In arid and semi-arid climates, water scarcity and nutrient availability are major constraints for food production. Excess fertilization to make up for the limited nutrient availability in dry soils leads to nitrogen runoff and groundwater contamination. Reducing nitrogen leaching into surface water while providing adequate nutrition remains a major challenge. Superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) can reduce water loss and improve nutrient retention and therefore minimize leaching and increase crop yields. SAPs are made from petroleum or natural products, but plant-based SAPs have been gaining popularity because they have fewer long-term effects on the environment. However, there is little known about how SAPs made from cornstarch effect plant growth and production in tomatoes. So, we evaluated total nitrogen and water retention in SAP-treated soils and evaluated their effects on growth and development of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum). Soils were amended with different rates of cornstarch-based SAP (i.e., 0 kg SAP, 0 kg SAP+N, 0.5 kg SAP+N, 1 kg SAP+N, 1.5 kg SAP+N, and 2 kg SAP+N). Results indicate that the mean volume of water and nitrates retained in the soils amended with cornstarch-based SAPs increased with increasing rate of SAP. The treatment containing the highest dose (i.e., 2 kg SAP) decreased the amount of leachate and nitrates from soil 79.34% and 93.11% at 3 days after fertilization (DAF) and 78.84% and 81.58% at 9 DAF in comparison with the soil-only and fertilizer-only treatments, respectively. The results also indicate cornstarch-based SAP significantly improved plant growth and yield parameters compared with the treatments without SAP. Furthermore, the greatest number of leaves, flowers, fruits, and dry matter production were found in the 1-kg SAP treatment. Therefore, application of cornstarch-based SAPs can improve tomato production in times of drought stress by retaining more water and nutrients in the active rooting zone and can reduce environmental pollution by reducing nitrogen runoff.
- Superabsorbent polymers