Increasing Role of Biofertilizers in Agriculture
Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world using about 1.5 billion ha of total world’s land. Agriculture not only provides food or raw material but it is the backbone of the economic system of the country.
In modern times, where the global population is rising at an enormous rate, there is an urgent need to increase the productivity of crops to meet the demand for food grains. Farmers often use chemical fertilizers which has led to pollution and contamination of soil and water. It also depletes the essential microorganisms from the soil, reducing its fertility and making it more prone to diseases.
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This has made the farmers use Biofertilizers in their field which we will discuss in this article.
What is a Biofertilizer ?
Biofertilizers are living microbes such as bacteria, fungi and algae which enhance plant growth by fixation of Nitrogen or by supplying essential nutrients. It promotes the fertility of soil thereby increasing the growth of plants.
Examples of biofertilizer
Below are some common examples of a biofertilizer.
- Symbiotic – Rhizobium, Frankia and Anabaena azollae bacterias seek shelter in the soil and obtain food from plant and in return they help plants by fixation of Nitrogen. Among all of them rhizobium is most widely used.
- Associate symbiotic – Azospirillum is a nitrogen fixing bacteria that lives around the roots of the higher plants.
- Bacteria – Bacillus circulans , Pseudomonas striata are free living soil bacteria that performs Nitrogen fixation.
- Fungi – Penicillium sp., Aspergillus awamori
Role of Biofertilizers in Agriculture
The main purpose of using biofertilizers is to make agriculture more sustainable and efficient. Biofertilizers contain organic components which improve the farming methods stimulating the natural processes in the soil, thereby increasing plant growth. Biofertilizer is of various types depending upon the microorganism they contain and so different biofertilizers have a certain effect on plant growth. For example:
Bio Fertilizer with Nitrogen fixing bacteria activates the Nitrogen cycle in a plant and thus promotes growth as it creates better growth conditions.
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Biofertilizers are resistant to pests and extreme weather conditions like drought, high temperature, or excess water. It provides protection to plants against these external factors reducing the need of any inorganic fertilizer or pesticides. It helps in maintaining the overall health of the soil, thus improving the plant growth and crop yields.
Why Biofertilizer ?
In past decades, the farmers used to add fungicides, pesticides and insecticides in their farms to protect the crops from pests and increase the productivity of their crops but these products are equally responsible for the depletion of essential nutrients from the soil and affecting it negatively. They also added Fertilizers which caused them the same harm because these fertilizers contain certain chemicals. Chemical fertilizers tend to lower soil pH making it more acidic. Every plant tolerates different pH levels, however if the soil gets too acidic it can damage the plant. The ingredients are toxic and can even affect farmers’ health. Excessive use of these types of fertilizers reduce soil fertility. These are even more expensive than organic fertilizers.
This problem has led to the production of biofertilizers which are used for the application to seeds, soil and composting areas. The main reason for using biofertilizers is the presence of these microorganisms which plays a very important role in improving the fertility of soil and they also help in providing essential nutrients to the plants. They are eco-friendly too and can be used as a substitute for chemical fertilizers.
Biofertilizers reduce dependence upon much more expensive petroleum sources of chemical fertilizers. Demand for chemical fertilizers is more than 7 million tons. Shortage of fossil fuels to produce chemical fertilizers may drive up the prices beyond the reach of small users. Biofertilizers can be a good and cheap alternative for us.
Components of biofertilizers
Biofertilizer components may be referred to as all organic resources that are used for plant growth.
The components of a biofertilizer are:
- Bio compost – It is an eco-friendly product made out of waste materials. Compost is a decomposed waste material which is produced when the bacteria present in the soil breaks down the biodegradable waste material resulting in a mineral rich product. It can be added anytime of a year in the soil without any fear of burning plants or polluting water.
- Tricho-card – It is an eco-friendly and nonpathogenic product. Nonpathogenic organisms are those which do not cause any disease, harm or death to another organism. It is usually used to describe bacteria. Tricho-cards are tiny wasps to kill the eggs of lepidoptera. Tricho-cards have a layer of sticky substance that is applied on plants .
