Renewable Farming

Root-building biologicals are your best friend if drought hits this summer

Here’s another small but dramatic demonstration that deep, fibrous corn roots with abundant mycorrhizal fungi can save bushels under dry-weather stress.

March 11, 2021 — Since January, we’ve repeated several greenhouse trials to drought-test young corn. We were looking for first-hand evidence of how specific fungi and bacteria which live inside living corn tissue can enhance the crop’s ability to tolerate dry weather. Observations from all our experiments confirm:

1. The combination of endophytic fungi and bacteria in BioEnsure and BioTango from Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies clearly helped young corn recover from simulated drought imposed by withholding water while imposing 80-degree and higher daytime temperatures.

2. The microbial combination, applied as a seed treatment, simulated in-furrow or early foliar all showed the same beneficial response: drought tolerance.

3. Treated corn quickly developed deep, very fibrous roots with abundant natural mycorrhizal fungi. Profuse rooting was always consistent with recovery from acute shortage of water. The photos with this report number each plant pot and each root. You can see the standing plant No. 1 and compare it with root No. 1 extracted from the pot. The treated versus untreated sets show huge differences in root mass. We gently shook dirt from the roots, rather than washing them clean, so you could see how well soil clings to the roots. That’s an indication of how prolific the root hairs and mycorrhizal fungi grew in the 48 days since planting.

Based on the decade of research conducted by Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies, plus our few homespun experiments, we’re encouraging growers to give corn some help against drought stress this season. Use BioEnsure and BioTango as a seed treatment, in-furrow or foliar. We’d favor seed or in-furrow application, with the objective of encouraging early, abundant root growth. 

Update March 22:  AgWeb’s seasonal weather forecast sees ominous odds for dry weather spreading eastward from the current drought pattern. Here’s a link to their report.

Front row untreated control. Second row seed treated
with BioEnsure and BioTango. The first and second
rows were subjected to repeated drought stress.
Back row was kept watered, for reference.

Here’s the underground story on the corn seedlings and roots. Each pot was regularly watered with a uniform 60 milliliters as needed, until Feb. 10. After that, the first two rows of four plants were not watered for 7 days. All plants were constantly warmed by an electric mat beneath the flat plastic container. Daytime temperatures rose above 90 degrees; nights were kept at about 60 degrees. After 7 days without water, the front two rows of seedlings were severely wilted. There just isn’t much reserve moisture in a little 2×2 plastic pot. 

On Feb. 17, the dried-out two rows of corn were watered again, 60 ml. per pot. All four seedlings in the second row — seed treated with BioEnsure and BioTango — recovered and became turgid overnight. Three out of four untreated seedlings in the front row never recovered from wilt. One did, No. 3, which left us curious as to how it alone showed such persistence. We’d find out when all roots were shaken out.

Then came the final torture test: All eight of the seedlings were denied watering until March 9, a punishing 19 days. All four of the treated seedlings in the second row wilted severely. Our lone untreated survivor in the first row, No. 3, collapsed.  On March 9, all pots were again watered: Would anything recover? All looked dead. But by today, March 11, two of the seed-treated corn plants stood upright and turgid, growing again and looking almost as healthy as the back row of four, which was never deprived of water. 

Roots reveal the underground evidence! Root structure and fungal/bacterial symbiosis correlated directly, plant by plant, to the corn’s drought survival.

Among the untreated four plants, that stubborn seedling No. 3 which survived the first drought, shows in our root photo that it had twice the root mass of its three untreated neighbors. Why? That’s for an agronomist to answer. I’ve seen clear-cut individual plant variations under field conditions, but don’t know why.

Our conclusion: Even in corn that looked dead and dry, two of the four plants seed-treated with BioEnsure and BioTango emerged alive when given some water. Maybe the other two would have revived, given another day or two. But look at the roots on plants 7 and 8. Humongous! The roots had pushed out against all four sides of the 2×2 pots. Dirt is clinging to these roots—all signs of beneficial biology multiplying and benefiting the young crop.

So — there are certainly other “symbiotic” stress resistant qualities conferred to plants when BioEnsure and BioTango inhabit their cells. But the most obvious difference in our simple greenhouse test is a dramatic difference in early roots.

Thus we’re confident in offering our WakeUP clients both BioEnsure (liquid formulation) and BioTango (soluble powder) this season. Call for further information!