Algae in Soils Increases Soil Health, Better Crops

Is Algae in Soils a New Frontier in Plant Health and Yield?

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Editor

 

Could applying microalgae to the soil boost yield and strengthen plants? We spoke to Len Smith, chief business office, Heliae Development LLC., based in Gilbert, Arizona, in the southeast Phoenix metropolitan area. “Heliae is a company that is dedicated to unlocking the potential of microalgae,” said Smith. “We’ve been in business now for over eight years. We hope to be able to deliver microalgae products in a lot of areas, including in plant agriculture.”

“While we work with hundreds of algae species, the algae we are currently marketing for plant agriculture is a green algae. It is actually subject to genetic classification so I couldn’t even tell you the exact species at the moment,” noted Smith. “We’re working on several others as well. We have often seen in our early stage testing that many different kinds of microalgae have different positive effects on plant agriculture, so we’re bringing many of them along,” he said.

Unlock the secrets in the soil diversity
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Health Campaign

Smith said these algae are among the most common components in healthy soil. “A lot of what we’re doing is actually restoring what is already present in the soil. A lot of the scientists we work with think this is a critical component of the whole plant ecosystem below the soil line.”

Similarly, many university researchers are taking a closer look at algae. “We have about 30 university and contract research studies in, and we are working with growers. We have been selling the product in what I would consider almost a beta launch mode for about two years. So, we probably have about that same number of grower trials—maybe even double that,” said Smith.

Having the algae in the soil not only increased yields, according to Smith, it increased crop quality and strengthened the soil. “Benefits include root mass; in fact, we saw a 20 percent root mass increase in cotton. We have also seen the plant’s ability to grow in stressed environments such as heat stress and drought stress, in some of the work UC Davis did for us. We saw a 25 to 30 percent increase in overall yield in the stressed soils in which the algae was present, as compared to the control,” Smith explained.

Could it be that algae may be the new frontier in plant health and yield? “Yes, we’re very excited about what we’re doing. I would say we are opening a field here that nobody else is really paying attention to. I think that you will be seeing more of these products come to market, hopefully  helping growers get better results in a restorative and natural way,” Smith said.


Heliae Development LLC.

Phycoterra

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Water Diversion Lessons from Australia

Australian Water Woes: Water Diversion Will Not Save Fish

 

By Laurie Greene, Editor

 

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, spoke to the CDFA Board of Directors about the State Water Resources Control Board’s proposed strategy of diverting up to 40 percent of the Tuolumne River flows to increase flows in the Delta for salmon and smelt. The diversion would severely impact farm and city water needs in both the Turlock Irrigation District (TID) and Oakdale Irrigation District (OID).

 

“Despite increased [water] flows over the years, the fish populations continue to decline in the Delta,” Wade said. “We have exacerbated this problem. We have released water with the intent going back to 2008 and 2009 [scenarios] and even before, if you want to turn the clock back to 1992, and yet we’re still seeing population crashes.”

 

“The science is showing that fish are not recovering. Yet, the California Department of Water Resources is doubling down on the same kind of activity—the same strategy—that hasn’t worked in the past and that we do not expect to work moving forward,” he said.

 

Mike Wade
Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

 

“That is why schools, health departments, farmers, Latinos, economic development departments have opposed the regulation. A host of folks have come out and commented, written letters, and expressed their opinion on the plan because of the severe economic issues they are going to deal with at the 40% impaired flow level.”

 

Wade noted that in recent years, a lot of attention has focused on Australia and how great they are at water management. People commend their effectiveness in changing their water rights system and supposedly improving their ecosystem—or having a plan to work on their ecosystem issues. “In 2009, the vast agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin Authority established a flow amount, or a quantity, for environmental water that was around 2.2 million acre-feet. That is out of around 26.4 million acre-feet of average annual flow in the Murray-Darling Basin,” Wade said.

