I’ve recently watched some very insightful webinars on soil health (Soil food web movement) and the work being done all over the world to understand and improve the worldwide health of soils. The panellists introduce themselves as Dr Elaine Ingham (as pictured below – helps us to understand the importance of microorganisms in soils), Renald Flores (owns a company that works with farmers to improve soil health), Dr Carla Portugal (an environmental scientist), Dr Adam Cobb (a science communicator, as he puts it, a soil nerd), Brian Vagg (part of the community, the webinar host and soil consultant). Here are some notes to recap on those online videos.
Content of the webinar
Globally, our soils are in trouble, which is a threat to our way of life. It’s a conversation starter – areas in the world bare of soil or it poor to extent that it is unproductive. In 40 years’ time, the situation will worsen. Humanity will not be able to grow enough food if the global rates continue. The billion-year connection of soil (a miniature ecosystem of life) and its microbiology (bacteria and fungi) is under threat.
The soil food web; plants need sunlight and water, which enables them to make sugars that migrate throughout the plant from bud to root. Soils retain and transfer some sugars via rhizomes and filaments to other plants (as with trees that work together in a complex system) – they need microorganisms (at different trophic levels) to do this. It is a cooperative relationship that works the way nature developed it. Access nutrients released by bacteria and fungi feed the plants. Filaments bind the soil (micro and macro aggregates) helping to retain water and nutrients.
Protozoa and nematodes are indicators of soil ecosystem health and are sensitive to chemical change (fertilizers) and without them the food web crashes.
Mother nature has a system – there is no need to apply synthetic chemicals. From 1960 – 2020, there have been millions of tonnes of NPK – applied to our land worldwide. Problems with Inorganic fertilizers – salinisation, erosion (dirt doesn’t hold on to nutrients) and toxic residues (that kill all biology). Soil chemistry natural minerals – organic nitrogen, arsenic, various metals, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, magnesium …… the list is endless!
Soil is a live entity that contains microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, beneficial protozoa and nematodes) – what do they do? A slide underneath a microscope – what we see is a hidden microscopic jungle in good soil. The soil food web is the Keystone to good soils. By removing the key biological components, soils turn into simply “dirt”. We don’t want to be dirt farmers that extract and exploit.
Our land is 30% less productive today than they were 70 years ago. The key indicator of soil health is looking for miniscule life down a microscope, and then at its chemistry. It is important to assess and produce assays for distinct solutions to problems.
Compaction is a problem; compaction is a consequence of soil management that degrades the system – it depletes the water content, air spaces, rich micro life, and depth that roots can penetrate. Timing of cropping, mechanisation (heavy machinery), disturbance and tillage and chemical imbalance or even poisoning are massive threats.
Problems out in the field – discover the underlying source. What is the missing link? Case study on tobacco plantation. Investing in soil health – fungal farming, solid compost spreading (from natural organic matter), increasing rhizosphere depth, pest’s incidence – farmers need to have faith in holistic change, and they will see benefit within years. Not only below the surface, changes are seen – but nature and biodiversity will thrive.
Growing sustainable doesn’t mean reduced productivity, more weeds and poor nutrition. It can be improved – does the plant have the nutrients? A focus on soil biology will make soil health successful, but it takes time. The shift from dirt to soil isn’t an instant fix, it takes years.
I intend to watch more of these most captivating webinars and hope to update this item again, soon.