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Nutrient Cycling

Residue digestion – replenishing soil with crop residues to the benefit of soil quality and the health of the next crop cycle.

Nutrient Cycling

Residue Digester Summary

Plot and field scale trials have been conducted over the past several years to measure the effects of EcoTea™ products on nutrient cycling.

Please review the comprehensive breakdown of these trials, the methods, hypotheses, and the results.

Saprophytic fungi growing on corn stalks.

EcoTea™ Residue Digester

EcoTea™ HDI Residue Digester carries a broad spectrum of fungal, saprophytic species. Saprophytes are organisms known as nutrient recyclers and feed on dead, decaying, high organic carbon food sources. This includes everything from tree litter, dead plants, roots, animals, arthropods and microbial necromass. These fungi can produce the enzymes and metabolites that correlate with the eventual humification of these food sources, subsequently, improving soil health. The services that this group of fungi provide are vitally important on agricultural land as they do not require the presence of an active growing plant. These scenarios make up a large portion of the year on the prairies.

Discovery Farm Research Plots

at Langham Sk. 2023

Discovery Farm Research Plots at Langham Sk. Both photos on the left were taken at the end of August 2022 in a red spring wheat plot with a high salinity area on its east side. Very little of the wheat germinated and a large portion of what did germinate was left stunted and quickly senesced before producing seed. The photos on the right-hand side were from the exact same time in 2023 with a pea/ canola intercrop on the top photo and canola monocrop on the bottom. There was modest improvement in germination, vigor, brix readings and overall plant density from 2022 especially on the intercrop side. In 2023 the plot received a 2x rate of EcoTea™ HDI Residue Digestor a couple weeks before seeding. There was about 1-1.25 more inches of precipitation that fell in 2023 to allow for greater product efficacy. Sodium saturation improved from spring 2023 soil tests of 7.8% to 5% at the end of August. Calcium saturation improved from 37% to 51% over this time (no calcium-based amendment was added).

Left photo was taken at the end of August 2022 in a red spring wheat plot with a high salinity area on its east side. Right-hand side were from the exact same time in 2023 with a pea/canola intercrop on the top photo and canola monocrop on the bottom.

Organic Matter Maintenance

Organic matter is made up of several carbon-based groups ranging from the most stable mineral based fractions that have been present since the formation of soils over thousands of years to the most active, plant available forms of carbon, dependent upon photosynthesis from growing plants. Plant growth promoting rhizomicrobes (PGPR) around the roots will induce a plant to release carbon-based root exudates (sugars mainly) to this community in exchange for needed minerals, enzymes and phytohormones required for plant health. Whatever the plant does not take up through the roots, the PGPR community (including fungi) works to store nutrients as carbon backed, stable molecules.  

Nitrogen Maintenance

Nitrogen nutrition is vital to the plant and central to amino acid, enzyme, nucleic acid and chlorophyll production. Nitrogen is normally required in larger amounts than most other nutrients but can be detrimental to plant health and yield drag if over applied or put down at the wrong time. One detail worth noting is that a pound of nitrogen does not always equal a pound of nitrogen. There are various forms and oxidation states of nitrogen from the most plant available nitrate NO3- to the largest of amino acid, peptide compounds. The more reduced state that the nitrogen molecule expresses (NH4+, Amino acid.), the greater it binds to organic matter and soil particles. Thus, it is less likely to be lost to leaching, denitrification or volatilization. Soil aggregation as discussed above ensures that free nitrates in the soil solution are converted into organic forms, carbon backboned molecules, and microbially available.

Nutrient Cycling

Our work looking at post-harvest residue digestion was focused on the ability of communities of microbes to accelerate decomposition. Some specific species within the microbial community grow their populations by recycling spent plant material and other residues to improve nutrient cycling in soil benefiting the following crop. DNA testing and taxonomy shows EcoTea™ provides a wide range of species, and specifically saprophytic fungi, within this functional group filling various niches.

The hypothesis of this work is simple. The use of EcoTea™ residue digester post-harvest should increase available nutrients, organic matter, and active carbon within the soil structure versus untreated areas. Small plot and field scale trials measured key indicators around soil carbon and nutrient availability with soil samples taken at scheduled intervals to observe residue break down and the associated impacts on surrounding soil. The results align with the premise of the hypothesis.

EcoTea™ residue digester frequently showed an increase in available nutrients, organic matter, and active carbon in the soil. Beyond these benefits the applications also showed an accelerated break down on residual post-harvest above ground material. This is potentially due to the more fungi dominant ratio versus bacteria populations found in tested soil from application plots.

Proven benefit: Although some variables are hard to measure it’s clear EcoTea™ Residue application accelerated decomposition and improved soil quality in post-harvest application.


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