is Rs 1100/quintal, but organic wheat sells at Rs 2700/quintal”, informs Jasbir Singh. He uses crop rotation method for making his soil rich. Like after the harvest of wheat he sows moong dal to restore its fertility. He has even identified patches of his farmland where a particular crop would be sown after two years.

Says Gaurav Sahai (35), an organic farmer in Dera Bassi, “My aim is not to make money, but to ensure that healthy food is available to all. Even poor should have access to healthy food. I initially started it to eat healthy food myself, but as other people too wanted organic grain, the farm size grew”. Gaurav was earlier working in Silicon Valley, left his job and is now doing organic farming on his farm of 5 acres for the past three years. He has a fixed clientele for his produce, and the demand exceeds supply in his case. He agrees that initially he faced teething problems, but after three years when the soil regained its potential, his input now is less than the output, thus making him a healthy profitable. “It is not a practice for me, but organic farming is more or less a lifestyle. I have reverence for my land. I ensure that I don’t use heavy automated machinery on my farm land, rather sometimes I even advocate using bullocks which is a very effective technique,” he says.

Ludhiana-based Jasbir Singh (51) started organic farming when his wife fell ill and doctors informed that her illness was because of the presence of pesticides in the food they were eating. “So, I started organic farming initially for self consumption and then I graduated to commercial farming. I have five net houses where I grow coriander, tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum and turmeric,” informs Jasbir who has a seven-acre organic farm. Twice, he has been awarded by the Government of Punjab, and now plans to start exporting his farm produce. He has a fixed clientele and says word of mouth publicity is the best. For Jasbir organic farming has proved to be a boon from bane. “I made a net profit of Rs 7.5 lakhs from the sale of my farm produce and around Rs 3 lakhs from the sale of vermin-compost to the apple growers of Kinnaur,” exults Jasbir..

Pathogen Evolution

The world’s wheat supplies are under threat from fast-mutating new strains of stripe rust, also known as yellow rust. The new strains attack hitherto resistant varieties and are spreading to new
areas. Unless they are stopped, stripe rust pandemic could destroy millions of hectares of wheat, with low-income countries suffering the most. A dozen countries suffered epidemics of stripe rust in 2009 and 2010. In 2009-10, an epidemic of stripe rust swept across West Asia. Syria lost 25 to 30 per cent of its wheat harvest in 2010 as a combined result of drought and stripe rust. The epidemic was caused by a new strain that overcame the resistance provided by the widely used stripe rust resistance gene Yr27.

A landmark study of pathogen variability, using data from 32 countries, highlighted the rapid spread of virulent new races of stripe and stem rust, and identified hot spots of vulnerability to leaf rust. Ug99, a new race of the fungus that causes stem rust, has spread from East Africa to West Asia, and could spread further into South Asia, Central Asia, China and the Mediterranean region. The incidence of leaf rust is also increasing. Ultimately, the goal should be to develop new resistant varieties to replace current ones – more than 80 per cent of today’s commercial wheat varieties are susceptible to stem and/or stripe rust. Global efforts are needed to develop new identified varieties and breeding materials resistant to the new pathogen strain and better understand how the pathogens evolve, and halt the spread of rust diseases. However, the need of the hour is that Surveillance and monitoring needs to scaled up further to help track the spread of rust pathogens and provide early warning of epidemics.

There is a need that major research advances be made to our understanding of the evolution of new strains and the genetics of resistance. The best insurance against rust is to develop not one but a range of resistant varieties suitable for various environments. The risk of a large-scale epidemic is greatly reduced when farmers across a region grow a range of rust-resistant varieties, not just one genetically uniform variety that might suddenly succumb to a new strain. Research is undergoing globally to identify stripe rust resistance genes that act in similar ways under different conditions. This information can be used to develop ‘slow rusting’ varieties that, while not resistant, will suffer only minimal losses in yield and grain quality. Such varieties are the best defense against stripe rust, particularly in areas where fungicides are unavailable or too expensive.