 

“To set the stage, the Murray-Darling Basin is in eastern Australia. It extends in the north around 800 miles from Gold Coast and the border of Queensland all the way south to Melbourne,” Wade said. “It is actually a geographic area about the size of California and remarkably has a very similar quantity of water to serve its farmers. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority set a 2.2 million acre-foot environmental water buyback for the environment, like we are talking about here.”

 

Wade conveyed to the CDFA Board what his friends in Australia were telling him. “I was there for two weeks in August following up on a trip I took in 2012 to learn about their water supply issues and how they deal with it. My friends are telling me, ‘Don’t do what we do. It has been a disaster,’” Wade said.

 

“The environmental sector hasn’t even achieved their full environmental buyback goal, and they’re already seeing 35% unemployment in some towns. It is directly related to the water buybacks, the declining amount of irrigation water, and the declining agriculture economy because of the change in focus on how they deliver and use water in Australia,” he said.

 

“Three weeks ago—this is how recent these things are coming about and how they’re changing—a good friend of mine, Michael Murray, Cotton Australia general manager, said the ‘Just Add Water’ approach already in place doesn’t work in the Northern Basin. It has to be abandoned. And recently, Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia, Inc. of Australia President Jeremy Morton said, ‘The over-recovery of water has resulted in unnecessary economic harm to communities. It’s a case of maximum pain with minimum gain.'”

 

“A dozen organizations are suggesting this isn’t just a, ‘Don’t do it’ and ‘Abandon the environmental water buybacks.’ What they’re suggesting is the exact same thing that TID and OID are going to experience. Australia’s problems in the Murray-Darling Basin are, remarkably, invasive species, the loss of habitat, and some of the water quality issues that we deal with. It’s the same story, only they are a few years ahead of us,” Wade said.

 

“What has happened in Australia is going to happen to us in the Valley, with big unemployment issues and the closed businesses,” Wade said. “I walked down the main street in the town of Helston and half of the businesses—I’m not exaggeratinghalf of the businesses were boarded up and closed. Only small businesses were still open, such as a convenience store, a bar and a tailor. All the rest were gone.”

 

Wade asked CDFA Secretary Karen Ross to extend the comment period for the Water Board’s proposal. “We all need to have an opportunity to bring some of these issues to light and to support what’s going on in the agriculture community. We must support the need for comprehensive economic studies, either bringing out the ones that have been done or doing some more. We have more economic data will show there is an economic hit that’s deeper, much deeper, that what is proposed or suggested in the plan.”

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CDFA AWARDS $5.8 MILLION TO ASSIST FARMERS WITH WATER EFFICIENCY AND ENHANCEMENT

Announced TODAY, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has awarded $5.8 million for 70 different projects in the second phase of a program to implement on-farm water irrigation systems with increased water efficiency and enhancement to reduce water and energy use, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

The funding for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) is part of emergency drought Legislation (SB 103) signed in early 2014 by Governor Brown – authorizing CDFA to distribute as much as $10 million for eligible projects, in cooperation with the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board.

“These projects are essential to allow farmers to continue agricultural food production while at the same time providing ecosystem services that enhance the environment” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “The result is the continuous improvement of our farming systems while at the same time providing multiple benefits, including water conservation and reduced GHG emissions.”

With this latest round of funding, a total of $9.1 million has been awarded for 155 different projects that have leveraged an additional $6.9 million in private cost-share dollars from grant recipients. The money comes from the state’s portion of Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds. The proceeds are deposited in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and appropriated to state agencies.

The funding will reduce GHG emissions through projects that include modifications to improve water efficiency like drip and microsprinkler systems; energy-efficient water pumps; soil moisture sensors; and irrigation scheduling programs that apply water based on crop needs.

This program is the first of its kind at CDFA and applies to its authority under the Environmental Farming Act of 1995, which states that the department should oversee an Environmental Farming Program to provide incentives to farmers whose practices promote the well-being of ecosystem and air quality.

More information on the SWEEP program can be found by visiting  www.cdfa.ca.gov/go/sweep.

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