Alfalfa Plants Vacuum Up Fertilizer Spill
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
April 14, 1999
Don Comis, (301) 504-1625, firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers grew alfalfa to clean up a spill
of 45,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen fertilizer resulting from a Canadian
Pacific Railway train derailment near Bordulac, N. D., on Feb. 20, 1989.
In the past three years, deep-rooted alfalfa specially bred to take in all
its nitrogen from soil and water removed excess nitrate from the soil and
significantly improved groundwater quality at the 7-acre spill site. Regular
alfalfa obtains most of its nitrogen from the air.
Plant physiologist Carroll P. Vance with USDA's Agricultural Research
Service in St. Paul, Minn., helped develop the "Ineffective Agate" alfalfa.
Vance is at the ARS Plant Science Research Unit at St. Paul.
Unlike regular alfalfa, Ineffective Agate cannot use nitrogen from the air.
But it takes up 30 to 40 percent more nitrogen from soil and water than
Vance, ARS soil scientist Michael P. Russelle and ARS geneticist JoAnn F.S.
Lamb worked on the groundwater cleanup project with North Dakota State
University's Carrington Research and Extension Center and the environmental
firm Braun Intertec Corp. under a Cooperative Research and Development
Agreement with Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).
Last year, the cleanup crew pumped out nearly 690,000 gallons of
high-nitrate groundwater and irrigated the alfalfa with it. They harvested
the alfalfa four times, removing 370 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
As part of its agreement, ARS recently issued a final report on the research
part of the clean-up project to CPR and Braun Intertec.
ARS scientists are distributing small amounts of Ineffective Agate seed to
other researchers. Lamb has used this seed to incorporate the Ineffective
Agate trait into several lines of alfalfa adapted to various regions of the
An article on the cleanup appears in the April issue of ARS' Agricultural
Research magazine. The story is also on the World Wide Web at:
Scientific contact: Carroll P. Vance, ARS Plant Science Research Unit, St.
Paul, Minn., phone (612) 625-5715, fax (651) 649-5058,
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