Seed Coating Reduces Stress From Drought

Matt Wilde
By  Matthew Wilde , Progressive Farmer Crops Editor
Drought stressed corn near Ashley, Illinois. (Pamela Smith)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers, in collaboration with colleagues in Morocco, are working to perfect a coating for seed to mitigate drought stress on plants during the crucial germination phase. The coating would also provide plants with extra nutrients.

The ultimate goal of the coating is to help plants better withstand stress caused by lack of water. Stressed plants tend to produce lower yields.

The inspiration for the two-layer coating came from the natural coatings that occur on some seeds, such as chia and basil. According to the MIT News Office, the gel-like coating is engineered to protect seeds from drying out by holding any moisture that comes along. The coating envelops the seed with it.

An inner layer of the coating contains preserved microorganisms called rhizobacteria and some nutrients to help plants grow.

"We wanted to make a coating that is specific to tackling drought," MIT professor Benedetto Marelli tells the institution's news office. "We need to develop new technologies that can help mitigate these changes in climate patterns that are going to make less water available to agriculture."

Seed was the focus of the September 2021 printed issue of Progressive Farmer magazine. The cover story (on pages 18-20), "A Breed Apart," examined crop-breeding efforts to make plants more weather resilient.

Climatic data shows a warming trend is underway worldwide causing an unequal distribution of increased atmospheric energy. That is likely at the heart of more frequent and extreme weather events, explains DTN Ag Meteorologist Emeritus Bryce Anderson, including longer-lasting drought conditions.

Early tests of the coating using soil from Moroccan test farms have shown encouraging results, researchers say. Field tests are underway.


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