Harnessing the Sun for On-farm Fertilizer Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $159,023.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jessica Davis
Colorado State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), tomatoes, turnips


  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, energy use, solar energy
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, market study
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities, sustainability measures


    Agriculture is highly dependent on fertilizer made through energy-intensive industrial nitrogen (N) fixation. As energy prices increase, so does the price of fertilizer. Biological N fixation using cyanobacteria has the potential to supply N to crops while reducing input costs and increasing energy-efficiency. The goal of this project was to develop and test an on-farm biological N fixation system. The primary scientific components included development and optimization of cyanobacteria-based N fixation, on-farm testing through participatory research and economic analysis. A manual, newsletter article, presentations and social media were used to raise awareness and educate producers and professionals regarding this new technique.

    Project objectives:

    Our objectives are to:

    1) Evaluate cyanobacterial species and growth conditions necessary for biofertilizer production,

    2) Evaluate the economic and social feasibility of on-farm or community-scale fertilizer production using a biological N-fixation system,

    3) Optimize the harvesting, processing and application of cyanobacteria-fixed N through on-farm testing,

    4) Inform the bioreactor design and utilization of biofertilizers through consultations with farmers, and

    5) Develop educational materials providing information on the production and utilization of cyanobacteria-based N fertilizer and disseminate that information to farmers and agricultural professionals through a variety of means.

    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.