RED seaweed extract carrageenan, which is widely used in the food industry as an additive, has now been successfully processed for agricultural use as a foliar fertilizer that is expected to boost rice production and pest resistance.
In fact, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), in a launching over the weekend, is now promoting the use of Carrageenan Plant Growth Promoter (PGP) for farming applications after it was proven to be compatible with different cropping systems.
The DOST had in fact made the technology available to the private sector.
Aside from the recent launching in Central Luzon, the product is currently being launched nationwide by various technology adopters, distributing it through various dealers, cooperatives and other possible arrangements.
The Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) had even certified the carrageenan PGP for commercialization in rice, with plans to widen its
coverage to include other crops in the near future. For an optimal amount of nine liters per hectare, farmers could use the PGP along with conventional fertilizers.
Carrageenan is extracted from seaweeds and is mostly used as a food additive for its gelling, thickening, and stabilizing properties. Technology developed by the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PNRI), led by Dr. Lucille V. Abad, had been able to unlock the other beneficial applications of carrageenan through irradiation technology.
Scientists from DOST-PNRI developed the PGP from carrageenan, a natural polymer extracted from red seaweed. Using the fabricated liquid handling system at PNRI's Electron Beam Irradiation Facility, the carrageenan solution is processed using electron beams into a foliar fertilizer sprayed at certain stages in the plant's life.
The PGP was funded by the DOST-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development and tested in cooperation with the University of the Philippines-Los Baños National Crop Protection Center.
Through radiation processing, carrageenan was modified into an effective plant promoter. The growth promoter had been proven to contain essential micro and macro nutrients that help in the growth of crops like palay, pechay peanut and mungbeans.
Dr. Abad said the technology had been a product of almost 10 years of testing in seven regions that included several verification trials. Pilot tests for the positive effects of the carrageenan were initially carried out in Pulilan town in Bulacan. This later expanded to 5,000 hectares in seven regions for verification trials.
The formula was set for field trials by the Department of Agriculture (DA) from 2015 to 2019 to cover several provinces in Luzon, Panay Island, Zamboanga and Davao, for a total of around 35,000 hectares of farmland.
Farmers can maximize the potential yield of their crops when using PGP in conjunction with more efficient farming methods and proper timing.
Other food crops such as mungbean, peanut, leafy vegetables, corn, sugarcane, and banana are also being subjected to PGP field tests, where results showed an increase in yield by around 35 percent for mungbean and around 40 percent for peanut.
According to Dr. Abad, the formula has been proven to increase rice yields by as much as 30 percent versus the yield from average farmer practices.
She said the growth promoter fits well in the smarter rice production model, which promotes the use of mechanical rice transplanting, hybrid seeds and the use of plant growth promoter.
Carrageenan was also proven to make crops more resistant to blight and infestation caused by tungro virus, and strengthening the crops' extensive root systems, which can better withstand the effects of lodging during typhoons.
The PGP also had the effect of driving away harmful pests without harming insects and arthropods which are naturally beneficial to crops. Not only does the PGP increase the number of cavans, but it also made each cavan heavier and fully-laden with rice. With the PGP, farmers could earn up to an additional P16,000, an increase in income by over 19 percent.
Impact on the fight vs climate change, seaweed production
More than just improving the yield and agronomic traits of plants, scientists are also pushing the limits of the carrageenan PGP's beneficial effects, particularly whether it can help crops survive in adverse conditions, which become increasingly likely due to climate change as well as natural disasters.
The use of carrageenan as a component for agricultural fertilizer has a positive impact on the country's already thriving seaweed industry. The country is in fact the largest producer of industrial carrageenan where cultivated seaweed produces about 80 percent of the world supply. As of 2011 alone, global sales of carrageenan were estimated at $640 million.
The environmental benefits of seaweed production is also significant as it leaves only minimal environmental impact and even lessens the growing competition for access to land and freshwater. Seaweed, as it grows, breaks down environmental pollutants. Seaweed farms also provide a safe haven and nursery grounds for young fish and crustaceans which proves that fact that growing seaweed is environmentally friendly. And with the newest application of the use of seaweed extract for agriculture use, seaweed production may yet experience another boost with positive effects on mainstream agriculture and the environment.