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Study: Soil Bacteria Can Improve Crop Yields During Droughts

rhizobacteria illustration
(Photo courtesy of Victor Leshyk)
A future is depicted in which rhizobacteria sourced from stressful areas around the world may be used as a metaphorical “prescription for drought."

A particular kind of soil bacteria could help farmers produce food during droughts, according to Arizona ecologists.

Scientists reviewed more than 50 studies from 18 countries. They found beneficial soil microbes called rhizobacteria increase plant growth especially under drought conditions.

Grain crops like corn and wheat produced up to 40 percent more seeds when rhizobacteria were present. Things like asparagus and lettuce also increased in size.

Rachel Rubin, doctoral student at Northern Arizona University, is lead author of the analysis.

“I think these findings are encouraging, especially when we’re considering areas with severe soil degradation. And right now up to 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded,” she said.

Farmers in drought-prone areas could inject the soil or coat seeds with the bacteria before planting.

Rubin said one limitation is most studies took place in greenhouses; more field research is needed. The review appeared in the March issue of Plant and Soil.

Melissa Sevigny is a reporter at KNAU in Flagstaff.