/ Modified mar 24, 2017 3:59 p.m.

Study: Soil Bacteria Can Improve Crop Yields During Droughts

Grain crops like corn and wheat produced up to 40 percent more seeds.

Illustration bacteria VIEW LARGER A future is depicted in which rhizobacteria sourced from stressful areas around the world may be used as a metaphorical “prescription for drought.” Illustration by Victor Leshyk, 2016.
Victor Leshyk

A particular kind of soil bacteria could help farmers produce food during droughts, according to Arizona ecologists.

Scientists reviewed more than 50 studies from 18 countries and found beneficial soil microbes called rhizobacteria increase plant growth, especially under drought conditions.

Grain crops like corn and wheat produced up to 40 percent more seeds when rhizobacteria were present. Things like asparagus and lettuce also increased in size.

“I think these findings are encouraging, especially when we’re considering areas with severe soil degradation. And right now up to 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded,” said Rachel Rubin, the lead author of the analysis.

Farmers in drought-prone areas could inject the soil or coat seeds with the bacteria before planting.

Rubin said one limitation is most studies took place in greenhouses; more field research is needed. The review appeared in the March issue of Plant and Soil.

Arizona Science Desk
This story is from the Arizona Science Desk, a collaborative of the state's public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Arizona Science Desk.
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