Limited effects of crop foliar Si fertilization on a marginal soil under a future climate scenario

Francois Rineau, Jannis Groh, Julie Claes, Kristof Grosjean, Michel Mench, Maria Moreno-Druet, Virmantas Povilaitis, Thomas Pütz, Beata Rutkowska, Peter Schröder, Nadejda A. Soudzilovskaia, Xander Swinnen, Wieslaw Szulc, Sofie Thijs, Jan Vandenborght, Jaco Vangronsveld, Harry Vereecken, Kasper Verhaege, Renaldas Žydelis, Evelin Loit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Growing crops on marginal lands is a promising solution to alleviate the increasing pressure on agricultural land in Europe. Such crops will however be at the same time exposed to increased drought and pathogen prevalence, on already challenging soil conditions. Some sustainable practices, such as Silicon (Si) foliar fertilization, have been proposed to alleviate these two stress factors, but have not been tested under controlled, future climate conditions. We hypothesized that Si foliar fertilization would be beneficial for crops under future climate, and would have cascading beneficial effects on ecosystem processes, as many of them are directly dependent on plant health. We tested this hypothesis by exposing spring barley growing on marginal soil macrocosms (three with, three without Si treatment) to 2070 climate projections in an ecotron facility. Using the high-capacity monitoring of the ecotron, we estimated C, water, and N budgets of every macrocosm. Additionally, we measured crop yield, the biomass of each plant organ, and characterized bacterial communities using metabarcoding. Despite being exposed to water stress conditions, plants did not produce more biomass with the foliar Si fertilization, whatever the organ considered. Evapotranspiration (ET) was unaffected, as well as water quality and bacterial communities. However, in the 10-day period following two of the three Si applications, we measured a significant increase in C sequestration, when climate conditions where significantly drier, while ET remained the same. We interpreted these results as a less significant effect of Si treatment than expected as compared with literature, which could be explained by the high CO2 levels under future climate, that reduces need for stomata opening, and therefore sensitivity to drought. We conclude that making marginal soils climate proof using foliar Si treatments may not be a sufficient strategy, at least in this type of nutrient-poor, dry, sandy soil.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23882
Issue number1
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Ecosystem services
  • Marginal soil
  • Sustainable agricultural practices


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