An uphill battle for a farmer to provide a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to fertilizer

Because the agricultural {industry} faces hovering fertilizer prices and climate-related strain to scale back using such merchandise, some farmers are alternative ways to feed their crops.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine despatched costs hovering amid a world fertilizer scarcity final spring, placing many farmers in a tough place: paying exorbitant costs for standard fertilizers or contemplating completely different choices.

Some resorted to the normal technique of spreading manure within the fields (which triggered a scarcity animal tube in some elements of North America), whereas others have thought of switching to quite a lot of options to supply vitamins for his or her crops.

One such different is a way designed by Gary Lewis, a farmer from southern Alberta who’s rising mustard, wheat and yellow peas on his 1,600 hectares of land this summer time. For the cultivation of those crops, standard fertilizers usually are not used. In reality, he hasn’t used any of it in 20 years.

As an alternative, he depends on a know-how he has developed referred to as Bio-Agtive, which collects the exhaust from his tractors and returns the fabric to the earth as a carbon-based bio-fertilizer.

Lewis says curiosity in Bio-Agtive has jumped this 12 months, seemingly pushed by {dollars} and cents. With final 12 months’s drought, some farmers struggled to pay their payments, then he stated, when fertilizer costs rose this spring, many household farms felt the monetary strain once more.

“If there is not any want to vary, you will not,” he stated, noting that he hopes the analysis being executed on Bio-Agtive’s efficacy will encourage extra folks to undertake the know-how.

Tampering with tractors and plant sciences

The fourth-generation farmer and father of 5 says he got here near monetary collapse in years when his crops and soil failed.

A couple of many years in the past, he began questioning how a lot manure he was utilizing and have become intrigued by the concept of ​​taking carbon exhaust from a tractor diesel engine and feeding it into the soil.

Lewis, who can also be an auto mechanic, began repairing his workshop. His spouse, Barb, stated he grew to become obsessive about plant science.

Lewis and his spouse Barb on their farm close to Pincher Creek in southern Alberta. (Donna McKellegott/CBC)

“He was studying science books on plant vitamin,” she stated. “Then I see him make vegetation in egg cartons, put seeds and minimize emissions from automotive exhaust and watch them develop.”

After a lot trial and error, Lewis constructed a carbon seize and sequestration unit. Hoses join his tractor’s diesel exhaust to a system that cools the gases. The filtered carbon water is unfold with the seeds or handed by its personal irrigation system. He says he noticed virtually fast enhancements in his crops and soil.

“CO2 is the constructing blocks of life,” he stated. “It is smart that I may take the emissions from this jar and put it right into a seed air supply system and simply attempt it. Why not? That is an experiment.”

Different choices

The sharp rise in gas and fertilizer prices is the primary purpose this 12 months’s crop is taken into account the most costly in Canadian historical past.

Different startups providing options to standard fertilizers say they’re struggling too rising of calls for. Some corporations, together with Pivot Bio, Anuvia, and Kula Bio, are pushing their vegetable fertilizer merchandise and utilizing microbeads as a less expensive and extra environmentally pleasant possibility.

The federal authorities introduced a 30 p.c discount in fertilizer emissions goal in late 2020, and just lately concluded a months-long session course of on that local weather aim.

An industry-led report launched earlier this month means that Canadian farmers are more likely to obtain half the federal authorities’s aim simply by rising the effectivity and accuracy of utilizing standard fertilizers.

Since 1990, the agricultural sector has produced almost 10 p.c of Canada’s whole greenhouse fuel emissions yearly, in accordance with the federal authorities.

One of many essential challenges that different fertilizer startups face is getting farmers to offer it a attempt. Many farmers are skeptical and reluctant to danger their livelihood on a brand new product.

Over time, Lewis patented his know-how, traveled to agricultural gala’s and spoke to producers.

A couple of hundred farmers have used the Bio-Agtive system, which mounts on the entrance of their tractors and sells for $65,000 to $95,000. Australian Mick Dennis is one in all them.

“It didn’t take lengthy to seek out out that it was a well-understood and works very nicely in concord with nature,” Dennis stated throughout a cellphone interview, noting that he had seen a rise within the root progress of his crops and the natural matter in them. Soil since he began utilizing the system.

“This is not simply Bio-Agtive, it is bio-activity and good agricultural practices.”

Whereas the Lewis system has discovered a degree of success with some growers, there’s nonetheless not sufficient scientific proof to find out whether or not it produces a decrease value, environmentally pleasant different to industrial fertilizers whereas nonetheless producing related crop sizes. At the very least not but.

A farmer shows a handful of compost. Given the hike in gas and fertilizer costs this 12 months, consultants describe 2022 as the most costly crop in Canadian historical past. (Jeff Macintosh/The Canadian Press)

Search in progress

Over a decade in the past, Jill Clapperton investigated whether or not Bio-Agtive is perhaps dangerous to soils as a part of her work as a analysis scientist in Canadian Agriculture. She stated it wasn’t dangerous.

Whether or not Bio-Agtive is healthier than industrial fertilizers is one other story. Clapperton discovered that there have been slight variations between a area with out compost versus these handled with emissions from a Lewis tractor.

“However the [crop yields] It was a lot decrease than when utilizing fertilizers.”

Nevertheless, in subsequent analysis that I participated in as a guide at Northern Montana State College in 2012, it was discovered that seeds handled with the Lewis system contained fewer soil-borne fungal ailments.

“In reality, the soot and hint metals from the exhaust that was masking the seeds and this little warmth was a deal with for the seeds,” Clapperton stated.

On the time, Bio-Agtive was in its infancy, and Lewis stated yield variations in comparison with fertilizers have been minimal. The system and know-how has now developed into its sixth era.

Questions on whether or not, for a way lengthy, soils retain Bio-Agtive emissions, or how fields with out fertilizers evaluate to these handled with Bio-Agtive emissions.

Lewis seems at outcomes of lab checks on seeds from his farm produced utilizing the Bio-Agtive System, which can also be being examined by researchers at Olds Faculty. (Donna McKellegott/CBC)

“I am instantly skeptical as a result of I am a scientist,” says Angela Bedard-Hone, dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Bioresources on the College of Saskatchewan.

She stated, “I believe there’s room in agriculture for all measures of observe, however, backside line, the science must be there.”

Conceptually, the concept behind Bio-Agtive is smart, in accordance with Daniel Alessi, professor of earth sciences on the College of Alberta, though extra analysis is required to see how efficient Bio-Agtive is in comparison with industrial fertilizers.

“In case you add carbon to the soil within the type of carbon nanotubes and different black carbon – that’s, very nice particles and diesel exhaust – it stimulates the colonization of microbes which may in flip launch vitamins from the minerals within the soil,” he stated. , noting that this might enhance soil well being and, in the end, crop manufacturing.

Extra analysis is underway as scientists at Olds Faculty in Alberta are measuring crop yields and accumulating tissue and soil samples for laboratory evaluation. A remaining report on the outcomes of the Bio-Agtive system is anticipated from the school in early 2023.

Whereas he anticipates these outcomes, Lewis continues to satisfy with farmers, construct new Bio-Agtive programs and promote them to folks eager to attempt one thing new to flee the excessive costs of conventional fertilizers.