On-Going Research

VFRC/On-Going Research/1: Micnobit Fertilizers Suppress Plant Disease, Enhance Macronutrient Use Efficiency, and Increase Crop Yield (Zn and Mn)

Plants can absorb nano- and micro-size particles, ‘‘micnobits’’, containing nutrients, which opens the possibility for instantaneous plant uptake of nutrients supplied through roots or leaves. This collaborative project investigates the role of micnobit micronutrient-containing fertilizers in enhancing crop productivity under disease and non-disease growth conditions, and would track the uptake and fate of micnobits in plant tissues. Specifically, VFRC aims to evaluate the effects of micronutrients of zinc (Zn) and manganese (Mn) packaged as micnobits or as regular salts of Zn and Mn on the uptake efficiency of NPK fertilizers. Two crops will be tested in soil and foliar treatments to unravel the influence of delivery strategies on crops. Ultimately, the study would contribute to knowledge in designing innovative fertilizer formulations capable of delivering the multiple benefits of micronutrient fertilization, including disease suppression, enhanced resilience to environmental stressors, enhanced nutritional quality of agricultural crops, and increased agricultural productivity, while reducing the use of mineral resources, thereby preventing waste and unintended environmental side effects of fertilizers. The project is led by Dr. Jason White of The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, in collaboration with the University of Texas El Paso, and the Virtual Fertilizer Research Center.


VFRC/On-Going Research/2: Investigating the Impact of Micronutrients on Drought Tolerance (all micronutrients)

Micronutrients and biostimulants are characterized by their ability to enhance plant health and resilience, for instance through enhanced root growth. Moreover, IFDC’s field research in several African countries has demonstrated dramatic yield increase in various crops caused by micronutrient supplementation. This makes micronutrients and biostimulants interesting candidates to boost agricultural productivity. We are therefore investigating the impact of micronutrient fertilization and of some biostumulants on drought tolerance in soybean in greenhouse conditions at IFDC.


VFRC/On-Going Research/3: Foliar Nutrition in Rice
in Tanzania

Nutrient application through foliar sprays is gaining momentum among rice farmers in Africa. Foliar application could be highly efficient in terms of nutrient uptake, permitting the use of reduced amounts of nutrients to meet crop demands, and with that, mitigating nutrient losses to the environment. The efficacy of foliar fertilizers is however unclear, when compared to soil-applied fertilizers. This study assesses the agronomic efficiency and economic viability of different foliar nutrition products available in the market through 30 on-farm trials under irrigated lowland, rainfed lowland and rainfed upland rice growing conditions. Those found effective can be included as components of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), and the findings used to inform rice farmers. Subsequently, in-depth studies can be conducted to understand the mode of action of the effective products,
in order to tune the design of fertilizers to specific agro-production situations. , such as for fertilizer producers to continuously improve their products. Dr Kalimuthu Senthilkumar from Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) in Tanzania is the lead researcher in this project, collaborating with IFDC & VFRC. 


VFRC/On-Going Research/4: Enhancing Rice Markets
in Uganda through Smart Micronutrient
Fertilization (ENRICH)

Rice is an important crop with rapidly growing demand in Uganda. 90% of the increased production resulted from land expansion, while yield per unit land area remained stagnant. Fertilizers are barely used, and yield responses to conventional NPK-fertilizers are poor. On-farm trials reveal that the addition of micronutrients to NPK significantly increases yields. The benefits from adding micronutrients include increased yield, improved grain quality, increased uptake efficiency of NPK fertilizers and, ultimately, increased economic returns. These mutually reinforcing benefits may incentivize farmers to buy and use fertilizers. Still, the uptake efficiency of soil applied micronutrients is low. Innovations in nutrient packaging and delivery mechanisms are needed. Foliar application and nano-packaging both show promising potential to increase plant uptake of nutrient. This project will fine-tune the composition of micronutrients required for rice and their mode of application to realize these multiple benefits. Findings from the project will be disseminated throughout the value chain, and will be useful for informing policymakers as a basis for creating the enabling environment for further development. The
project is led by Dr. Otim Nape of the Africa Innovation Institute, in partnership with Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), ISRIC – World Soil Information, Wageningen, VFRC-IFDC, FICA Seeds Ltd, and WindWood
Millers Ltd.


VFRC/On-Going Research/5: Micronutrients for Better Yields (zinc, copper, molybdenum and boron)

Around the world, farmers are noticing a decreasing crop response to regular chemical fertilizers. One of the main causes is thought to be the low availability of micronutrients, especially zinc, but also of copper, boron and molybdenum, all which have been found to be deficient in many soils in Eastern African countries. Low micronutrient availability affects crop yield and grain quality, with consequences for human health: micronutrient malnutrition ("hidden hunger") affects a significant percentage of the population, particularly in developing countries. Use of micronutrient fertilizers appears to be a feasible strategy to mitigate micronutrient deficiencies and to improve crop yields; but their use has so far been limited, as current soil tests are inaccurate and expensive, and a suitable fertilizer recommendation system is lacking. To address this problem, we will develop a low-cost, reliable method to test soils for bioavailability of zinc and copper, and, if feasible, molybdenum and boron. This method will be directly implemented in mobile soil laboratories in Africa by the project partner, SoilCares Research. Furthermore, in this partnership, we will develop a generic, user-friendly fertilizer recommendation system to translate soil micronutrient test results into effective fertilizer advice for farmers. Finally, together with another project partner, ISRIC, we will generate regional and national soil maps of micronutrient availability, enabling us and policymakers to identify areas at risk of micronutrient deficiency, and assisting fertilizer companies to develop tailor-made fertilizer blends. The project is led and coordinated
by Prof. Ellis Hoffland from Wageningen University.


