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Why Considering Soil Biofortification & Including Priming Practices is a Long-Term Response to Climate Stresses

Sponsored by Ferticell®

With continually increasing climate extremes, understanding how and why we should be continually building soil health is vital to sustainable agronomic success. One useful tactic is the use of soil biofortification, along with proper priming practices. Soil biofortification is an agronomic process of improving the nutritional quality of the soil to increase the plant-available nutrients within the rhizosphere.

This practice is implemented on many farmlands across the U.S., but when combining these practices with soil priming, there can be an accelerated increase in plant performance, biological diversity, and photosynthetic rate for actively growing plants. Priming can be defined as a pre-exposure of plants to factors that will elicit a favorable response and could trigger “stress memory” to respond to later stress events.


To maintain healthy soils and plant vitality, the soil must serve as a carbon source, nutrient reservoir, and habitat for beneficial bacteria. Priming can advance this process as new carbon is incorporated into the soil, stimulating the decomposition of old soil carbon unlike nitrogen, which has a negative effect and inhibits priming in soil. 

Since such a process involves diverse substrates that will be readily available for plant uptake in days – rather than hundreds of years – plants should be primed with carbon that is readily available.

NUE (Nutrient use Efficiency)

It is crucial for agricultural crops, most notably cereals and grasses, to have a high root density to efficiently capture Nitrates. Moll et al. (1982) defined NUE as being the yield of grain per unit of available N in the soil (including the residual N present in the soil and the fertilizer). 


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Soil biofortification and priming will increase the availability of nutrients, which can be a challenge for any crops requiring a large amount of nitrogen. Traditionally, in cereals, for which large amounts of N is required to attain maximum yield, NUE is estimated to be far less than 50% (Zhu, 2000; Raun and Johnson, 1999).

Increasing NUE isn’t the focus of priming, but a by-product of increased plant tolerance and vigor to environmentally induced stress. This game-changer of adaptive strategies is needed to improve tolerance to the stresses of today’s farming practices.

Heat Stress

Priming is a very promising strategy in modern soil management. Multiple results are noted, such as both enzyme activity and protein abundance being highly induced by cold priming. Plant tolerance to heat stress will depend on the plants’ ability to adapt to the environmental stimulus, signaling transduction, and provide physiological and biochemical adjustments. 

It has been confirmed in some studies that heat priming could effectively improve thermo-tolerance to later recurred heat stress in several plant species (Wang et al. 2014; Zang et al. 2016).

Drought Stress

With the introduction of stress priming, abiotic stress priming can be used to stimulate cross-tolerance to later abiotic stresses that may include cold, drought, and waterlogging. The implementation of drought priming at earlier stages effectively alleviates drought stress during the later stages of growth (Selote and Khanna-Chopra 2010). This is because drought-primed plants are more tolerant to oxidative stress, a complex chemical and physiological phenomenon that accompanies virtually all biotic and abiotic stresses.

Murphy’s Law appears to be directly related to the timing of plant stressors. Drought stress in the reproductive stage will negatively impact production since this will be the most critical stage. Evaluations for plants pre-exposed to drought priming acquired a stress imprint that alleviated the subsequent drought stress during the later stages of growth, as evidenced by improved water status, photosynthesis, biomass, and yield. Drought-primed plants maintained lower natural stimulants (ABA) and higher (IAA) than plants without priming due to better water status for primed plants.

Priming has improved plant defenses by activating genes for faster and stronger transcription in response to stress (Conrath et al.2015).

These studies have shown that primed plants consumed less water by increasing water productivity and reducing water use efficiencies. It is now suggested that drought priming during the early growth period can be a viable strategy to save water use for irrigation while improving water productivity in regions where water is scarce.

Priming Practices

Freshwater algae extract is a perfect example of a naturally occurring organic substance of low concentrations that will directly influence plant developmental processes. Soil priming with an additional L-Amino acid package can support the efficiency of enhancers, activators, and promoters such as electron transport chains that complete processes such as the citric acid cycle (KREBS). Amino acids are closely correlated with active transcription of genes (Ruthenburg et al. 2007).

Prior to priming, soil tests should be taken to determine overall Soil Organic Matter (SOM). If the SOM is less than 2%, an application of soil amendments should be increased by 10-15% if the budget allows. 

Sponsor Message

Soil applied rates of Nutri-Plus™, Universal™, and Microelements™ can be used to greatly accelerate the biofortification of soils through controlled priming. Learn more at https://ferticellusa.com/products


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