As margins are ever more squeezed on farm, over the last twelve months we have seen a significant increase in farmers looking for a more sustainable and cost-effective way of applying nitrogen to their land while reducing farm inputs. Fish hydrolysates are now playing a key role in that search for solutions and are proven to stimulate soil life and supply nitrogen without the negative impacts attributed to synthetic nitrogen fertilisers.

What is a fish hydrolysate?

Hydrolysation is the process of breaking complex proteins into their component amino acids. These can then be utilised by both the soil microbiome and the plant directly. Fish hydrolysates contains a full range of naturally balanced amino acids and fatty acids. Rich in essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, they also provide important micronutrients like calcium, magnesium and trace elements in a bioavailable formulation establishing a sound basis for any crop nutritional plan. Fish hydrolysate is also considered more environmentally friendly than synthetic fertilisers, as it is a by-product of the fish industry produced from the transformation of materials that would otherwise go to waste.

How does fish hydrolysate benefit your soil and crops?

Plants are basically factories taking in CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it into oxygen and sugars. However, they can’t do this efficientlywithout the assistance of the soil bacteria and fungi. Fish hydrolysate benefits that cycle of conversion by providing a highly nutritious food source for those microorganisms which further convert nutrients into a form that is readily available to the plant.  Using fish hydrolysates as an organic soil improver helps to boost and replenish the nutrient content in the soil, promoting plant health and optimal growth. 

The key benefits to using fish hydrolysates include:

  • Organic matter and soil conditioning: Fish hydrolysate promotes a biologically active soil fostering beneficial microorganisms and earth worms. With the creation of a biologically active substrate, the soil exhibits better aeration, can retain moisture and releases nutrients in a biologically available form to the plants, contributing to increased stress tolerance in plants. Promoting better health and growth of the plants.
  • Enhances nutrient availability: The nutrients in fish hydrolysates are readily available for plants and are easily absorbed through both foliar and root uptake. This results in improved nutrient uptake efficiency and enhanced plant nutrition.
  • Stimulates plant growth and development: Fish hydrolysates contains natural growth-promoting substances, including amino acids and other beneficial compounds like chelated minerals. These biological active compounds can stimulate root development, enhance vegetation growth, encourage flowering and fruiting and improve overall plant vigour.

What is the importance of amino acids?

Over millennia the soil ecosystem has evolved to recognise decaying organic material, break it down into its constituent components and feed it back to the living plants in what we know today as the nitrogen cycle. In the last century and with the advent of farming with synthetic fertilisers and sprays, this delicate nitrogen cycle is disrupted because a lot of these fertilisers are applied as nitrates. Fish hydrolysate provides a nutrient source from which the soil ecosystem can reduce higher forms of nitrogen in its own time and when needed, rather than being bombarded with high levels of nitrate, the excess of which will ultimately end up in our ground water and rivers.

Each amino acid has specific functions and roles in plant metabolism, growth, and stress response. A balanced supply of essential amino acids is crucial for optimal plant growth and development. While plants can synthesize some amino acids on their own, they often require a supply of essential amino acids from external sources. One advantage fish hydrolysate has is that it contains all 20 amino acids needed for protein synthesis, which are key metabolites in the process of vegetal tissue formation and chlorophyll synthesis. They also play important roles in nitrogen transport and storage, and the regulation of plant growth and development.

Amino acid naturally occur in two forms L- and D-, fish hydrolysates contain both forms playing a key role in soil and plant health. L- amino acids can be taken up by the plant directly and are used for protein synthesis, whereas the D- amino acids are used in the building of cell walls by soil bacteria, which are crucial to soil health. 

Over the last three years Sea2soil has been conducting various farms trials, with the participating farmers reporting an increase in biological activity in their soils, improved carbon capture and a decrease in the amount of synthetic nitrogen and other chemicals they need to apply. Also reported is that farmers are seeing an overall improvement in their return on investment. Sea2Soils Technical Sales Manager, Liz Brown says that, “Sea2Soil can play a key role in a farms total crop nutritional plan, as it provides a nutritional package which is complementary to a soils natural self-regulating activities. Sea2Soil can be incorporated into any farming system wanting to reduce their reliance on synthetic chemical and reducing input costs.”

Pelagia AS is a Norwegian owned producer of pelagic fish products for human consumption and an important supplier of essential ingredients in all kinds of fish and animal feed, protein concentrate and fish oil.

