EDUCATE • EVALUATE • REMEDIATE
MEASURE IT • MANAGE IT

Benefits of Healthy Soil

 

Improve Soil Health:  Soil health is defined by the ability to perform essential ecosystem functions such as:  nutrient cycling, water filtration, and habitat provision for plants and animals.  Properties that determine soil health include texture, depth, density, water infiltration and holding capacity, amount of organic matter, nutrient holding capacity (CEC) and respiration.  When the health of the biology present in the soil is disturbed by sudden changes to the ecosystem (e.g., over-tilling or application of any fungi/herb/pesticide chemical) overall soil health is affected.  When such practices become the normal management regime, soil becomes cyclically dependent upon amendments and the soils ability to perform nutrient cycling through biology is continually impaired.  The biological approach to soil reestablishes soil biology to rebuild the desired properties that can enable soil to return to a healthy natural state.

 

 Enhance Crop Quality:  The relationship between life contained in the soil and the health of the plants that grow within it is inseparable.  A plants’ ability to move their roots through soil and find essential nutrients is dependent on the soil’s texture, structure and nutrient content.  The biology in the soil creates movement of space and organic matter to aid the ease of root exploration.  It is also the mechanism by which nutrients are made available to plants:  through decomposition and excretion of dead organic matter.  When these two biological processes are functioning properly, plants are able to produce at the optimum level naturally supported by the environment.

 

Create Natural Nutrient Cycling:  The most productive systems are ones with the most flourishing biology, because nutrients are being cycled in a way that is supportive to every aspect of the environment.  Insects and worms shred dead plant matter, creating increased surface area for bacteria and fungi to consume and decay.  Larger organisms consume the bacteria and fungi and, in return, excrete excess nutrients, making them available to plants.  Plants process these nutrients and eventually deposit more dead organic matter for the microbes to continue to cycle.

 

Reduce Weeds/Condition Soil for New Crop:  Different plants require different ratios of fungus and bacteria based on the succession state of the ecosystem in which they originated.  The biological approach seeks to match crops with their ideal soil conditions.  Some plants are naturally acclimated to strongly fungal dominated forest soils; others are acclimated to grasslands that are more heavily bacterial dominated.  The biology in the soil can both enhance or impede plant growth based on the symbiotic or antagonistic relationships that are made between microbes and plants.  Recommendations from our lab and consultants take crop type into consideration and help you to acclimate the soil’s fungal/bacterial ratios to support the desired crop.  Conditioning the soil’s biology to compliment a specific crop will increase nutrient uptake and give the desired crop an edge over weeds they try to compete against.  Many weeds are most vigorous in unhealthy soils as they have adapted to those conditions.  If the soil is healthy, and actively supporting a successful crop it will be more difficult for weeds to establish themselves.

 

Reduce Pests and Improve Disease Resistance:  Crop-crippling pest infestation and disease occurs when there is a lack of biodiversity.  A mono-crop grown in soil without a healthy biology is extremely vulnerable to massive pest infestation as it is a concentrated food source with no protective ecology.  A healthy soil supports pest predators that keep harmful organisms from over-populating and destroying crops.  Well-balanced ecology also provides the natural nutrient cycling that keeps plants healthy.  Just like with humans, plants are more susceptible to disease when they are stressed from lack of nutrition.  The biological approach is the preventative medicine that makes plants strong enough to resist disease.

 

Adjust Soil Structure and Hydrology:  Loam soil, which is an even mixture of sand, silt and clay, is considered to be the best soil texture in which to grow most crop plants.  This is because the even mixture of different particle sizes creates an even mixture of pore (air/water-filled spaces in soil) spaces.  Small pore spaces (called micro-pores) hold water by the forces of adhesion so that it stays in soil and is available to plants.  Large pores (called Macro-pores) allow water to drain through the soil so that air can move through, providing oxygen that keeps the soil respiring aerobically.  It is important to have a good mixture of macro/micro pores so that soil is able to hold water but does not get water-logged to the point of anaerobic respiration.  The application and support of soil biology creates the diversity in texture necessary for healthy soil and easy plant cultivation.

 

Remediate Physical Properties: improve drainage, build structure:  When compaction and poor drainage is a problem for soil, improved health can be achieved by encouraging proper soil biology.  Fungi, insects and worms move through soil, creating macro-pores (air-filled spaces 50nm or larger) throughout the root zone of the plants and often deeper.  These macro-pores are the channels through which water can drain.  They decrease compaction and create space for plant roots to move through the soil.  The conventional approach of intensive tilling to loosen compacted soil actually creates a hard pan beneath the tilled layer that impedes deep root penetration and can become anaerobic (attracting pathogenic bacteria).  These tilling techniques also destroy the fungal colonies that naturally aerate the soil. 

 

Conserve Water: increase water holding capacity:  Soil biology can increase a field’s water-holding capacity by adjusting the chemistry and physical properties of a soil.  As the organisms consume and excrete organic matter, they produce the substances that glue soil particles together.  Adding organic matter, and the biology to process it, changes the chemistry of the soil to increase clay content.  Because clay particles are magnitudes smaller than sand particles, the spaces between them are smaller as well.  When water is caught in smaller pore spaces, it is less likely to drain out because it is held by forces of adhesion.  Cultivating soil to increase water-holding capacity saves irrigation and prevents leaching of nutrients.

 

 Reduce Erosion and Leaching of Nutrients:  The organic substances produced by biological nutrient cycling (e.g., clay and humus) have an ionic charge that holds nutrients in soil.  When there is little organic matter in soil, nutrients are easily leached out by rapidly moving water.  Biological exudates create an adhesive effect that strengthens soil aggregates, improving structure so that soil is not as easily broken down by water and eroded by wind.