- Azotobacter – It provides Nitrogen in the form of Ammonia, Nitrate and Ammonia acids without a situation of overdosage. It protects the root from pathogens.
- Phosphorus – Phosphorus provides essential nutrients to plants that help the plant to grow and develop. Phosphate solubilizing microorganisms hydrolyse insoluble phosphorus compounds for the uptake of a plant.
- Vermicompost – Vermicompost is an eco-friendly organic fertilizer. It is the product of a decomposition process using various species of worms. It is one of the fastest processes to improve the fertility of the soil.
Benefits of using a Biofertilizer
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Biofertilizer has various uses which makes it important in the agriculture sector.
Some of its important beneficial factors to be considered are:
- Biofertilizer stores the fertility of the soil to make it biologically alive.
- They improve soil texture and structure.
- They enhance the water holding capacity in soil.
- They add valuable nutrients to the plants.
- It improves the productivity of a plant.
- It protects the environment from the pollutants being a natural fertilizer.
- They destroy many harmful substances present in the soil that cause many plant diseases.
- They are eco-friendly and cheaper.
- It does not pollute soil, nor does it pollute water.
- It is made by decomposing organic waste materials with the help of worms.
- It does not have any bad side effects on plants or farmers’ health.
- It helps to remediate the fertility of a polluted soil.
- It destroys many harmful substances present in the soil that causes disease to the plant.
- It enhances the water holding capacity.
- It adds valuable nutrients to the plant.
- It also increases crop yield by 20-30%.
- It stimulates plant growth.
- It activates soil biologically.
- Microbes in biofertilizers provide atmospheric nitrogen directly to the plants.
- Better synthesis and availability of hormones, vitamins, auxins and other growth promoting substances improve plants growth.
Application of Biofertilizers
Biofertilizers are applied in many areas of Agriculture.
- Seed Treatment – 200g of Biofertilizer is added to 300-400ml of water, mixed with about 10kg of seeds and adhesives such as gum acacia or jiggery solution. Then the seeds are left to dry under shade in a clean cloth or sheet and are used immediately for sowing.
Common Biofertilizers used here are:
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- Seedling Root Dip – This method is applied to the crops that are to be transplanted. About 1kg of the inoculants for 1ha are required to be mixed with 40 litres of water to make a solution in which the root portion of the seedlings are dipped for 5-10 minutes and then transplanted. The biofertilizer used here is Azospirillum particularly for Rice.
- Soil treatment – The recommended biofertilizers (4kg each) are mixed with a suitable compost (200kg). This mixture is kept overnight which is then added to the soil at the time of sowing or planting.
Some points to remember for getting better results in Biofertilizer Application
- Choose the right combination of biofertilizers and use it before expiry date
- Use it at appropriate time as per the information provided
- Use adhesives for seed treatment
- Use lime to improve soil pH or lime or gypsum seeds for soils that are not good enough
- Biofertilizers should contain effective strain and should be free from contaminated microorganisms
Challenges faced while using Biofertilizers
Apart from its benefits, it has certain restrictions which also have to be looked after. They are:
- Biofertilizers have lower nutrient density than chemical fertilizers. So, more products will be often required for the same effect.
- Bio fertilizers are very difficult to store. They require special care for long term storage because they are alive.
- It’s shell life is way less than chemical fertilizers.
- They must be used before their expiration date.
- They do not cause marked productivity like chemical fertilizer. They only result in a 20-30% increase in crop growth.
- If the other microbes contaminate the carrier medium or if farmers use the wrong strain, they are not as effective.
- Biofertilizers compliment other fertilizers but they can not totally replace them.
- If the soil is too dry or too hot, biofertilizers can lose their effectiveness.
- Acidic or alkaline soil affects the beneficial microorganisms.
- Biofertilizer production requires specific machinery.
Biofertilizers have a great role in increasing crop production and improving soil health. It provides growth hormones to the plants. They do not leave any residual effects like chemical fertilizers.
Biofertilizers require the correct knowledge to the farmers for choosing the right kind of it for their crops, about the benefits along with the precautions that need to be taken. Biofertilizers have a great impact on sustainable agriculture economic development and they can also contribute to a holistic well being and a sustainable ecosystem.