Expert opinion

Stimulating seeds electro-magnetically for better yields?

Can electro-magnetism be harnessed to improve germination rates in crops like wheat, soybeans and corn?

According to 2 entrepreneurs from Ontario’s University of Waterloo, it most definitely can. In fact, they claim seeds treated with a low frequency electro-magnetic field prior to planting can lead to increases in overall yield as well.

Seem a bit far-fetched? Perhaps a little, though the idea is a compelling one.

Kick-start the seed's growth

The entrepreneurs behind this technology – University of Waterloo mechanical engineer and computer science graduates with origins in Kazakhstan – describe it as one that kick-starts the seed’s natural growth. Each seed contains its own nutrients, after all, and they say electro-magnetically stimulating seeds can speed up the process by which enzymes break down the starches and proteins contained within it.

Once planted, this gives the seed a more vigorous start upwards and faster root development downwards.

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Photo credit: Ronald Hissink

Increased protein and starch synthesis

This increased protein and starch synthesis, say the entrepreneurs, lasts for 2 weeks. That means farmers have a full 14 days – give or take – to plant their crop before the electromagnetic effect starts to diminish.

They also say this technology has already proven effective in wheat grown on the steppes of their homeland – an alleged 20% average yield increase in large field trials – and they hope to find similar success with grain crops here in Ontario, Canada.

No concrete evidence yet in electro-magnetism

By their own admission, however, they do acknowledge that such results were found in varieties that are naturally not as productive as many available to farmers of the more western world, to say nothing of differences in growing conditions and other factors. Their Ontario-centric work, too, is still only in its second year of field trials, so for the skeptical mind, concrete evidence remains elusive.

There are also practical barriers to harnessing this technology in a field setting, though ones that the pair say they are prepared for.

Interesting study

Stimulating seeds with electromagnetism requires both an algorithm to determine when a seed should be treated – based on the location of the farm and biological differences amoung seeds – as well as a transportable device to actually perform the task as a fixed facility, such as that used to apply protective seed treatments, would not be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of growers during planting season.

How the technology will fair in Ontario this year may not be plain just yet, but certainly, replicable success of any kind – should it be found – would be interesting. Who knows – such a non-chemical and non-genetic solution to higher yields might even generate some interesting social questions.