Drought and salinity stresses are often linked. New findings and new research tools are helping to combat drought – one of the biggest challenges to smallholder agriculture in dry areas. ‘Synthetic’ wheat lines – developed by crossing wild progenitors with cultivated wheat – have shown very high levels of drought tolerance. Recombinant inbred lines (RILs) derived from synthetics were analyzed using more than 220 molecular markers. Several markers have been identified as being associated with grain yield under drought condition. The results provide new insights on how different genotypes respond to drought stress, and how these traits are inherited from one generation to the next.

Improve Water Productivity

Another key research area is water productivity – maximizing yield and/or financial return per unit of water used. Water scarcity is usually the biggest yield limiting factor in dry areas. Supplement irrigation- providing small quantities of water at crucial growth stages, to supplement rainfall – can increase both yield and water productivity, which is the quantity of grain produced per unit of water used. There is a need to promote supplemental irrigation – providing small quantity of water at crucial growth stages to supplement rainfall, where irrigation is limited in quantity but applied at critical plant growth stages, for maximum effectiveness. This is far superior to the common practice of flood irrigation. The aim is to establish ‘threshold’ levels for different crops: how much moisture deficit can the crop tolerate and still give acceptable yields? For example, providing two-thirds of requirements (rather than the full requirement) will maximize water productivity without significant yield reduction. This will help farmers make informed decisions on irrigation.

There is also need to examine the relationship between root structure and the plants’ ability to extract moisture from the soil at different growth stages, and under different moisture regimes. The results are helping to provide clues on the role of root length, thickness and density, and how root development is affected by soil moisture levels. An experiment on stress responses will help to identify physiological traits (and molecular markers associated with these traits) that plant breeders can use to select for drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency.

Trade-Offs between Yield and Water Productivity

Maximum grain yield does not necessarily mean maximum water productivity. In areas with severe water shortages, it may be useful (for the national interest, if not for individual farmers) to maximize water productivity, even at the cost of slightly lower yields. Particularly in cereals, considerable amounts of water can be saved – for example by applying 2/3 SI rather than full SI – without a significant reduction in yield. The saved water can be used to irrigate other fields. These experiments are helping to measure the trade-offs between grain yield and water productivity. In bread wheat, for example, one option is maximum water productivity (12 kg/ha/mm) with a yield of 5.4 tons per hectare. Another option is maximum yield (7 tons) with water productivity of 10.6 kg/ha/mm. Water productivity in wheat was highest at 2/3 SI. But for legume crops, water productivity was highest at full SI – highlighting the difficulties involved in making irrigation decisions in real-world farming systems.

Crumbling Defenses

In 2009-10, an epidemic of stripe rust swept across West Asia. Syria lost 25-30% of its wheat harvest in 2010 as a combined result of drought and stripe rust. Shortly after the first signs of serious infection were spotted in February and March, national partners and ICARDA researchers began tracking rust pathogens and analyzing their virulence in different areas, and on different wheat varieties, in order to understand how the pathogens move and behave.

The epidemic was caused by a new strain that overcame the resistance provided by the widely used stripe rust resistance gene Yr27. Two varieties (Cham 8 and Cham 10) that were grown on 70 per cent of Syria’s bread wheat area were particularly susceptible. By comparing differences and similarities in resistance between wheat varieties in Syria, neighboring countries and other continents, researcher’s identified varieties and breeding materials resistant to the new pathogen strain.

GIS-Enabled Spatial Analysis

Rainwater harvesting – trapping run-off water and channeling it to more productive use – can greatly improve food production as well as water productivity (‘more crop per drop’). Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify the best locations for water harvesting systems should be identified. The first task was to compile hard-to-find information on land cover, topography, soils and precipitation – the key factors that determine whether a site is suitable for water harvesting. Using GIS and data integration tools, this information was transformed into maps showing suitability for different kinds of water harvesting systems. The study looked at two kinds of systems: micro-catchments, where the field is also the catchment area; and macro-catchments, where many fields share water trapped from a large catchment area. Site suitability was assessed for six micro-catchment systems (contour ridges, semi-circular bunds, small pits, small run-off basins, run-off strips, contour bench terraces) under three different land-use scenarios: range shrubs, field crops, and tree crops. For macro-catchment systems, suitability for catchment and for farming was analyzed separately, followed by an assessment of the constraint imposed by distance between farm and catchment area.

