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UC Davis plant research could save farmers billions of dollars while fighting climate change – KCRA Sacramento

Long-lasting drought and increasing production costs have been putting California farmers to the test this year. One of the biggest expenses for a farmer is fertilizer. In just the past year, the price for nitrogen-based fertilizer has doubled due to supply issues.Despite the steep cost, fertilizer is a necessary expense for farmers in order to ensure that their crops produce enough food to feed growing demand. But nitrogen fertilizers also pose significant environmental threats. “The problem is more than half of whatever we are putting on the soil leaches out and goes to our water sources,” Eduardo Blumwald, a distinguished professor of plant science at UC Davis, said.That can lead to contaminated drinking water, excessive plant and algae growth and even increased greenhouse gases.”Nitrate (a product of the fertilizer) can break down in the soil by bacteria and produce nitrous oxide gas,” Blumwald said. “That actually dissolves our ozone layer. And that can become a maximal contributor to global warming.”Blumwald’s team of researchers has spent the last several years working on a solution to the monetary and environmental cost of using these fertilizers. Simply put: they’re looking for ways to use less of it while still maintaining a plant’s productivity.To do that, they enlist the help of bacteria that naturally exist in fertile soil. “The bacteria takes nitrogen from the air, produces ammonium, the plant takes ammonium. If the plants takes ammonium produced by the bacteria, you have to put less nitrogen in the soil,” Blumwald said.The rice plants are modified to create an environment where soil bacteria can thrive. These changes don’t alter the plant’s DNA, so the rice that is produced has the same taste and nutritional value.Blumwald’s lab has already proven that this method works on a small scale in the lab. He said the next step is to bring in industry partners who could help with further testing and eventually get this crop growing on commercial farms.If that happens, Blumwald says that U.S. farmers could save billions of dollars every year.”If we could provide only 10% of the nitrogen that the plant needs by doing this, farmers in the U.S. alone could be saving 10 to 15 billion dollars a year,” Blumwald said.Blumwald said his lab will also expand to working on maze and wheat plants soon.

Long-lasting drought and increasing production costs have been putting California farmers to the test this year.

One of the biggest expenses for a farmer is fertilizer. In just the past year, the price for nitrogen-based fertilizer has doubled due to supply issues.

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Despite the steep cost, fertilizer is a necessary expense for farmers in order to ensure that their crops produce enough food to feed growing demand. But nitrogen fertilizers also pose significant environmental threats.

“The problem is more than half of whatever we are putting on the soil leaches out and goes to our water sources,” Eduardo Blumwald, a distinguished professor of plant science at UC Davis, said.

That can lead to contaminated drinking water, excessive plant and algae growth and even increased greenhouse gases.

“Nitrate (a product of the fertilizer) can break down in the soil by bacteria and produce nitrous oxide gas,” Blumwald said. “That actually dissolves our ozone layer. And that can become a maximal contributor to global warming.”

Blumwald’s team of researchers has spent the last several years working on a solution to the monetary and environmental cost of using these fertilizers. Simply put: they’re looking for ways to use less of it while still maintaining a plant’s productivity.

To do that, they enlist the help of bacteria that naturally exist in fertile soil.

“The bacteria takes nitrogen from the air, produces ammonium, the plant takes ammonium. If the plants takes ammonium produced by the bacteria, you have to put less nitrogen in the soil,” Blumwald said.

The rice plants are modified to create an environment where soil bacteria can thrive. These changes don’t alter the plant’s DNA, so the rice that is produced has the same taste and nutritional value.

Blumwald’s lab has already proven that this method works on a small scale in the lab. He said the next step is to bring in industry partners who could help with further testing and eventually get this crop growing on commercial farms.

If that happens, Blumwald says that U.S. farmers could save billions of dollars every year.

“If we could provide only 10% of the nitrogen that the plant needs by doing this, farmers in the U.S. alone could be saving 10 to 15 billion dollars a year,” Blumwald said.

Blumwald said his lab will also expand to working on maze and wheat plants soon.

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