 

Enhance Efficiency of Chemical Applications/Reduce Production Costs:  The biological approach to soil is still an important practice for those looking to augment the use of chemical fertilizers and intensive tilling.  As described above, the addition of biology prevents loss of added nutrients, reducing the amount of chemical fertilizers needed each year.  Movement of the biology in the soil also improves texture, reducing the need to till soil and saves fuel and labor costs related to that process.

 

Supplement Biology Lost to Pesticide, Herbicide and Fungicide Application:  Crops suffering from massive infestation can be equated to a human undergoing chemotherapy.  It is necessary to get rid of the problem, but the mechanism for doing so kills the good biology as well as the bad.  Replacing biology is vital after the harmful entity has been removed.  The biological approach should be used to restore biology after pesti/herbi/fungicides are used.

 

Remediate Soil/Convert to Organic Agriculture:  Soil degradation as a product of man-made pollution is a serious environmental threat facing our planet.  Earthfort is dedicated to revitalizing soils by rebuilding the biology that encourages bio-diverse soil.  Whether a soil is heavily polluted by industrial toxins, or simply depleted from overuse of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, we believe the biological approach is the healthiest way to restore the environment to a natural state.

 

References

 

Hoorman, James J (2011) The Role of Soil Fungus.  Ohio State University, SAG-14-11

 

Martinez-Salgado M,M., Gutiérrez-Romero, V., Jannsens, M., Ortega-Blu, R. (2010) Biological soil quality indicators: a review

 

Cambridge University Press 0521621119 - Microbiology in Action J. Heritage, E. G. V. Evans and R. A. Killington ( 1999 ) The microbiology of soil and of nutrient cycling

 

B. Hameeda, M. Srijana, O. P. Rupela Gopal Reddy (2007) Effect of bacteria isolated from composts and macrofauna on sorghum growth and mycorrhizal colonization. World J Microbiol Biotechnol (2007) 23:883–887

 

Marcelo F. Fernandesa,∗, Antonio Carlos Barretoa, Iêda C. Mendesb, Richard P. Dick c a Embrapa Coastal Tablelands, Av. Beira Mar 3250, Aracaju, SE 49025-040, Brazil b Embrapa Cerrados, BR 020 Km 18, Planaltina, DF, CEP 73310-970, Brazil c Ohio State University, School of Environment and Natural Resources, 210 Kottman Hall, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210, USA (2011) Short-term response of physical and chemical aspects of soil quality of a kaolinitic Kandiudalfs to agricultural practices and its association with microbiological variables.  Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 142 (2011) 419– 427

 

Paul D. Hallett & Debbie S. Feeney & A. Glyn Bengough & Matthias C. Rillig & Charlie M. Scrimgeour & Iain M. Young (2009) Disentangling the impact of AM fungi versus roots on soil structure and water transport.  Plant Soil (2009) 314:183–196

 

Matthias C. Rillig and Daniel L. Mummey (2006) Mycorrhizas and soil structure. Tansley Review


Gail W. T. Wilson, Charles W. Rice, Matthias C. Rillig, Adam Springer, and David C. Hartnett (2009) Soil aggregation and carbon sequestration are tightly correlated with the abundance of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi: results from long-term field experiments.  Ecology Letters, (2009) 12: 452–461

 

W. OTTEN & C. A. GILLIGAN, Epidemiology and Modelling Group, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EA, UK (2006)   Soil structure and soil-borne diseases: using epidemiological concepts to scale from fungal spread to plant epidemics.  European Journal of Soil Science, February 2006, 57, 26–37

 

Fatima Maria de Souza Moreira & Teotonio Soares de Carvalho & José Oswaldo Siqueira (2010)  Effect of fertilizers, lime, and inoculation with rhizobia and mycorrhizal fungi on the growth of four leguminous tree species in a low-fertility soil.  Biol Fertil Soils (2010) 46:771–779

 

Mustafa Y. Canbolat . Serdar Bilen . Ramazan Çakmakçı . Fikrettin Şahin . Adil Aydın (2006)  Effect of plant growth-promoting bacteria and soil compaction on barley seedling growth, nutrient uptake, soil properties and rhizosphere microflora.  Biol Fertil Soils (2006) 42: 350–357

 

Е. Blagodatskaya & Y. Kuzyakov (2008)  Mechanisms of real and apparent priming effects and their dependence on soil microbial biomass and community structure: critical review.  Biol Fertil Soils (2008) 45:115–131

 

Leticia Andrea Fernández & Pablo Zalba & Marisa Anahí Gómez & Marcelo Antonio Sagardoy (2007)  Phosphate-solubilization activity of bacterial strains in soil and their effect on soybean growth under greenhouse conditions.  Biol Fertil Soils (2007) 43:805–809

 

Dilfuza Egamberdieva & Zulfiya Kucharova & Kakhramon Davranov & Gabriele Berg & Natasha Makarova & Tatyana Azarova & Vladimir Chebotar & Igor Tikhonovich & Faina Kamilova & Shamil Z. Validov & Ben Lugtenberg.  Bacteria able to control foot and root rot and to promote growth of cucumber in salinated soils, Biol Fertil Soils (2011) 47:197–205

 

Javier Cuadros & Baruch Spiro & William Dubbin & Premroy Jadubansa (2010) Rapid microbial stabilization of unconsolidated sediment against wind erosion and dust generation, J Soils Sediments (2010) 10:1415–1426