The company also produces concentrated marine based omega-3 fatty acids for dietary supplement and pharmaceutical preparations. In the last few months they have moved into the plant health market.

In 2019...

...its processing plant in Bressay on the Shetland Isles expanded its operations and obtained a licence to utilise the by-products from Scottish salmon farms with the aim of zero waste from the industry. While most of the bi-products from the industry are processed into animal feed, some quite clearly, are not suitable for animal feed.

Normally in the UK this would mean the waste products used as a feedstock for anaerobic digesters. While this would ultimately end spread on fields, it would be diluted by the other stock feeds in the digester. Consequently, for the last three years Geraldine Fox and her team at Pelagia have been working on developing a product that retains the integrity of the rich source of essential amino acids, fats, macro and micronutrients contained in a hydrolysate that can be easily incorporated into many formulations. This meant that the fish waste was reduced to three components: water fish oil and individual amino acids. The amino acids are used for soil improvement and the fish oil is used for bio-fuel at the Pelagia plants.

Sea2Soil is born.

The result of all this is Sea2Soil, the UK’s first liquid fish hydrolysate approved by the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) and the Soil Association. Sea2Soil acts by feeding the soil bacteria, which in turn converts the macro and micro-nutrients contained in the soil into a form that is more readily available to plants. Sea2Soil, which is naturally high in fat, also promotes the growth of fungi, which are hugely important in soil root systems, performing important functions within the soil in relation to nutrient cycling, disease suppression and water dynamics. The improved microbial populations also feed secondary and higher-level consumers like protozoa, nematodes, and earthworms, which work to improve soil structure by aerating the soil leading to better root development and reduction in abiotic stress. These macro-organisms also contribute to improved nutrient availability within the soil through excretion providing additional bioavailable nutrients to the growing plant. The product has also been refined down enough from all the products to be able to pass through the filters and pumps on the sprayers.

In 2020...

Farm trials began in 2020 across various locations within the UK and on various crop types such as wheat, barley, oilseed rape, oats and beans. The aim was to identify how and if yield performance was affected and to identify any areas of further product development.  Yield was either maintained or showed an increase, but what the results highlighted was that return on investment was higher, due to the reduction of chemical inputs. 

Sea2Soil also had to gain approval from the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency, due to the fact it is made out of fish bi-products and so not suitable for animal or human feed. As a result of this certain restrictions were placed on the label before a licence was granted. For example as the product is not edible it cannot be used on cereals after the flag leaf has emerged. It also cannot be used on any crop less than 21 days before harvest. Equally as important it has also gained approval from the Soil Association which allows use on organic enterprises.

Liz Brown of Pelagia said:

“After several years of trials and refining the product and getting approval from the appropriate authorities we  launched the it at the beginning of January this year. Already there seems to be a great deal of interest, especially from the farmers who had taken part in the trials. They are reporting considerable improvements in plant health leading to a reduction in fungicide and pesticide inputs. Over the years modern farming with chemicals etc has seen destruction soil health and erosion of topsoil to the detriment of our crops. Sea2SoilSea2Soil can positively contribute to the recovery of soil health, by improving soil biology and soil microbial populations, hastening the restoration of our topsoil and improving overall plant health.”

Liz Brown
Managing Director @ Sea2Soil

Positive feedback for Sea2Soil

Paul Davey is a seventh generation farmer and conservation agricultural contractor. The farm specialises in growing cereals, oilseeds, grass seed and pulses including vining peas for Birds Eye. A flock of Lleyn ewes is run in conjunction with the arable enterprise and the farm pursues a strategy of using healthy soils to produce healthy plants and thus healthy food.

Mr Davey has seen first hand the positive effects of our product:

“The dry conditions this last spring and summer presented challenges in a number of different crops, especially maintaining plant nutrition and managing the associated stresses. There were visible benefits for maintaining growth in the herbal ley established in May which received a 10 lt/ha of Sea2Soil application through fertiliser streamer nozzles in June. This application stimulated a good deal of growth within three weeks in a very dry time. Two applications of 10 lt/ha of Sea2Soil on the spring beans during the same dry spell improved the canopy growth of the beans and removed the chlorotic symptoms of stress, significantly improving the verdancy of the plants.”  

