Better Farming Through Electricity

Chinese researchers are reporting that applying an electric field to pea plants increased yields. This process — known as electroculture — has been tested multiple times, but in each case there are irregularities in the scientific process, so there is still an opportunity for controlled research to produce meaningful data.

This recent research used two plots of peas planted from the same pods. The plants were tended identically except one plot was stimulated by an electric field. The yield on the stimulated plot was about 20% more than the control plot.

The actual paper is paywalled in the journal Nature Food, but the idea seems simple enough. If you search for the topic, you’ll find there have been other studies with similar findings. There are also anecdotal reports of electrical plant stimulation going back to 1746.

The researchers can’t offer an explanation for why this would work. They did, however, use a novel method for generating electricity by harvesting energy from the environment with equipment they say costs about $40. From the diagram, it looks like a windmill-operated Wimshurst machine that rubs rabbit fur against some plastic. We imagine this would make a decent high school science project.

We’ve heard that electrical stimulation makes nerves grow, so why not pea plants? Or even, say, all your nerves?

27 thoughts on “Better Farming Through Electricity

  1. There is nothing new about this. I’m 75 years old and remember doing a science experiment like this in grade school using pins and a battery on bean sprouts. And it wasn’t new knowledge then. I don’t remember the actual difference, but the stimulated plants grew faster than the control group.

    1. I did the same kind of thing for my high school science fair back in ’91 when everyone was worried about EM radiation causing cancer. I split eight bean sprout seeds between two tall coils, one of which was hooked up to a doorbell transformer. Three of the control seeds sprouted and grew normally. Only one of the four “radiated” seeds sprouted, but holy moly did that sucker grow fast. I always meant to try it out again but never got around to it.

    2. Noticed the same thing in a field near my Backyard. There are electric ploes runnin over it and only in the spot where the lines are the plants shoot up like rockets (metaphoricly speaking). Never seen anything like it

  2. I’ve got it, a greenhouse made of plastic pipe that’s connected with a rabbit warren where runny babbits get to run around inside and generate electrons and make their greens grow faster. Their ears have discharge points to collect the electrostatic charges as they come out the other end of each pipe!

    The bottom of the warrens collects the other good stuff to recycle. Pellets in pellets out, what an elegant system.
    Eh, what’s up for dinner?

  3. The same author has published a year ago an open access article under the title “Instantaneous Self-Powered Sensing System Based on Planar-Structured Rotary Triboelectric Nanogenerator”. It may be the same method used here.

  4. (warning sarcasm ahead)

    So, should I be burying my old batteries in my garden now?
    Or does the elecric fence need to be shit down (because near the electric fence the grass is so much harder to mow and I do not want to make it grow any faster/harder/better.

    1. Mowing the grass under the electric fence was where I first noticed the grass growing the fastest and shorting out the line. (Also cut my hand on the barbed wire and still have the scar.)

  5. How dare they call them scientists if they cannot give a definite answer?

    Do 100 pots, every even is a control, every odd is electrified.
    Do the math at the end.

    Even 5% increase would mean huge impact on supply chain.

  6. I guess it would be even better if they used a plant that easily can be propagated by using cuttings. And use a hydroponic system to even out avaliable nutrients for all plants. That would probably give a more conclusive answer. Could probably convince an indoor weed farmer to help in this experiment, as they are pretty good at well tuned hydroponic systems, and i’m sure they would like to get 20% more on every harvest too.
    Does it actually make a difference in what direction the electric field is applied? Horizontally or vertically, and what about polarity? I could imagine that an increased ionization of some molecules in the plant or growing medium might make it easyer to extract nutrients over the root system. But i am not a scientist, and this article behind a paywall is not helping to see what exactly they were trying to investigate, and why.

    1. Control and electrified pots can’t share a hydroponic system as the electrification would create ion channels in the water that could affect the controls. They all have to be independent pots, independently electrified, but only half of them have the wires connected and you can’t see which ones for a proper double blind test.

  7. Back in the 70’s I read an interesting book titled The Secret Life of Plants (I still have a paper copy…) in which op amps were used to stimulate plants and measurements were made of the impact. Playing music to the plants, and even measured daily amounts of speaking (kindly and harshly) were performed. I never attempted to replicate the results myself, but they were reproduced by others. So interesting, but not entirely new idea…

    1. It’s most likely the pure stress on the tissue which results in accelerated growth. It’s just like giving your own muscle tissue microscopic scars from training, the same also works for most plants. Apply any form of physical stress, and they turn more robust, including a better developed root system and stem, yielding an overall improved growth.

    2. Yet another David here, checking in…
      I wrote a book on this topic, summarizing much of the older research and simplifying the essence of the main mechanisms at play. In brief, it does work, but reliability is still an issue. In many of my own experiments I’ve experienced increases in yield 20 to 200%… and the effects are beyond yield in that it affects photosynthesis, immune function, gene expression, and more. The essence of the mechanism is the way electric fields affect voltage gated ion channels and similar mechanisms found throughout cell walls.

  8. My guess is that the perceived effect isn’t real or is related to some other process that happens to be present in the electrically charged sample.
    I predict this will go nowhere.

  9. The earth has a natural ambient, vertically oriented electric field of roughly 100V/m. Considering the way life develops to utilize naturally existent phenomena, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that this is the reason plants can utilize electric fields.

  10. I don’t doubt that the growth pattern and yield have changed, but the real question is nutrient density. We already know we can great bigger fruit, but if we’re looking for benefiting food production the only win is quality and quantity. I imagine hydroponics would be the easiest control method.

    Sorry @src1138, another Dave here…

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