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How Microalgae Are Helping Growers Increase Marketable Lettuce Yield

Are you looking to get more lettuce from your fields? If so, you’ll want to learn about the latest science on soil health and how microalgae can be the key to better harvests in many ways.

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Experienced lettuce growers know that just below the surface of their fields is a complex world—a microbiome—made up of many types of beneficial microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. The soil also contains non-living plant and animal matter that, with the help of these organisms, is continually releasing nutrients and enriching the environment as it decays. This organic matter, and the active carbon it contains, feed the microbes, which ultimately die, and the cycle continues, producing the kind of vibrant soil in which crops thrive. 

New studies have shown that microalgae can be a powerful catalyst in this process, especially when applied as a microalgae-based soil amendment. Remarkable lettuce yield improvements have been made by utilizing microalgae to improve soil health. For example, results from a field study with a microalgae soil amendment observed an 18% increase in root area, 12% increase in shoot biomass, and 110 cartons/acre overall increase in lettuce production. These kinds of numbers can only increase the grower’s profitability per acre.

Coming to the Rescue of Thirsty Crops

Not only do microalgae play a key role in soil health in terms of nutrient availability, they also improve water management. With ongoing tillage, compaction, and surface crusting, lettuce fields lose their ability to absorb and retain moisture. Water from precipitation or irrigation starts to run off or pool on the surface and evaporate. As a result, lettuce crops do not get nearly as much moisture as they should, which indicates diminished water use efficiency.

When a microalgae-based soil amendment is added to the soil, it joins forces with the bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms present to fix this problem. The byproducts of their combined work in breaking down plant and animal matter help create formations in the soil called aggregates. The spaces between these clusters eagerly accept water and make it available to lettuce roots.

Aggregated soil moves moisture to optimal depths, drawing roots with it, thereby helping to protect them from drought conditions. And, of course, roots need moisture in order to absorb nutrients, so increased water holding capacity in the soil can lead to better “hydrated” lettuce heads. 

Regenerative Agriculture: Strengthening the Foundation of Your Success

The near-term benefits of applying a microalgae-based soil amendment to fields are well-documented and important to the success of a growing operation. But just as important to forward-thinking farmers and agriculture businesses are the long-term benefits that come from treating fields today.

The concept of regenerative agriculture is one that many organizations are embracing for a good reason: it increases the value of their most important asset—their fields. In young fields, microalgae enhance the soil biodiversity, helping fields reach their maximum production potential faster.

In older fields, this type of soil amendment can provide a “new lease on life.” Tired fields depleted of nutrients and with a weak microbiome and poor soil structure get a powerful boost that can increase their productivity and extend their viability. This happens, in part, because microalgae help produce an environment that is welcoming to other microorganisms for an increased benefit.

Adopting a regenerative agriculture approach has marketing benefits as well. Consumers like to know that the fruits and vegetables they buy are grown by people who are focused not just on what they can get out of the earth, but also on what they can put back into it. And wholesalers and retailers like it when their customers are happy!

Putting Science to Work for You

Test samples of soil.
Test samples of soil.

One of the great things about agriculture is that every grower can also be a researcher and come to their own conclusions about the effectiveness of products. By applying a microalgae-based soil amendment to one portion of your field while leaving another untreated, and then planting in both, you can see the benefits for yourself.

In fact, by selecting fields where abiotic stress is high, and where past crops simply haven’t been as resilient as you would like, you can understand the full potential of microalgae to help you cultivate better lettuce crops. Some soil amendment providers will even offer a performance guarantee. If you don’t agree that treated fields outperform untreated fields, they will refund the cost of the product. In other words, there is no reason not to give microalgae a try.

To learn more about how microalgae-based soil amendments improve soil health and increase lettuce yields, visit phycoterra.com/lettuce or call (800) 998-6536 to speak with the soil experts at Heliae® Agriculture about PhycoTerra® microalgae-based soil amendment.

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