Silicon Fertilization Shown to Increase Wheat Yields and Water Availability

May 12, 2023

For the first time, the effects of silicon fertilization on wheat yields were investigated for a study led by the Leibniz Center for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

To ensure the supply of food for a growing world population,  must grow while remaining ecologically sustainable. Either the yield per area must therefore increase, or the area under cultivation must be increased without increasing the energy required for cultivation. Current agricultural practices often rely on high levels of fertilizer which is not sustainable.

The research results from a group, led by Dr. Jörg Schaller, show that fertilizing the field with so-called "amorphous " can increase both nutrient and water availability in the soil. Compared to the control, wheat yield increased by more than 80% on land fertilized with one percent  in an experiment on marginal land.

In particular, the ability to store water can open up new potentials: Like a sponge, amorphous silicate attracts  that accumulate in a gel shell around the silicate core. "If the top 20 centimeters of the soil layer have 1% more silicate, we have about 40% more plant-available water," says Jörg Schaller, describing the results of his experiments. In a drought, this additional water could be life-supporting for the plant until the next downpour and thus reduce crop losses.

Better plant growth, more carbon sequestration

Due to the improved  in the soil, the plant biomass doubled after silicon fertilization. As a result, more biomass is formed and yields increase. Due to the increased biomass production, more  also enters the soil in the form of straw, which is fixed there, thus improving the soil.

"Natural, little-affected soils contain 6% to 7% amorphous silicate," Schaller explains. Plants accumulate these highly reactive silicon compounds, which result from the weathering of rocks, as so-called plant opals in their stems and leaves. Here they lend stability and also ward off predators. "Anyone who has ever cut themselves on cutting grass knows what is meant," Schaller says.

In , the compounds pass back into the soil as soon as the plant dies and rots. On agricultural land, this cycle is interrupted. Cereals in particular absorb large amounts of silicon from the soil through their roots and store it as amorphous silicates in the biomass. With the harvest, some of it then disappears again from the cycle and the soil. Agricultural soils that had been used for decades or centuries gradually became depleted. Today, they have only a fraction of the original content of amorphous silicate—usually less than one percent.

Click here to see more...
Subscribe to our Newsletters

Trending Video