10 Jun How Soil Organisms Impact Farming
Farmers benefit as much as anyone from healthy and active soils. A variety of life lives within the soil, ranging from microscopic bacteria to earthworms several inches long, most of them contributing to making the soil a vibrant growing environment for plants. Here are several processes performed by soil organisms that directly impact farmers:
Nutrient Cycling: managing nutrients is a very important role for soil organisms. When living matter dies, the nutrients that are stored within it need to re-enter the soil and change form so that other living creatures are able to use them again. This change happens in several ways:
- Soil organisms break down and decompose dead material, which releases those nutrients back into the soil.
- Soil organisms convert (or mineralize) the released nutrients into a form that can be used by plants and other soil life.
- Soil organisms can take up (or immobilize) the same nutrients that plants need. This robs plants from using those nutrients, but also keeps them from being lost from the soil. When the soil organisms die, they are decomposed and the nutrients within them are released back into the soil.
- Soil organisms can take minerals from other sources and convert them into a usable form for plants through mineral transformation. An example of this is when nitrogen-fixing bacteria take nitrogen from the air and make it available for use by plants.
Control Disease: many soil organisms are predators, meaning they actively attack and feed on other microbes. This helps keep any one population from becoming dominant, including those that can cause disease. Other organisms will compete with disease-causing microbes for food or living location on the plant root.
Aid Plant Growth: some microbes produce and release different compounds into the soil that have the ability to boost plant growth. In some cases, these compounds can also help fight disease.
Improve Soil Structure: soil that is crumbly and breaks apart easily is ideal for crops. Air and water can penetrate easily, and roots can grow with little resistance. Soil organisms help in forming this structure. Fungi grow filaments that bind soil particles together into small pieces. Bacteria produce sticky compounds that also help bind the soil. Small insects help this process by chewing and burying plant debris while they burrow through the soil. This creates channels that are lined with nutrients and allow water and air to travel through.
Image source: XiteBio Technologies Inc.