Innovative Hydrogel Fertilizer Enhances Tomato Growth and Water Retention

Jenn Hoskins
3rd June, 2024

Innovative Hydrogel Fertilizer Enhances Tomato Growth and Water Retention

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Researchers from Hassan II University and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University developed an eco-friendly hydrogel that slowly releases nitrogen to plants
  • The hydrogel significantly improved tomato plant growth and yield, especially under water-stressed conditions
  • The hydrogel showed no toxicity and enhanced germination rates, making it a promising solution for sustainable agriculture
Global food demand is rising rapidly, and with it, the environmental impacts of agricultural expansion. Addressing this challenge requires innovative solutions that enhance crop productivity while minimizing environmental footprints. A recent study by Hassan II University and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University offers a promising approach by developing an eco-friendly urea-rich sodium alginate-based hydrogel with slow-release nitrogen properties[1]. The study aimed to create a hydrogel that could effectively deliver nutrients to plants over an extended period, even under water-stressed conditions. The researchers synthesized the hydrogel and analyzed its structure and performance using various techniques such as Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), X-ray diffraction (XRD), thermo gravimetric analysis (TGA), differential thermogravimetry (DTG), and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). These analyses confirmed that the hydrogel had a high-water holding capacity (412 ± 4 g/g) and could release nitrogen slowly and steadily. A greenhouse pot experiment was conducted to evaluate the hydrogel's effectiveness in cultivating tomato plants under different water stress levels. Two concentrations of the hydrogel (0.1 and 0.5 wt%) were tested under two water deficit conditions (30% and 70% of the required water irrigation). The results were promising: the hydrogel fertilizer showed no phytotoxicity and positively impacted germination rates even under water stress. Notably, the application of the hydrogel at 0.5 wt% significantly improved plant growth parameters such as leaf number, chlorophyll content, stem diameter, and plant length compared to the control treatment. The most substantial positive effects on tomato growth and yield were observed at the 0.5 wt% hydrogel level, with yield enhancements ranging from 12.81% to 43.18% depending on the water deficit level. This study ties into earlier research that emphasizes the importance of sustainable agricultural practices. For instance, a previous study projected a significant increase in global crop demand by 2050 and highlighted the environmental consequences of meeting this demand through traditional agricultural expansion[2]. The use of innovative fertilizers like the sodium alginate-based hydrogel can help mitigate these impacts by improving nutrient management and reducing the need for extensive land clearing. Furthermore, the study's findings align with previous research on the development and benefits of controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs). Starch-based CRFs have been explored for their ability to enhance nutrient usage and minimize soil contamination[3][4]. The new hydrogel developed in this study offers similar benefits, demonstrating a sustained release of nitrogen that can optimize nutrient availability and promote plant growth. This is particularly crucial in water-scarce environments, where efficient nutrient delivery can make a significant difference in crop yields. The use of hydrogels in agriculture is not new, but the specific formulation and effectiveness of the urea-rich sodium alginate-based hydrogel stand out. Previous studies have shown the potential of various polymer-based CRFs to enhance nutrient delivery[5]. The current study builds on this knowledge by providing a practical solution that addresses both nutrient management and water stress challenges in crop cultivation. In summary, the development of the urea-rich sodium alginate-based hydrogel by Hassan II University and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University represents a significant advancement in sustainable agriculture. By improving nutrient delivery and supporting plant growth under water-stressed conditions, this hydrogel has the potential to enhance crop productivity while minimizing environmental impacts. The study's findings underscore the importance of innovative agricultural practices and contribute to the broader goal of meeting global food demand sustainably.

AgricultureSustainabilityPlant Science


Main Study

1) Urea-rich sodium alginate-based hydrogel fertilizer as a water reservoir and slow-release N carrier for tomato cultivation under different water-deficit levels.

Published 31st May, 2024

Related Studies

2) Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture.

3) A comprehensive review on starch: Structure, modification, and applications in slow/controlled-release fertilizers in agriculture.

4) Starch-based controlled release fertilizers: A review.

5) Sustained-release nitrogen fertilizer delivery systems based on carboxymethyl cellulose-grafted polyacrylamide: Swelling and release kinetics.

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