SlurryBugs in 3 year farm fertiliser research project
Envirosystems partners Lancaster University in three year farm fertiliser research project
Supplies of phosphorus for use in compound fertiliser are running out, but while farmers face the inevitability of a continuing price rise as supplies get ever tighter they could be missing an opportunity to “capture” valuable supplies of phosphorus contained within slurry and soils.
A three-year trial being undertaken by Lancaster University – worth 150,000 Euros of funding secured by the Lancashire-based agri-business company Envirosystems – will not only look at how phosphorus can be retrieved farm slurry but will also consider ground-breaking technology through which slurry application could “unlock” even more reserves of nutrients from the soil.
The three-year project is being supervised by Dr Ben Surridge and Professor Phil Haygarth at the University’s Lancaster Environment Centre and PhD student Vito Abbruzzese. It will involve on-going trials based on soil mineral evaluations at leading dairy farmer James Rogerson’s Game Farm, Singleton, near Blackpool.
“Phosphorus is essential to enable plants to store and transfer energy but it also has a host of other roles including root development and seed production. Supplies are dwindling but this research will focus attention on the opportunity for farmers to secure their own phosphorus needs by treating slurry with an inoculant and to benefit from the improvement in soil structure following applications of treated slurry,” says Envirosystems managing director Liz Russell.
The Lancaster University trial will investigate the interaction between the plant root and the phosphorus that occurs in soil. It will also consider if there are ways in which organic phosphorus compounds in soil can be made available to plant roots, rather than relying on the uptake of inorganic phosphorus to support production.
“That’s one of the big issues we will be looking at in the trial,” says Dr Ben Surridge.”We are interested in how soil microbial communities and the enzymes they produce influence the availability of phosphorus for plants, and in whether we can manipulate these communities so that a greater proportion of the organic phosphorus in soils becomes available for plant uptake.”
With the ability to save up to 70% of a farm’s annual fertiliser costs by the correct treatment of slurry with an inoculant, the Lancaster University trial comes at a time when farmers are about to face their highest ever bill for bought-in compound fertiliser.
“Making greater use of our farms’ resources is going to become an evermore essential part of the way farms are run in the future if we want to reduce the rocketing cost of everything that comes in through the farm gate. Capturing valuable nutrients from slurry – when they would otherwise be wasted – is part of that ethos but the Lancaster University trial will also be looking at the potential of treated slurry to also act as a vector for the enzymes needed to turn organic phosphorus into inorganic phosphorus and facilitate its uptake by plant roots,” says Liz Russell whose company manufactures the slurry inoculant SlurryBugs.