A biofertilizer is not just any organic fertilizer or manure. It consists of a carrier medium rich in live microorganisms. When applied to seed, soil or living plants, it increases soil nutrients or makes them biologically available. Biofertilizers contain different types of fungi, root bacteria or other microorganisms. They form a mutually beneficial or symbiotic relationship with host plants as they grow in the soil. Biofertilizers have many advantages and a few disadvantages.
Biofertilizers increase the nitrogen and phosphorus available to plants more naturally than other fertilizers.The different varieties available allow growers to tailor the microorganisms used to the needs of particular plants. Biofertilizers are simple to use, even for novice small growers. Biofertilizers do not pollute the soil or the environment, whereas chemical fertilizers often result in too much phosphate and nitrogen in the soil. The excess then leaches into lakes and streams through runoff. Waters decline in quality and suffer from overgrowth of algae and the death of fish.
Biofertilizers reduce dependence upon expensive petroleum sources of chemical fertilizers. According to the "Journal of Phytology," demand for chemical fertilizers will exceed the supply by more than 7 million tons by 2020. The shortage of fossil fuels to produce chemical fertilizers may drive up prices beyond the reach of small users. Biofertilizers are a cheap, easy-to-use alternative to manufactured petrochemical products.
Biofertilizers restore normal fertility to the soil and make it biologically alive. They boost the amount of organic matter and improve soil texture and structure. The enhanced soil holds water better than before. Biofertilizers add valuable nutrients to the soil, especially nitrogen, proteins and vitamins. They take nitrogen from the atmosphere and phosphates from the soil and turn them into forms that plants can use. Some species also produce natural pesticides.
Biofertilizers increase yield by up to 30 percent because of the nitrogen and phosphorus they add to the soil. The improvement in soil texture and quality helps plants grow better during periods of drought. Biofertilizers help plants develop stronger root systems and grow better. Biofertilizers also reduce the effects of harmful organisms in the soil, such as fungi and nematodes. Plants resist stress better and live longer.
Biofertilizers require special care for long-term storage because they are alive. They must be used before their expiration date. If other microorganisms contaminate the carrier medium or if growers use the wrong strain, they are not as effective. The soil must contain adequate nutrients for biofertilizer organisms to thrive and work. Biofertilizers complement other fertilizers, but they cannot totally replace them. Biofertilizers lose their effectiveness if the soil is too hot or dry. Excessively acidic or alkaline soils also hamper successful growth of the beneficial microorganisms; moreover, they are less effective if the soil contains an excess of their natural microbiological enemies. Shortages of particular strains of microorganisms or of the best growing medium reduce the availability of some biofertilizers.
Karen Farnen has been writing online since 2009. She has taught piano and English as a second language. Farnen has a Bachelor of Arts in French with a music minor from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Science in education and a Master of Arts in French from California State University-Fullerton.