The Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) recently led a study investigating the effects of silicon fertilization on wheat yields, with the findings published in the Science of the Total Environment journal. The results of the field trial in Brandenburg revealed a significant increase in biomass production, with yields boosted by 80% compared to conventionally farmed areas. The application of amorphous silicate fertilizer also led to improved carbon sequestration in the soil and better water availability, potentially enhancing the plants’ resistance to drought.
As the global population continues to grow, there is an urgent need to increase agricultural production sustainably. To achieve this, agricultural practices must increase either the yield per unit area or the cultivated area without a corresponding increase in energy usage. However, current practices often rely on unsustainable levels of fertilizer.
Dr. Jörg Schaller and his team discovered that fertilizing with amorphous silicate can enhance nutrient and water availability in the soil, resulting in a significant increase in wheat yield compared to the control group. On marginal land, a 1% silicon application led to an over 80% yield increase. Moreover, amorphous silicate has the potential to store water effectively, attracting water molecules that gather in a gel shell around the silicate core. As a result, adding 1% silicate to the top 20 centimeters of soil could increase plant-available water by up to 40%, potentially mitigating crop losses during drought periods.
Better plant growth, more carbon sequestration
The addition of silicon fertilizer to soil has been found to significantly improve water availability and lead to a doubling of plant biomass, resulting in increased yields. This increase in biomass also means that more organic carbon is fixed in the soil in the form of straw, further enhancing soil quality.
Dr. Jörg Schaller explains that natural, minimally impacted soils contain around 6-7% amorphous silicate, which plants accumulate as highly reactive silicon compounds called plant opals in their stems and leaves. These compounds provide stability and protect the plants from predators. However, in agricultural settings, this natural cycle is disrupted as cereals absorb large amounts of silicon from the soil through their roots and store it as amorphous silicates in their biomass, with some of it being lost from the cycle and soil during harvesting. Over time, this has led to a depletion of amorphous silicate in agricultural soils, with most having less than 1% of their original content.
The findings of the study led by Dr. Schaller demonstrate that by adding amorphous silicate fertilizer to the soil, the natural cycle can be restored, improving water availability and increasing plant biomass and yields, while also enhancing soil quality.
Risks must be analyzed further
While the results of the study are promising, further research is necessary to assess any potential negative impacts of amorphous silicate fertilization. Excessive application of silicate fertilizer could result in the rapid release of nutrients, potentially leading to nutrient runoff and promoting the growth of algae in water bodies.
It should be noted that silicon fertilization is a one-time solution to replenish soil supplies, with the effects of the fertilization expected to last for several decades. As such, it could offer a more sustainable and eco-friendly approach to crop production, while also playing a role in climate change mitigation efforts.