The agricultural sector is facing a major challenge: based on a current consumption of 72% of available freshwater, by 2050 producers will also have to increase production by 60% to feed a world population of 9 billion people. How can we make a joint effort to address food security, economic growth, and the sustainable use of water resources?
Around the world, we are increasingly facing extreme weather conditions and droughts that intensely affect crops and result in production losses. Due to extreme weather conditions like El Niño and long dry spells, the Philippines is highly vulnerable to drought, impacting severely crop productivity, water availability, and food security.
Other countries such as Spain are among the 44 countries with the highest levels of water stress, which means that more than 40% of the available water is consumed each year. The worst situation is registered in Southern and Eastern Spain, where there is an extremely high risk as it consumes more than 80% of the resources, according to the latest atlas of the World Resources Institute. In the US, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor by NIDIS (National Integrated Drought Information System by the US government), as of March 2023, 31,45 % of the U.S. states are in drought. In other parts of the world, such as Chile and Peru, droughts occur frequently and farmers and producers are subject to water allocations that limit its use for agriculture. In places like Australia, there is even the concept of water rights.
The reality is that increasingly frequent and intense drought conditions can cause stress to crops, with productivity losses of up to 15%. A fact: a mere 1-degree increase in average temperature reduces crop yields by 4 to 10%.
In the case of horticultural crops such as tomatoes or peppers, which are watered daily and where the productive potential is pushed to the limit, any type of water stress has a great impact on fruit production and quality.
In other types of crops, such as woody crops, we can also observe the direct impact of water stress, with very significant yield losses.
How do we improve water use efficiency?
Faced with this scarcity of water resources, different strategies come into play to help us increase crop efficiency, such as new irrigation systems, technological tools that allow us to know exactly how much water the crop requires, or plant breeding with plants that are more resistant to drought.
All these tools indeed provide results. Improvement in agricultural water use efficiency has improved by 8% in three years according to the FAO’s analysis of 166 countries. In fact, this global organization estimates that irrigated land will increase by 34% by 2030 in developing countries, while agricultural water use will increase by only 14%, thanks to more efficient use.
On the other hand, at Symborg, we want to go further, and that’s why we look for solutions that make even better use of existing resources in a way that is sustainable for the planet and at the same time profitable for the farmer. How do we do it? The answer is simple and lies in nature: microorganism-based biotechnology.
Thanks to biotechnological solutions, we help crop roots make better use of the nutrients and water already present in the soil, achieving more efficient, more productive, and, consequently, more profitable crops.
The tools: microorganisms’ role in the face of water scarcity
What solutions can the soil offer in the face of agricultural water scarcity? There are beneficial microorganisms, characterized and selected strains, that, due to their exclusive characteristics, allow us to increase the efficiency of agrosystems and help the plant in situations of abiotic stress.
This is the case of the Mycorrhizal-Forming Fungus (AMF) Glomus iranicum var. tenuihypharum, the main component of several of our biostimulants. This unique Symborg strain establishes a symbiotic relationship between the plant and the fungus, or, in other words, a mutually beneficial relationship in which the fungus provides the plant with water and nutrients. In return, the plant provides the fungus with sugars derived from photosynthesis that will help it complete its metabolic cycles.
It must be taken into account that a plant subjected to water stress will decrease its growth. In that sense, mycorrhizal symbiosis not only helps crops continue to develop through more efficient use of water and nutrients, but it also increases resilience to adverse climatic conditions.
Mycorrhizal symbiosis is not merely an exchange of resources. On the one hand, Glomus iranicum var. tenuihypharum stimulates the plant to increase photosynthesis, increasing sugar production so that it can continue to grow and provide even more water and nutrients.
On the other hand, it is also capable of modulating the concentration of auxins in the plant, which are responsible for root and absorbing hair growth, allowing the plant to continue growing, increase the quantity and length of its roots, and form more connections with Glomus iranicum var. tenuihypharum.
Plants that access more water and nutrients
Thanks to the greater amount of roots and absorbent hairs we mentioned above, the plant will have a greater capacity to explore the soil, which means increased water and nutrient absorption.
The fungus’ own absorption system must also be taken into account: a network of hyphae that is constantly exploring the soil called extramatrical mycelium. One of Glomus iranicum var. tenuihypharum’s exclusive features is its ability to produce up to 4 times more extramatrical mycelium than other mycorrhizal-forming fungi.
In fact, for each meter of root, we can obtain between 7 and 250 meters of exploratory hyphae. What’s more, hyphae are very small, therefore they can access water and nutrients found in soil micropores that would otherwise be inaccessible to the plant.
Glomus iranicum var. tenuihypharum also improves the soil’s Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) through glomalin, a kind of “gum” that acts like a glue that adheres the soil particles together and assists in the formation of stable aggregates.
This translates into quality, porous, and aerated soil, with greater water retention capacity, and, at the same time, we avoid nutrient leaching.
The mycorrhizal-forming fungus Glomus iranicum var. tenuihypharum not only achieves greater water use efficiency by creating a complementary water absorption system at a lower energy cost to the plant but also increases the amount of water available to the plant which will ultimately bring more benefits to the farmer.
In short, with biostimulant solutions based on Glomus iranicum var. tenuihypharum, we provide producers with tools that improve water use efficiency and contribute to crop profitability and productivity, all while respecting the environment.