Making Water Harvesting Work for Farmers

Eight watersheds were shortlisted for potential pilot projects. The selection was based on the GIS analysis as well as other criteria including population concentration, and availability of water, land, and agricultural data.

To begin with, pilot water harvesting systems should be built at two three shortlisted sites: The maps could help plan a water harvesting program to reverse this trend.

Participatory Plant Breeding

An innovative breeding program be implemented which, inter alia, includes farmers, researchers and extension staff jointly and evaluate a wide range of crop varieties, both indigenous and introduced, to select those that best suited local needs.

Community-led Technology Dissemination

To accelerate the dissemination of new varieties, a farmer seed cooperative be established. A group of pilot farmers be provided with ‘nucleus’ seed of new varieties developed by the project, together with training on seed production, quality control and storage.
A long-term project should be implemented jointly with a number of government agencies and NGOs to help introduce new technologies, new farmer-participatory research methods, and village-based seed enterprises to disseminate new varieties.

Representative Sites

Good management of watersheds is the key to agricultural development, particularly in areas with low and variable rainfall. The first step is to identify ‘benchmark’ sites where watershed management technologies can be tested. A research site must be representative of conditions over a larger area – this will help scale out results to similar ecologies elsewhere. The study to identify suitable sites was conducted in the Tripolitania region in western Libya and the Cyrenaica region in the east. Both are important agricultural zones with a mixture of cropping, forestry and livestock production.

Multidisciplinary teams – GIS experts, water and land scientists, rangeland experts, socio-economists and others – first identified the key characteristics of an ‘ideal’ site. They collected information on the biophysical and socioeconomic conditions in all major watersheds in the two regions: rainfall, and use and cropping patterns, soils, topography, location and size of population centers, transport links…
Geographic information systems (GIS) were then used to compare the data with the characteristics of ‘ideal’ sites, to identify the most suitable locations for an integrated research program. The next stage was ‘ground-truthing’. The teams visited each potential watershed to better understand factors that would not be readily apparent from the data alone, such as land suitability, local knowledge, attitudes of communities to innovation and their willingness to participate in the research. It also allowed the teams to assess the degree to which each site was representative of other areas.

Once the benchmark watersheds were chosen, the team collected detailed baseline data on soil, hydrology, socioeconomic characteristics, and current and potential land use patterns. This was used as a basis for selecting sites for specific research topics (such as small-scale water harvesting and supplemental irrigation) and for future out-scaling and dissemination.

Research for Development

These benchmark sites will help pilot an integrated package of technologies, including new varieties and improved land and water management methods. Research may be carried out in farmers’ fields, with the community, to identify and test each technology component, and then to integrate components into a ‘package’ for sustainable agriculture and improved livelihoods. Developing agriculture with resilience depends on science, technology and innovation; but there are no magic bullets. We need strong political leadership. To transform agriculture and food systems, all stakeholders should be involved in decision-making, especially women and small-scale farmers and food producers.  Sustainable agriculture and food security will be best achieved when consumers and producers, and the private and public sectors agree on principles and build partnerships.

Montpellier Panel report makes specific recommendations around resilient agriculture, resilient people and resilient markets. Examples include various forms of mixed cropping that enable more efficient use and cycling of soil nutrients, conservation farming, micro dosing of fertilizers and herbicides, and integrated pest management. These are proven technologies that draw on ecological principles. Some build on traditional practices, with numerous examples working on a small scale. In Zambia, conservation farming, a system of minimum or no-till agriculture with crop rotations, has reduced water requirements by up to 30 per cent and used new drought-tolerant hybrids to produce up to five tons of maize per hectare — five times the average yield for Sub-Saharan Africa. The imperative now is scaling up such systems to reach more farmers.

