Link between bacteria, better yields studied

Some crops play better hosts to micro-organisms

Everyday a battle is waged in the field.

“(It’s) a tale of lords, vassals, cheaters and knights,” Agriculture Canada researcher Chantal Hamel said about the positive and negative influences on plant life in the biosphere.

She said it’s a subject of interest to scientists who seek to better understand the relationship between plants, their environment and the organisms within the soil, and producers who want to grow more for less.

“We want to grow different plants in this environment and the plant that you want to grow, maybe they don’t have the language that the organisms living in the prairie environment can understand,” she told a recent Crop Production Week meeting in Saskatoon.

“Maybe it’s possible, by understanding how it works, to use this as a strategy to improve the ability of crops to grow with less inputs — less input of nutrients and less input of chemical product.”

She said research has identified bacteria that use hydrogen gas as a source of energy and that also promote plant growth.

“Perhaps this hydrogen oxidizing group of bacteria can explain maybe why we have some crops that always benefit more following (certain) crops,” said Hamel.

The research could help better understand nitrogen fixation in plants such as chickpeas. She said hydrogen is a byproduct of nitrogen fixation, which helps these bacteria multiply.

That’s of benefit to producers because research shows that, when inoculated with these bacteria, wheat seeds germinate more vigorously. That indicates the bacteria produce a growth hormone. It’s an example of how organisms can “pay tribute to plants.”

“We are wondering if these hydrogen oxidizers could be involved in the rotation effect that we see when we grow legumes in rotation with other crops such as wheat,” she said.

Ongoing research is examining the possible connection between these bacteria and the positive returns producers see from crop rotations when durum is grown following lentils and peas.

“Pulse crops, they tend to be very good hosts for the micro-organism fungi. If we grow canola, for example, this is a very bad host,” Hamel said.

Repeated canola crops could deplete the resource, she added.

Hamel said flooding can negatively affect the population of these organisms but they are “pretty resilient.” A crop rotation strategy can help boost the population following flooding.

“Wheat doesn’t depend much on fungi, but will propagate it, so you can recover your population with a wheat crop, then maybe grow a pulse,” said Hamel.

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