Research Aims to Reduce Use of Nitrogen Fertilizers

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In 2012 and 2013, OFRF provided research funding to James Nienhuis at the University of Wisconsin to identify snap bean genotypes with enhanced nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE). The current snap bean cultivar used in the industry does not fix nitrogen and requires supplemental nitrogen applications. Nitrogen applications have resulted in groundwater pollution problems throughout the state of Wisconsin. The commercialization of a nitrogen fixing cultivar, which will occur following Dr. Nienhuis’ final farm trial this summer, has the potential to decrease nitrogen use in this industry and protect water quality.

OFRF funding has been critical to Dr. Nienhuis’ research program because funding from the commercial vegetable processing industry is difficult, considering the lack of interest in nitrogen use efficiency as long as synthetic nitrogen is cheaply available.

The objective of the research was to reduce the need for the application of supplemental nitrogen fertilizers, one of the most common groundwater contaminants. The project is focused on recapturing and enhancing the snap bean’s inherent ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen and reduce the use of nitrogen-based soil amendments. The team has developed genetic resistance to root rot disease and validated the use of Organic Material Review Institute-approved insecticides as seed treatments for effective control of the seed corn maggot.

Seeds that demonstrated enhanced nitrogen-use efficiency will be planted in a replicated trial in the summer of 2017. The evaluation will be shared at Midwest Food Processors meeting, allowing the researchers to directly connect with seed producers interested in producing snap bean cultivars specifically adapted to organic production. They will also provide seed to local organic growers for evaluation by their customers.

This research will help producers fulfill the unmet demand for organic snap beans, while also reducing nitrate leaching and groundwater pollution from vegetable production fields.

Read the Final Report from this research here.