Paul Davey
Grisby Grange - Arable Innovator of the Year 2021, Silver

I'd even go as far as to say that utilising waste products from both arable farming and food production has surpassed being a necessary idea when today’s environmental pressures are taken into consideration. 

But how many products that tackle by-product waste from one industry can also claim to give back to another in a way that not only improves sustainability credentials but assists in:

How many can you count? 

For the last three years, I and myriad teams working at Pelagia’s UK and Ireland facilities have been developing and refining a process to transform responsibly sourced fish by-products – sourced from Pelagia’s core divisions - into Sea2Soil, the UK’s first organic soil improver made entirely from fish hydrolysate. 

Already proving it can deliver on yield and reduce your reliance on chemical intervention, resulting in a higher return on investment, Sea2Soil essentially acts as a probiotic for your soil. Containing a full range of naturally derived, balanced amino acids, fatty acids and an array of macro and micronutrients, Sea2Soil works by feeding the soil with bacteria and fungus so that it, in turn, can feed your plants more efficiently to help them reach their full potential. 

By taking waste – natural fish by-product - from Pelagia’s already zero-waste UK, Ireland, and Scotland-based operations,  we have been able to transform it into a usable product that can and will benefit how you farm while simultaneously supporting Pelagia’s circular economy and environmental approach. 

Approved by the Soil Association

...and now working in partnership with NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany), Sea2Soil is currently being used to supplement soil health for growing common arable crops including wheat, barley, rape and oilseed rape, even in vineyards and on Christmas tree farms, across the UK.

For Sea2Soil, trials began in 2019 on Regen Ben’s farm in Ross-on-Wye. Like any new product, we needed to see how it performed in the field, pun intended, to categorically identify how and if yield performance was affected and most importantly if there were any problems.  

The team and I found that yield was either maintained or showed an increase, but what the results highlighted was that Ben’s return on investment was higher, much higher, due to his reduction of chemical input. Following the completion of Ben’s trials in March of this year, the product has been licensed and Soil Association Approved for use in commercial and organic farming. 

So, why change how you feed the soil?

Don’t get me wrong chemicals can have their place when used measuredly alongside other more sustainable farming methods, even alongside Sea2Soil, but we need to look beyond them and curb our chemical dependence. 

The rise in sterility in agriculture as an industry is hard to comprehend. Look back not even hundreds of years and it’s easy to see how rapidly the industry has favoured chemical enhancement over natural counterparts – a change which we all know can be put down to countless societal and industry-specific pressures rather than disregard for the land or environment. None of us knew it at the time, but like many things, introducing chemicals was a case of solving one issue but causing many. Our reliance on chemicals has led to countless issues, including topsoil erosion and the destruction of soil health which in turn has been detrimental to our crops. A vicious circle that does nothing but feed issues. 

A circuit breaker has been needed for a long time.

But the irony is, Sea2Soil or at least the science behind it, is not new to global agriculture. The knowledge of it has always been there, it’s just been lost. As Europe’s leader in its field, Pelagia itself has over 100 years of experience and knowledge that has aided the development of this product, a process which has also streamlined Pelagia’s processing hubs making them more efficient outside of fishing seasons. A new way to add traditional support to your crops, Sea2Soil may well be a first for the UK – both in terms of production and marketing – but the idea of using food waste to feed our soil is already backed up by a wealth of research, performance statistics and results from the world over. 

Sea2Soil revives traditional farming methods that time has forgotten, ones which align with the path regenerative farming is beginning to carve out within the industry and across our landscapes. It’s understandable that for many farmers, a move away from traditional methods is an uneasy thought. But as I said from the get-go, this is not a new idea. Already widely used in farming across America, Australia and New Zealand, products that work in a similar way to Sea2Soil are already proving their worth and it’s time the UK caught up. 

For the team and I, Sea2Soil brings with it an opportunity. To bring together two industries that have a historic track record of negative environmental impact to create positive, lasting change.

Benefits of Sea2Soil

  • Providing nutrients in a bioavailable form, feeding both the plant and the soil.
  • Enhances soil biology, promoting beneficial microorganisms and earthworms
  • A biologically active soil has the ability to retain moisture, release nutrients and increase nutrient availability. 
  • Promotes better root and growth structure.
  • Aids natural resistance to fungal, bacterial and viral pathogens in growing plants.
  • Helps to rebalance soil biology, creating healthier soil and a more productive plant.
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