EPA considers fungus with potential to promote growth and yield in crops

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is considering an application from a Spanish company to release a new microorganism, the fungus Glomus iranicum var. tenuihypharum. The fungus, and products derived from it, are claimed to promote growth and yield in agricultural and horticultural crops.

The applicant, Symborg Business Development, has developed products overseas using this fungus in various forms. They are used for agricultural and horticultural applications where soils are depleted through intensive use.

In powdered form, the fungus can be dissolved in water and applied through irrigation systems, or as a seed coating. In granular form, it can be spread in furrows.

The EPA’s General Manager of Hazardous Substances and New Organisms, Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter, says the fungus is not a genetically-modified organism and cannot be cultured in a laboratory in the absence of a plant host.

The applicant notes that closely related species have already been found in New Zealand.

“The fungus itself propagates by contact with the roots of a host plant, so its spread is confined to the application zone,” Dr Thomson-Carter says.

The applicant says the fungus is highly saline-tolerant. High salinity is often a feature of soils subject to intense agricultural and horticultural use, and heavy application of fertilisers. Products derived from the fungus have been shown to alleviate the negative effects of salt stress on plants such as lettuce. They also promote drought resistance, Symborg says.

The fungus grows in association with the roots of plants in a symbiotic relationship. Its network of hyphae, or long, branching filaments, improve plant growth through increasing nutrient absorption. They also promote soil stability, by binding tiny particles into coarser fragments. These factors can assist in reducing erosion, and improving plant productivity, Symborg adds.

Symborg Business Development has consulted with the HSNO Komiti of several iwi, and with the EPA’s Te Herenga Network. It discussed concerns that were raised over the possibility of the fungus displacing native species, or forming a symbiotic relationships with invasive species.

Links to the application and information for submitters are provided HERE. 

Source:  Environmental Protection Authority

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