Of all the mineral nutrients in the soil,
nitrogen is generally the most difficult for plants to acquire. Even though
nitrogen is the most abundant element in the atmosphere,
plants alone, do not have the ability to
obtain (fix) it. Only plants,
that form a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria i.e. rhizobia,
gram-negative bacilli that invaded the
roots of plants,
can fix atmospheric nitrogen.
Biological nitrogen fixation is an important factor
in any sustainable agriculture program. Biological
nitrogen fixation is a process in which
nitrogen is taken from its relatively inert molecular form
(N2) in the
atmosphere and converted into nitrogen compounds useful for
building plant protein.
The best known nitrogen fixing
clover which contain
symbiotic rhizobia bacteria within
nodules in their
root systems, producing nitrogen compounds
that help to fertilize the
soil. The great majority of legumes have
this association, but a few genera (e.g.
Styphnolobium) do not.
A few dollars worth of rhizobia inoculant can replace
hundreds of dollars worth of nitrogen fertilizer and significantly improve
soil and crop health.
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