Investment needed to improve soil fertility

Agricultural productivity in countries such as Russia is suffering from poor soil fertility. There are new technologies on the horizon but investment is needed, writes Roman Mitrofanov.

Agricultural productivity in countries such as Russia is suffering from degraded soil with low fertility levels. There are new technologies on the horizon that can help to reverse the process and produce much-needed humus, an important, non-soluble component of good quality soil derived from dead organic matter. 

But investment is still needed to roll them out to the wider farming community, argues Roman Mitrofanov, partner at Miro Consulting Group, an audit, tax and advisory firm in Russia with interests in foreign economic relations and engineering.

For the past 15 – 20 years agriculture technology companies across Australia, Europe and the US have been inventing alternatives to the chemical fertilisers largely attributed with degrading the quality of soil by washing away natural nutrients. In Russia alone more than 30 million hectares of productive land has been lost over the past 15 years losing $1.5 trillion of business, according to a 2011 report on the status and use of agricultural land by the Russian ministry of agriculture.

Lacking humus, or its counterpart humic acids, is a big reason for this decline. Humic acids are so important in growing crops because its influence on all the stages of a plant’s growth and development is versatile (for example, carboxyl and phenol groups are able to form chelate complexes with microelements and transport them into plants in this form). But it is estimated that over 56 million hectares of arable land are deficient in humic acids, according to the report. If this continues, we could have a national food crisis on our hands.

The regeneration of humus in agriculture soils in Russia, and elsewhere, is essential and this is where investors can step in.

There are technologies in place to create humic acids from brown coal and peat — microbiological and ultrasonic cavitation — but they are expensive and unusable for individual farmers. Investment is needed for new technologies that can make the process of restoring soil easier and cheaper for farmers to develop.

One such process is electrohydraulic activation, or BioLighting, that only requires peat, which is in big supply in Russia, and does not require the land to be tilled — an action that can be harmful.

Miro Consulting Group is focused on developing this technology but has been unable to get investment from Russian investment institutions because it does not fit the government’s strategy for innovation in this area. Other parties are interested to invest, but only at the commercialisation stage when the equipment and product is ready.

This important industry needs early stage capital to help it develop and there will be no shortage of demand once the product is available.