BONNER — When people think of agriculture, growing rocks might be the last crop that comes to mind. But for MontanaGrow Natural Fertilizer President John Porterfield, amorphous silicon cultivation has become a way of life.
“When you look at plant tissue, we are what we eat, and animals are what we feed them,” Porterfield says. “The continuous cultivation of certain crops has led to a depletion of silicon in the soil, and we’re looking at sources to boost production and reduce problems that cause yield reductions, such as pathogens and pests."
According to the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University, a number of crops have been shown to respond positively to silicon fertilizer applications, including wheat, alfalfa, hops, textiles, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
MontanaGrow products are derived entirely from amorphous volcanic tuff formed by a geological event about 30 million years ago. Containing potassium and silicon dioxide, the fertilizer builds strong roots, stems and foliage, while improving yield.
“Our product comes from a natural volcanic deposit,” Porterfield said. “We create our silicon in a phenol type. It is a natural rock that we don’t do anything to change. We just crush it, screen without any sort of chemical process.”
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Certified in 2012 by the Agricultural Services Certified Organic specialists, MontanaGrow currently ships to 16 states with several international exports.
When volcanoes eject silicon-rich particles into the Earth’s atmosphere, the ash attaches itself to water droplets which then allow the worldwide distribution of silicic acid onto the surface of the earth.
Silicon is then cycled into agriculture, where newly derived silicic acid is utilized by plants in roots, stems and foliage. When crops are harvested, silicon gets carted away for consumption and a variety of uses. In tropical climates with rain-weathered soil, the leaching of available silicon is increased, heightening the need for soil fertilization. The process is completed when silicon washes to the bottom of the oceans into subduction faults, eventually ejecting into the Earth’s atmosphere by a volcanic event.
“There’s silicon on the period table and we’re carbon-based creatures,” Porterfield says. “Carbon and silicon have really unique abilities, like increasing the resistance to frost damage, that allow for the possibility of crops to be grown in colder, more northern climates."