The nitrogen use efficiency improvements are large. Our data indicate that we can reduce nitrogen application by 40 to 50 percent with no reduction in plant yields. On just the 66 million acres of wheat in the U.S., this would save more 1 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer. At the same time, in the U.S. and the developed world, a seed treatment with the fungi results in yield increases in crops such as wheat, maize, soybeans and rice.
The cost is low, only about $4/acre. Returns just in greater yields are typically $40 to 60/acre, so this improves the farm economy. However, the greatest advantage probably occurs in the developing world. In the developing world, where inputs limit yields, the beneficial fungi dramatically increase plant productivity under these conditions.
We, together with a cooperating company, have developed economic systems to deliver the beneficial fungi to smallholders that are efficient, thus improving food security and economic viability in these regions of the world. Several million dollars of product are now being produced, which improves the economy in Ohio, where the products are made. The strains used are patented by Cornell’s Center for Technology, Enterprise and Commercialization and generate royalties to Cornell.
impact statement issue
In the developing world, agriculture may damage the environment by application of fertilizers and pesticides. Nitrogen fertilizers contribute to both water and air pollution in significant fashions. Further, smallholders especially cannot afford inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, and so yields of food and fiber are very low.
impact statement response
The results of this research stem directly from the basic investigation into the mechanisms of the fungi's action. We used proteomic and gene expression to catalog and identify several hundred genes and proteins that are upregulated systemically in plants, and this, together with a great deal of field work in cooperation with the corporate licensee of the technology, demonstrated that we very much underestimated the full potential of these fungi to improve plant performance and even that our knowledge of mechanisms was very much underestimated and incomplete.
Given this basic knowledge, we were able to select strains, delivery systems, and the like that dramatically improved the reliability and scope of the benefits that were possible.
impact statement summary
For a number of years we have been developing fungi in the genus Trichoderma for the control of plant diseases. Very recently we have discovered, in large part though the use of genomic techniques, that the fungi have a number of important agricultural, economic, and environmental advantages. They colonize plant roots, establish chemical communication with the plants, and cause the plants to wall off the fungi so they do not grow deeply into the plant.
However, the association is long term, and the chemical communication continues for many months. This chemical communication changes plant gene expression and provides a range of benefits to plant performance. They induce systemic resistance to disease, they increase substantially to resistance to abiotic stress, and they improve the efficiency of nitrogen use. They also frequently increase plant growth and deep rooting. All of these processes require energy, and these fungi induce improved photosynthetic efficiency in plants.
Other federal extension funding
USDA and NSF Small Business Innovation Research programs
Other federal funding
National Science Foundation
Other private funding
Direct funding from companies including Terrenew, LLC, and Advanced Biological Marketing