Microalgae application as a soil amendment to improve soil health, crop production, and water management

Progress report for FNC22-1345

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,586.00
Projected End Date: 12/15/2024
Grant Recipient: RJPage CO
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Since 2000 I have been running Windmill Ranch LLC which includes all aspects of the farming operation and the Registered Angus breeding and sales. This year will be our family's 49th Annual production sale selling Angus seed stock around the country. The farming operation includes eight circle irrigation pivots and 400 acres dryland acres.


Microalgae has been used for millennia as a soil amendment, mostly in eastern cultures, although there have been limited U.S. studies. Fresh water strain Chlorella vulgaris is one of the most intensely researched microalgae with a multitude of uses from biofuel to food supplements. It is high in protein and can produce up to 20% more lipid content than other terrestrial crops. Initial application of C. vulgaris on 160 acres of cane sorghum at Windmill Angus Farms in Haigler, NE, occurred in August 2021 and provided independent feed sample reports showing an approximate 40% increase in protein and 20% increase in tonnage per acre over control acreage. Multiple soil samples from clover at McDonald Apiary in Hay Springs, NE, showed similar results after application of microalgae, with a potential to increase pollination.

While the increase in biomass is significant, the corresponding increase in root structure has the potential to better retain moisture, mitigate erosion, and be a useful tool in water management along the Republican River and elsewhere. Microalgae are a natural, benign and sustainable soil amendment that are much less expensive to produce than NPK-based products, and can vastly improve production and quality of life for farm communities.

Project Objectives:
  1. Measure biomass and root growth following the application of algae to determine increases in production, versus control. Two or three cuttings will be done
  2. Measure soil organic matter using an independent soil testing lab to determine soil health.
  3. Measure moisture retention in root growth following the application of algae, using an independent soil testing lab.
  4. Determine nitrate levels following the application of algae, using an independent soil testing lab.
  5. Correlate pollination and honey production following the application of algae to clover, using seed counts, soil tests, vegetative tests on forage for nutritional values.


Materials and methods:
Alex Peterson has completed applications of soil amendments on numerous crop circles with varying results. Soil samples have been collected and sent to an independent lab that performs tests including the Haney Test to determine soil health.
So far, we have applied the microalgae on 3 crop circles (totaling about 500 acres). Crops were alfalfa and clover.
Our project has been delayed due to a combination of factors, including inclement weather and other environmental conditions. Our modified plan is to complete tests disrupted by inclement conditions, re-test, and submit results.
Research results and discussion:

None to share yet.

Participation Summary
1 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

3 Farmers participated
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

None have been held for the public yet. So far education has been among our collaboration.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.