FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The National Science Foundation is funding a $3.5 million study at the University of Arkansas where researchers are creating a fertilizer alternative.

The owner and operator of Reagan Family Farm in Fayetteville, which has been providing local crops to the Northwest Arkansas community for nearly 70 years, is Bill Reagan.

As the farm’s strawberries are starting to come in for the year, Reagan’s realizing there needs to be a price increase. Although he said it pains him to do that to his customers, it’s the only way to keep up with the changing cost of fertilizer.

In 2022, Regan said the cost of fertilizer alone tripled compared to 2021.

“If we can have an alternative to chemical fertilizer, even if it was more expensive, if it was a stable price year in and year out, we could plan our expenses and what we need to sell things for, instead of the volatility that we’ve had this last year,” said Reagan.

In order to create a more sustainable fertilizer, UA chemical engineers found a way to charge wastewater with electro currents and create a fertilizer material called struvite. They then asked Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences professor and scientist, Kristofor Brye, to test out how well struvite works on crops compared to the chemical fertilizers found at the store.

Over the last four or five years Brye’s team has studied wheat, corn, soybean and rice response to struvite.

“Very frequently we’d end up with statistically similar yields from the struvite materials compared to the other fertilizers,” said Brye. “So that’s given us some confidence to say, ‘Hey, this material is actually behaving like we expect it to and the plants are getting nutrients like we know that they need to produce optimum yields.'”

Now, Brye and agricultural economics are studying how using the struvite impacts the environment and if it’s affordable.

He said it’s not producing any more greenhouse gases than other products, but it is removing harmful materials from wastewater systems, and is made in a more sustainable way, which is something he thinks local growers will feel good about.

“It’s a more sustainable material,” said Brye. “We’re not expending energy to mine a finite resource from the earth’s crust, and we’re doing a lot of good for the local environment, so I think the economics are in favor of using this material locally.”

Both Reagan and Brye agree it’s critical to use fertilizer in order to get the most out of crops and to meet the growing need to feed everyone.

“You have to eat every day,” said Reagan. “So agriculture is the most important thing in our society. When you have local farms, producing your food for you, that makes us a stronger local economy because your money gets spent over and over and over in your community, and that makes you a stronger community.”

Brye said their research is ongoing and struvite won’t hit the market for years, but he says their discoveries are gaining traction around the country. You can read more about the study here.

You can support Reagan Family Farm and buy some strawberries for yourself, by checking out their Facebook page.