Another solution is to increase the use of modern plant and animal breeding methods, including biotechnology. These have been successful in providing resistance to various pests of maize, sorghum, cowpeas, groundnuts and cotton; to diseases of maize and bananas; and to livestock diseases. These methods can help build resilience rapidly. We need to combine them with biotechnology-based improvements in yield through improved photosynthesis, nitrogen uptake, resistance to drought and other impacts of climate change. Agro-ecology and modern breeding methods are not mutually exclusive. Building appropriate, improved crop varieties into ecological agricultural systems can boost both productivity and resilience.

The report also recommends that: governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations work together to help develop resilient and sustainable intensification; combat land and water degradation; and build climate-smart agriculture, such as conservation farming. These partnerships can also build the resilience of people by increasing the reach of successful nutrition interventions and building diverse livelihoods, especially by focusing on rural women and young people. The report particularly recommends taking part in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) framework that aims to greatly reduce the number of stunted children, which stands at roughly 50 million in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The report also describes how to achieve resilient markets that enable farmers to increase production, take risks and generate income through innovation while ensuring food is available at an affordable price. Creating grain stores and opening up trade across Africa can reduce food price volatility. There is also needs for more private investments and public–private partnerships that will encourage increased production.

Every household needs to be able to afford safe, nutritious foods.  Markets need to be open and fair.  Women and children need better nutrition to avoid the hidden disgrace of stunting, which affects nearly 200 million children.  And the poorest people need to know they can count on social protection that will not let them go hungry.  We want everyone to enjoy their right to food.

To achieve these objectives, we need to transform the way we approach food security, in particular by unleashing the potential of millions of small farmers and food producers, of whom the majority are women. We need to encourage the production of more – and more nutritious — food while protecting natural resources, and recognize the important links between food, water and energy.  And as weather patterns become more unpredictable, agriculture needs to become more resilient and ‘climate-smart’.

We also need to stop wasting food along the value chain, and start reflecting the benefits of natural resources — and the costs of depleting them — when we calculate the value of food.  Only then it will be possible for governments, farmers, businesses and consumers to choose the most sustainable options for food security. 2012 is a crucial year. The sequence of G8, G20 and Rio+20 summit and many others meetings provides a ready platform for the international community to coordinate policies and intensify investments. I am optimistic that agricultural development and food security will be priorities, and an agenda based on agricultural growth with resilience will be a key outcome.

Food prices remain volatile, and people in all regions remain vulnerable to financial and climate shocks.  The United Nations system is committed to working for a sustainable future in which vulnerability is reduced and food and nutrition security is guaranteed for all.

Since then, the picture has been transformed. The global economy has sunk into recession – and prices for food, oil and other commodities have fallen back sharply. From this, you might conclude that the food emergency has passed – that we should concentrate only on the financial and economic crises. In fact, however, the economic crisis makes it even more urgent that we tackle food insecurity now. For millions of people across the Asia-Pacific region, the economic crisis will also be a food crisis. The prices they pay may have fallen, but their incomes have fallen further still.

We can feed the increasing amount of people on this planet without exhausting the world’s resources if we successfully pursue sustainable food production on five key fronts: halt farmland expansion, improve crop production, more strategic use of water and nutrients, reduce food waste and dedicate croplands to direct human food production. Agriculture is the largest single cause behind global warming and loss of ecosystem services, and at the same time the key to human wellbeing in all societies. We now have the opportunity to not only cool the planet, but also to build resilient societies, and improve human wealth.
Together with scientists from the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, McGill University, UC Santa Barbara, Arizona State University and the University of Bonn, Rockström has for two years tried to find an answer to what could be the most compelling question facing humanity today. Based on data gathered about crop production and environmental impacts using satellite maps and on-the-grounds records, the scientists propose a five-point plan for doubling the world’s food production while reducing environmental impacts.

