Palmer Earns USDA Grant to Explore Sustainable Alternative to Fertilizer

Photo of Claire PalmerClaire Palmer, a post-doctoral researcher in the Venturelli Lab, has earned a National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support her exploration into more sustainable alternatives to current nitrogen fertilizer strategies.

Added nitrogen is essential for maintaining yield in corn agricultural systems; however, current nitrogen fertilizer strategies are inefficient and pose negative environmental impacts. Most processes to generate nitrogen fertilizer require natural gas, which is both non-renewable and polluting. What’s more, once applied to the field, weather conditions can cause fertilizer to run off the field, making its way into water systems. The result is that the fertilizer does not always support crop growth and can cause environmental damage such as algae blooms in lakes and contaminated drinking water.

Palmer is interested in harnessing the nitrogen-providing power of microbes living in the soil and on corn roots to supply crops with nitrogen. She will be studying interactions within the community of microbes living around the roots of corn plants and investigating how these interactions impact the nitrogen available to the plant. Her goal is to identify and design “microbial mixtures” which could be applied to soil as a sustainable alternative to current nitrogen fertilizer options.

“I’m really excited to be working on greener alternatives to current fertilizers strategies,” says Palmer. “I’ve always been interested in how we can use microbes to solve problems and build more sustainable practices, so setting up this project in the Venturelli Lab has been a joy. This was a new project in the lab when I started two years ago and it’s very affirming to hear from the reviewers at NIFA that they’re excited by my ideas. This grant will support my research for the next two years.”

You can read more about Palmer’s research and find all of this year’s funded NIFA grant proposals here.