Perspectives Volume 40, Number 1 - Page 25

VFRC RESEARCH VFRC Activities Address Soil Health The Virtual Fertilizer Research Center (VFRC), together with its mother organization IFDC and the International Soil Reference and Information Center (ISRIC)-World Soil Information, held a training in Rwanda on database management for geo-spatial analysis. The training coincided with work by IFDC soil scientists in East Africa identifying micronutrient needs of crops in different locations in that region. Tests have shown that when micronutrient fertilizer blends match soil and plant needs, yield increases of 30 to 70 percent or more can be achieved. The VFRC is aiming to create a database of results from IFDC’s farm trials. By compiling a database, the VFRC and other organizations can extract the information to identify best nutrient practices for locations and crops across East Africa and develop various tools to disseminate through IFDC. For example, several hundred bean trials have been executed by IFDC in Burundi across varying soil types. The database can be queried to create maps that show yield and nutrient responses to certain micronutrient applications and to demonstrate what factor explains the response, like the soil type, weather conditions or farm management practices. These maps are unique. They address micronutrients and can be used to demonstrate best nutrient practices for specific areas. However, because the availability of micronutrients to crops is dictated by soil factors that sometimes constrain their uptake by plants, “the challenge,” says Prem Bindraban, executive director of the VFRC, “is packaging micronutrients in a way that makes them usable by the plant, not harmful to the soil, safer for the environment, affordable for farmers and beneficial to farm livelihoods.” Evidence from research suggests that packaging nutrients in nanoparticulate forms results in improved uptake by plants, and this is one of the avenues being pursued by the VFRC. “Soil is not lifeless. It is a living medium,” says Bindraban. According to recently released VFRC Reports, some strains of bacteria and fungi living in the soil can facilitate root uptake of nutrients, such as phosphorus and iron, an important micronutrient for plant growth. According to Bindraban, “The over-application of primary nutrient fertilizers, for example, could make the soil too acidic, reducing or negating the benefits of these organisms.” The creation of the database will bring the VFRC and other organizations one step closer to developing novel fertilizer solutions that benefit soils, crops and humans alike. The VFRC reports can be found at IFDC Magazine 25