Researching and Raising Awareness of Dynamic Accumulator Plants in the Northeast

Project Overview

FNE20-967
Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2020: $14,996.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Unadilla Community Farm
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Greta Zarro
Unadilla Community Farm

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: organic fertilizers
  • Production Systems: permaculture

    Proposal summary:

    There has been substantial research into the accumulation of nutrients in plant tissue, with some plants widely championed as “dynamic accumulators” for their high concentrations of specific nutrients. This has led some farmers to grow dynamic accumulators for use in on-farm mulch and fertilizer production. However, there is a distinct lack of research establishing whether these nutrients carry over from plant tissue to soil health, and at present the claim that dynamic accumulators can be used to enrich the soil with specific nutrients is largely based on anecdotal reports.

    This study aims to establish clear parameters for the identification of dynamic accumulators and perform on-farm trials to determine soil health impacts of six promising species available to Northeast farmers in zone 4 or greater. Soil tests will be performed to track nutrient values over two years of cultivation. Plant tissue will be heavily harvested and weighed to determine estimates for crop yields. Plant tissue will be used to produce both mulches and liquid fertilizers, and nutrient values tested to assess the soil health benefits farmers can expect from these practices.

    Publicity through social media, fact sheets, media outreach, and speaking engagements will be used to raise awareness of dynamic accumulators and their potential applications; instruct farmers on best practices for the on-farm production and application of mulches and liquid fertilizers derived from six dynamic accumulators; and to make recommendations for further research.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to assess six plant species for use as dynamic accumulators (DAs) on Northeast farms (zone 4 or greater). Rows planted with six potential DAs undergo soil testing over a two year period, tracking nutrient levels in three major soil horizons (0-6", 6-12", 12-24"). Nutrient levels in DA plant tissue and rows mulched with this tissue are measured, assessing the use of DAs for nutrient-rich mulch production. Liquid fertilizers produced from DAs are tested to assess nutrient carry-over to soluble fertilizer.

    Farmers are then instructed on best practices for on-farm production and application of mulches and liquid fertilizers derived from these six DAs. Social media, fact sheets, media outreach, and speaking engagements are used to raise awareness of DAs and to make recommendations for further research.

    If proven effective, DAs could provide economic and environmental benefits for farmers. Farmers previously reliant on purchased mulches or chemical fertilizers would be able to produce money-saving, plant-based alternatives on-site, choosing from a variety of DA species to address specific nutrient deficiencies. Deep-rooted DAs could be incorporated in farm plans to recover nutrients otherwise lost through leaching. Nutrient runoff, including nitrate runoff, could be addressed by planting riparian buffers that incorporate DAs.

    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.