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High levels of chemical fertilisers, such as ammonium nitrate, when applied to wheat and other arable crops, have allowed vastly increased yields. However, chemical fertilisers are becoming increasingly expensive, and can contribute to a range of environmental problems. This is a problem in the EU and elsewhere in the world.
RHIBAC is investigating the potential of rhizobacteria, which establish themselves among the root systems of plants, to boost plant growth and eventually replace chemical fertilizers. A number of rhizobacteria strains that promote plant growth have been found. This may allow a reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers, while maintaining yield. This effect has already enabled the development of low-input cultivation of sugarcane in Brazil. The present project focuses on wheat, a major arable crop in the EU, for which the potential of rhizobacteria has not yet been exploited.


Increased use of fertilisers has had an obvious impact on crop management with improvements in farmers' yields. However, in agricultural soils much of the nutritional value of applied fertiliser (up to 50%) is lost through immobilisation, volatilisation, and in particular, leaching. This pollution is a contributor to greenhouse gases and can be harmful to water quality and wildlife.

Also, there is a growing concern in the long term that with ever-increasing costs and reduced availability of the natural oil and gas feedstock used for their production, chemical fertilisers will become less affordable for farmers in the future.

The development and use of rhizobacteria inoculants can therefore contribute to reducing the environmental impact and increasing the sustainability of arable farming.


Promotion of plant growth by rhizobacteria may permit reductions in chemical fertiliser inputs for inoculated wheat and is thought to be due to various factors. Nitrogen fixation, mobilisation of nutrients in the soil, or excretion of plant hormones by the rhizobacteria may make a contribution, depending on the exact species of rhizobacteria and the crop variety.

RHIBAC focuses on the most promising rhizobacteria identified in previous EU and national research programmes in Europe, Brazil and Chile. The project tries to understand the mechanisms of plant growth promotion and directly observes root colonisation, through experiments with genetically modified rhizobacteria in contained greenhouses.

The importance of plant genotype and the role of chemical compounds secreted by plant roots in plantrhizobacteria interactions is also being investigated. Thanks to the previous experience of the participants, RHIBAC should be able to obtain reproducible, significant effects on wheat growth promotion. After a planned duration of 42 months, it aims to have conducted large-scale demonstrations of rhizobacteria inoculation of wheat in field trials in Europe, Turkey, Israel and South America. Encapsulation and seed coating are being tested for improving root colonisation as well as the survival of the rhizobacteria in the soil. Compatibility with other plant growth promotion/ protection products is also being assessed.


There is considerable added value to be achieved from conducting this research at European and international levels, compared to a national project. Working with partners from many countries allows for the study of plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR), which may have developed particularly useful traits within the ecosystems of the different soils. It is also possible to test and design the inocula and delivery systems against a range of climates, soil types and agricultural practices. The project draws on scientific expertise from international research groups with a strong record in this field, and contributes to the sharing of technology and research skills between Europe and developing countries.

RHIBAC involves the participation of agricultural companies, including an SME, who would be involved in commercialisation of rhizobacteria inocula. The international partnership allows for a much greater potential impact, with the results of RHIBAC leading to significant reductions in chemical fertiliser usage around the world.

List of Partners

  • University of Hohenheim, Institute of Plant Nutrition (Germany)
  • ARC Seibersdorf research (Austria)
  • Ecole Nationale d'Ingénieurs des Techniques des Industries Agricoles et Alimentaires (France)
  • AGRON, Agrochemicals Development and Marketing (Israel)
  • Dalgety Arable Research (UK)
  • Catholic University of Leuven, Centre of Microbial and Plant Genetics (Belgium)
  • Universidad Austral de Chile (Chile)
  • Fundação Educacional Charles Darwin (Brazil)
  • Yeditepe University Department of Genetics and Bioengineering (Turkey)
  • Embrapa Agrobiology (Brazil)
Full title:
Rhizobacteria for reduced fertiliser inputs in wheat
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Nicolaus von Wiren, University of Hohenheim, Institute of Plant Nutrition,
EC Scientific Officer:
Massimo Burioni,
EU contribution:
€ 2M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top