Our research has shown that it is possible to both feed a hungry world and protect a threatened planet,” says lead author Jonathan Foley, head of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

The five-point plan consists of the following:

Halt farmland expansion – Reduced land clearing for agriculture, particularly in the tropical rainforests, achieved using incentives such as payment for ecosystem services, certification and ecotourism, can yield huge environmental benefits without dramatically cutting into agricultural production or economic well-being.

Close yield gaps – Many parts of Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe have substantial “yield gaps”– places where farmland is not living up to its potential for producing crops. Closing these gaps through improved use of existing crop varieties, better management and improved genetics could increase current food production with nearly 60 percent.

Use inputs more strategically – Current use of water, nutrients and agricultural chemicals suffers from what the research team calls “Goldilocks’ Problem”: too much in some places, too little in others, rarely just right. We need to use water and nutrients in more intelligent ways: less where it isn’t needed, and more where it is needed. This will ensure that we can grow more food, but with less harm to the environment.

Shift diets – Growing animal feed or biofuels on top croplands, no matter how efficiently, is a drain on human food supply. Dedicating croplands to direct human food production could boost calories produced per person by nearly 50 percent. Even shifting non-food uses such as animal feed or biofuels production away from prime cropland could make a big difference.

Reduce waste – One-third of the food farms produce ends up discarded, spoiled or eaten by pests. Eliminating waste in the path food takes from farm to mouth could boost food available for consumption another 50 percent.

“What’s new and exciting here is that we considered solutions to both feeding our growing world and solving the global environmental crisis of agriculture at the same time,” Johan Rockström says.

“We focused the world’s best scientific data and models on this problem, to demonstrate that these solutions could actually work – showing where, when and how they could be most effective. No one has done this before,” Rockström and his colleagues argue.

The research was also a response to what lead author Foley calls “a daunting triple threat.”

“First, a billion people currently lack adequate access to food, not only creating hunger but also setting the stage for worldwide instability. Second, agriculture, the single-most important thing we do to benefit humanity, is also the single biggest threat to the global environment – including the land, water and climate that make Earth habitable. Third, with 2 to 3 billion more people expected in coming decades, and increasing consumption of meat and biofuels, food demand will be far greater in 2050 than it is today,” Foley says.

Proposing solutions to global food and environmental problems is nothing new. But a consistent weakness has been that the solutions often are fragmented and insufficiently specific. This research presents solutions on how to feed an increasingly growing world while simultaneously dealing with the environmental crisis of agriculture.

Dr Gursharan Singh Kainth
Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies
14-Preet Avenue, Majitha Road
PO Naushera, Amritsar 143008


Sustainable development.

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Beneficial Soil Microbes

Beneficial Soil Microbes in the News

Beneficial soil microbes include everything from bacteria to fungi. These microscopic forms of life are getting a lot of attention in agriculture these days. This article sums up a feature article in this months Scientific American. The article looks at how soil microbes may revolutionize agriculture.

Two other recent scientific article are referenced. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences outlines how diversity in microbial populations is important to European agriculture. The second article in Nature determined that soil microbes are responsible for controlling carbon in the soil.

In general these articles talk about beneficial soil microorganisms and include both beneficial bacteria and beneficial soil fungi.


Dirty Microbes

As scientists understand more about microbes, it seems that the miniscule life forms have the potential to contribute to a host of useful activities—making biofuels, fighting human disease, improving high tech, you name it!

Now, a feature article in the September issue ofScientific American looks at how soil microbes could revolutionize agriculture.

Soil microbes include everything from bacteria to fungi, and article author Richard Conniff likes to call the lot collectively “the agribiome.” These microscopic life forms have the potential to solve many crises facing agriculture today—everything from climate change and drought to Salmonellaand other food-bourn illnesses, from the costs of man-made fertilizers to the GMO controversy.

Conniff’s article comes on the heels two other papers that highlight the importance of soil microbes. In a paper published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of British scientists emphasizes how important soil microbe diversity is for European crops. And two weeks ago, American researchers determined that soil microbes are responsible for controlling carbon in the soil—an important factor in retaining the important mineral in the dirt as temperatures rise and the climate warms.