VFRC/On-Going Research/6: Evaluating foliar micnobit fertilization in lettuce (Zn, Cu, Fe, Mn and B)

Plants can absorb nano- and micro-size particles containing nutrients, opening the possibility for instantaneous uptake of nutrients supplied through roots or leaves. In this project we hypothesize that nutrients provided as micnobits will 1) be more efficiently taken up by a vegetable crop, compared to nutrients provided as traditional (ionic) fertilizers, and 2) that the growth, development and quality of a vegetable crop would be enhanced if nutrients are provided as micnobit fertilizers at doses relevant for crop nutrition. In this project we will study the uptake of intact micnobit fertilizers by plants, and the form in which they are present in planta. We will compare composites of micnobits of ZnO+CuO+Fe3O4+MnO+B2O3, with similar mixture of their ionic equivalents from salts of Zn, Cu, Fe, Mn and boric acid in levels optimal for growth, yield, metabolic and other nutritional quality attributes in food crops. In the case of Zn, we will also study the effect of a higher level (a double dose than in the conventional fertilizer) to evaluate the possibility of increasing zinc levels in vegetable crops, towards alleviating Zn deficiency in human/animal diets. This project is led by Dr. Greet Blom of Wageningen UR, in collaboration with VFRC-IFDC.


VFRC/On-Going Research/7: Identifying Organic and Inorganic Substances for Fe Complexation for
Foliar Application

Plants usually absorb iron in Fe2+ (ferrous) form through roots. But leaves can absorb Fe3+ (ferric) also which is usually chelated with inorganic synthetic chelating agents (EDTA and EDDHA). An enzyme Fe3+-chelate reductase (FCR) reduces the Fe3+ to Fe2+ form in the leaf cells, which allow applying iron as Fe3+ form. EDTA and EDDHA are cheap and effective but their excess use has negative environmental impacts, urging the search for naturally occurring or organic chelating agent, like humic acid and siderophores both from plants and bacteria. Siderophores are applied to roots which improves iron uptake by plants but there is no report that siderophores chelated iron applied to foliage improves iron absorption. Bacteriosiderophore or phytosiderophore used to chelate the Fe3+ and applied as foliar spray may result in absorption of iron by leaves. Besides organically chelated Fe, it is also possible to use other iron compounds such as ferric phosphate and nano-Fe which can be absorbed by the leaves and once inside the cell, it is completely metabolised.Poster-Sharma_Fe_P_Scavenging-March-2016.pdfThis project is led by Dr. Reny Pandey of the Indian Agricultural Research Center, with a team of MSc and PhD students, in collaboration with VFRC-IFDC.

VFRC/On-Going Research/8: Identification of novel proteins expressed in leaf and their involvement in absorption and translocation of Fe

Absorption of iron by roots and transport takes place through IRT, YSL family, FRO2, VIT 1, NRAMP family transporters induced in the root cells. Although Ferric (Fe3+) chelate reductase system has been identified in leaf there is no report on presence of iron transporters in the leaf cells. Foliar applied iron as Fe3+ or Fe2+ (depending on the compound) is absorbed by leaves but the absorption mechanism is unknown. The iron transporters or channels are mainly polypeptides which are synthesized in the cells when iron is available. Therefore, it is necessary to identify these proteins to understand the basic mechanism involved in uptake or absorption of Fe when applied to foliage. This knowledge might help in designing new fertilizer molecule for its efficient absorption. This project is led by Dr. Reny Pandey of the Indian Agricultural Research Center, with a team of MSc and PhD students, in collaboration with VFRC-IFDC.  


VFRC/On-Going Research/9: Developing seed coating material loaded with phosphorus, organic acid and phosphorus solubilizing bacteria and phosphorus
release behaviour

The concentration of inorganic phosphorus (P) in soil solution is usually 1000 times less than that of the root cells due to fixation of P in soil. P fixation with Al3+ and Fe3+ is a common phenomenon in acid soils, whereas in calcareous soils, P is immobilized by Ca2+ ions. Developing a controlled release technology to reduce P fixation and loss of P through run-off will therefore enhance P uptake efficiency in crops certainly when the release is near the vicinity of plant roots. Seed coated with P absorbed by nanoclay polymer called nanocomposites results in controlled release of P. Since organic acid like oxalic acid and soil microbes (P solubilizing bacteria) helps in mobilising fixed soil P, it is possible to load the nanocomposite altogether with P, organic acid and P solubilizing bacteria to make the seed coating more effective. Therefore, P release behaviour from the seed coating material developed with all the three components will be studied. This project is led by Dr. Reny Pandey of the Indian Agricultural Research Center, with a team of MSc and PhD students, in collaboration with VFRC-IFDC. Mandira-et-al-Abstract1-1.pdf


VFRC/On-Going Research/10: Evaluation of the efficacy
of seed coating material in improving P uptake efficiency of crops

Several reports are available on the P release behaviour from nanocomposites but evaluation of crop response to application of P loaded nanocomposites is almost non-existent. Very few reports are available that reveal a positive yield response of crops towards application of polymer hydrogels. However, the actual mechanism of nutrient mobilization from the polymers to supply crops is not known. Seed coating nanocomposite with P, organic acid and P solubilizing bacteria is hypothesized to supply more P to the plant to enhance initial growth through better root growth and seedling establishment.This project is led by Dr. Reny Pandey of the Indian Agricultural Research Center, with a team of MSc and PhD students, in collaboration with VFRC-IFDC.