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