The Scientific American article gives many examples of these crucial, unseen microbial workers. Bacteria found in soil on the United States West Coast can kill Salmonella, Conniff reports, so the USDA is looking at introducing the bacteria in East Coast soils to stop the occasionally deadly outbreaks.

And instead of genetically modifying actual crops to withstand drought conditions, Mexican scientists are looking at modifying bacteria to strengthen the plants in the soil at their roots.

Mycorrhizal fungi in the soil are heroes in both the SciAm article and the PNAS study. The fungi deliver much-needed phosphate to crops, an easier and cheaper way to get the important mineral to the plants to help them grow. Artificial fertilizers can be expensive, especially for farmers in developing countries, and harm the natural soil ecosystem. Run-off from these fertilizers also contaminates freshwater and marine environments. A simple animation of how the fungi works to help plants is available here.

(Mycorrhizal fungi also play a heroic role in the next Academy planetarium show! Currently in production and set for a fall 2014 opening date, the latest production from our visualization studio will highlight the complex relationships in ecosystems—and how humans fit into the picture.)

If farmers and scientists can acknowledge that collaborating with microbes can play a crucial role in farming, “we will have come a step closer to feeding a hungry world,” Conniff concludes.

The lead author of the PNAS paper, Franciska de Vries, says, “This research highlights the importance of soil organisms and demonstrates that there is a whole world beneath our feet, inhabited by small creatures that we can’t even see most of the time. By liberating nitrogen for plant growth and locking up carbon in the soil they play an important role in supporting life on Earth.”

 By Molly Michelson


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Soil Quality using Management Practices

Soil Quality using Management Practices

Soil quality is the most important factor for long term agricultural productivity . A good soil manager will monitor the organic content of the soil, water holding capacity, and a host of other soil quality parameters that are discussed in detail in the article below. 

Soil quality also relies on the diversity of beneficial soil microorganisms.

Wise management practices could improve soil quality


Surface soil produces our food and is vital for life. This precious resource often is called “skin of the Earth” and, just as skin, it is important to protect and maintain its quality.

Soil quality is the inherent capacity of a particular soil to support human health and habitation; maintain or enhance air and water quality; and, most important, sustain plant and animal productivity.

From an agricultural standpoint, soil quality is vital for improving long-term agricultural productivity and maximizing profits through sustainable productivity.

It is important for soil both to function optimally for current needs and remain healthy for future use. Soil organic matter, tillage, soil compaction, soil structure, depth of soil, water-holding capacity, electrical conductivity, pH, ground cover, microbial biodiversity, carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and nutrient management are some of the important parameters of soil quality.

Improving and maintaining soil organic matter content is the most important quality parameter. Increasing organic matter improves soil structure as well as water- and nutrient-holding capacity, supports soil microbes, and protects soil from erosion and compaction. Organic matter can be improved by using no-till or minimum till methods, growing cover crops, leaving crop residues and using rotations with crops that balance optimal water and nutrient management practices.

Using reduced tillage practices will protect the soil surface, which decreases soil erosion and soil compaction, and decreases the loss of organic matter. Reduction in tillage also decreases the potential for destroying soil structure. Soil compaction can be caused by using heavy equipment on the surface when the soil is wet. Compaction will reduce the amount of air, water and pore space for growth of both soil microbes and plant roots. Soil compaction can be reduced by minimizing equipment use when the ground is wet and combining multiple farm tasks, such as applying both herbicides and fertilizer in one trip.

Growing cover crops and leaving residue from previous crops is the best way to reduce soil erosion by wind and water. Ground cover can be increased by growing perennial crops such as grasses in a pasture situation. Ground cover will improve water availability, but care should be taken to manage it properly to prevent disease outbreak.

Soil quality also relies on microbial organisms. Diversity in soil microbes may be helpful in controlling pest populations, diseases and weeds. Biodiversity can be achieved by increasing long-term crop rotations, since each plant in rotation contributes to unique soil structure and plant residue.

Understanding how to improve soil quality is aided by knowledge of the carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio for managing cover crops and nutrient cycling.

