New research harnesses soil fungus for environmental mitigation

28 July 2022 | News

A major new research programme promises to further reduce the environmental impact of New Zealand agriculture, with naturally occurring soil fungus shaping as a new hero.

N-Vision NZ, led by farmer owned nutrient co-operative Ravensdown and co-funded by the Government’s Sustainable Food and Fibres Future (SFFF) initiative, aims to help farmers reduce nitrogen loss.

One of the projects in the $22 million seven-year initiative, led by Lincoln University researchers Dr Hossein Alizadeh, Professor John Hampton and Dr Wadia Kandula, will harness the power of humble natural strains of soil fungi to increase the efficiency of nitrogen use by plants.

Ravensdown General Manager of Innovation and Strategy Mike Manning explains: “The Lincoln University researchers have discovered natural strains of fungi that reduce the activity of specific microbes, which are involved with nitrogen cycling and losses. These nitrogen losses can occur as nitrate leaching through the soil which has potential detrimental effect on waterways, and as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas emission. 

“Although it occurs naturally in pastural soils at a relatively low level, the fungi can be applied to soil as either a prill or seed coating. Doing so increases the level of the fungi and therefore alters the nitrogen cycle to reduce nitrogen losses. Research to date indicates this has a strong potential to mitigate both greenhouse gas emissions and reduce nitrogen loss to waterways,” he said.

N-Vision NZ includes two other research projects that aim to reduce the environmental impact of New Zealand’s grazed pasture systems: one that will develop an accurate gauge of the nitrogen already in the soil and, therefore enabling farmers to apply more precise quantities of nitrogen fertiliser for optimum plant growth; and another that will research nitrification inhibitors, which have the potential to significantly lower nitrous oxide emissions and nitrogen leaching from grazed pasture systems. 

N-Vision NZ will apply leading edge science and technology to create tools that farmers can use on farm. Importantly farmers will have options to maintain profitability while minimising the environmental impact of their land use. SFFF is contributing $7.3 million to N-Vision, while Ravensdown’s contribution is $11 million in cash, plus in-kind funding. Lincoln University and Plant & Food Research are research partners for N-Vision.

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