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Substituting fertiliser in maize agriculture

Current maize agriculture practice relies on the heavy use of chemical fertilisers. This is about to change with the novel microbe inoculation strategies developed by European scientists.
Substituting fertiliser in maize agriculture
Maize is a grain grown widely throughout the world in a range of agro-ecological environments. It originated in Mexico and was imported in Europe without its root-associated beneficial microbes, necessitating the use of fertilisers for its nutrition. However, only a fraction of chemical fertilisers is taken up by plants while the rest poses a serious environmental hazard. It is therefore crucial to develop alternative farming strategies to maintain crop yield and protect the environment.

The main objective of the EU-funded project ‘Management of plant-beneficial microbes to balance fertiliser inputs in maize monoculture’ (Micromaize) was to develop novel farming practices of maize using less chemical fertiliser. To achieve this, project partners focused on using plant-beneficial microbes (Azospirillum, Pseudomonas and Glomus) that would help maize extract nitrogen and phosphorus from the soil and modulate its hormonal balance.

To monitor the plant-microbe interactions and assess the response of maize to inoculation, researchers developed novel research tools including micro-array technology, biosensors and plant metabolomics profiling. Additionally, the Micromaize project demonstrated the importance of matching microbial inoculants and maize genotype for best results. The new microbial management strategies were put to the test in various field locations throughout Europe and Mexico. Their effects on crop yield, quality and food safety were quantified and best practices were disseminated to farmers.

The Micromaize findings provided novel insight into the plant-beneficial role of various microbes and will have a significant impact in agriculture research for monitoring inoculant functioning. Additionally, the microbial inoculation strategies will be compatible with current maize farming practices, saving money and protecting the environment from excessive use of chemical fertilisers.

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