The C:N ratio is the amount of carbon to the amount of nitrogen in a residue or other organic material applied to soil. If material with a higher C:N ratio residue is applied, it takes longer to decompose and may immobilize inorganic fertilizers that are applied. This problem can be reduced by growing a low C:N ratio crop (e.g., vetch or other legumes) in rotation with a high C:N ratio crop (e.g., wheat straw).

Finally, efficient nutrient management is important in maintaining soil quality. Test your soils regularly and make sure that you store all your records. Examining records over time will tell whether the management practices that were followed increased or depleted soil nutrients. Too much fertilizer or manure may cause groundwater contamination or may run off and enter water bodies and degrade water quality. Application of nutrients based on a soil test will alleviate this problem.

What works on one farm may not work on another. Adjust your management plan by observing changes in soil quality on your farm. Wise management decisions will improve the overall quality of the soil. Being proactive, rather than reactive, will make you a better steward of this limited resource.



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Sustainable Farming Practices

Sustainable Farming Practices


Sustainable farming practices are in the news these days. This article talks about sustainable farming practices from a pragmatic point of view.

The definition of sustainable farming is practical as well: “a group of practices designed to protect the earth from potential harm that growing crops and animals for food sustainable farming practicespurposes can do”.


If you’re involved in agriculture, even on a small scale, chances are you’ve heard about sustainable farming practices before. On the off chance that you haven’t, sustainable farming, simply put, is a group of practices designed to protect the earth from potential harm that growing crops and raising animals for food purposes can do.

However, for many farmers, sustainable farming seems like an unreachable goal, and one that will make day-to-day operations too costly. While that may be true of very expensive processes that involve full-scale renovations to a farm or growing land, there are many sustainable farming practices that can be easily incorporated into your regular routine.

In fact, some can even save you money in the long run.


Water Management

Poorly maintained irrigation systems and water waste are common problems among farms of all sizes, from small single-family farms to major farms that supply significant amounts of food for resale; however, managing your water consumption doesn’t have to be a chore.

The easiest and best way to manage your water use is by planting crops that naturally grow in the area. If you live in an area without a lot of rain, don’t plant crops that need considerable moisture on a regular basis in large quantities.

In addition to choosing the proper crops, irrigating your land properly and using cover crops that help the soil retain moisture for longer periods of time, therefore requiring less watering from you, can help reduce your overall water use.

Collecting rainwater is another option for many farmers, and that can save you money after your initial investment is paid back within a relatively short period of time.


Rotate Your Crops

Crop rotation is an old practice that teaches farmers to alternate their crops in order to keep their soil as healthy and nutrient-rich as possible. In some cases, crop rotation can be very simple.

For example, you should plant grains after legumes and crops that grow in rows after grains; however, depending on what you’re growing, it isn’t always that simple. Doing a little bit of homework on how to best rotate your specific crops is recommended.

The benefits of rotating your crops include prevention of disease transmission from crop to crop and a general reduction in the amount of pests in the soil that can damage crops.


Diversify Your Crops

Crop diversity takes the idea of crop rotation a step further, getting farmers to alternate the species of a certain type of crop when they grow it. This not only helps to keep soil nutrient-rich, but it also helps farmers protect their crops from diseases and pests.

Using a combination crop rotation and crop diversification method is ideal, and if you’re only growing a handful of crops each year, it is surprisingly simple to do.


Controlled Pest Management

Pest management is a serious concern for many farmers; however, simply spraying all of your crops isn’t in the best interest for the soil, your crops or the earth, and it doesn’t have to be done if you’re smart about how you plant your crops.

By rotating crops, diversifying your species and integrating beneficial insects that keep harmful pests out, you may not need to spray at all. If you do, you’ll be able to use a targeted-spray method, limiting your overall use of pesticides and chemicals.

Sustainable farming is more important today than it ever has been because of droughts in many areas and increased temperatures all over the globe. Even if you only grow a small amount of crops each year, using these basic sustainable growing practices can help reduce your farm’s environmental impact while saving you money in the process.


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