Soil Health: The increasing focus amid soaring fertiliser prices and global uncertainty
Around the world farmers/growers are looking at alternative nutrient sources and management practices to aid in crop growth in the face of soaring fertiliser prices and uncertainty in the worldwide markets. Globally, fertiliser prices have risen about 200% over the past year following record price rises for source ingredients coal and natural gas, alongside new export restrictions on fertilisers by China and Russia. This uncertainty has not only led to rising fertiliser costs but chemicals and diesel prices are also high and increasing global inflation has driven up labour and other costs. These inputs are the four major on-farm expenses and they are at record levels. This is leading to a paradigm shift in how many farmers think, and alternative alternative practices that maintain high productions are being sought.
One of the key areas we see farmers focussing on is soil health. As improving soil health can help to drive yield increases and also lead to less inputs being used. The key for many growers we deal with directly is treating soil as part of a living system they manage. Its often forgotten that there are billions of living organisms in the soil and that these soil microorganisms including bacteria, fungi and insects, more than happily coexist in the soil. A rise in the beneficial microbes in the soil increases the amount and types of mineral nutrients, antibiotics and enzymes provided to the plant roots. More nutrients increase plant production, root growth and eventually humus levels, since most humus is formed from the conversion of organic matter by microbes. Soil fertility is also improved enhancing the strike and performance of your crops.
By allowing and fostering a healthy and functioning soil biology you will not only create and ideal environment for your plants and crops to flourish but you will also lessen the need to use fungicides, pesticides and insecticides as the plants natural defences will improve. In addition you will be feeding the soil which in turn to feeds the plant also potential reducing the fertiliser inputs required.
Factors that affect healthy Soil Biology
Factors that can reduce the soil biological function:
- Use of chemicals - use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and many chemical fertilisers
- Excessive moving and handling of soil
- Extreme weather
How to create a healthy and functioning Soil Ecosystem
It is very important that all the organisms that a plant requires are present and functioning and they are fed and stimulated. Ensure there is a ready and ample supply of organic matter being recycled into the soil. This is the food for the microbes. Biologically friendly fertilisers help soil biology thrive and provide another food source. Increasing microbial diversity in the soil is also very important. This enhances the breakdown of organic matter with both bacteria and fungi playing an important role and biological activity in general creating a healthier soil environment where microbes are stimulated. In order to get microbial diversity in the soil we can plant mixed pasture swards, use biologically friendly fertilisers or add biology directly through bio-stimulants or other biological inoculants like EM.
EM works by getting the natural processes to function, the way nature intended by stimulating biological activity in the soil. EM will not only add to the microbial population, but will also stimulate resident microbes. This stimulation can lead to increasing the resident nitrogen fixation capacity directly through the increase of N fixing bacteria, and indirectly by increasing clover growth, increasing mycorrhizal activity and other fungal and earthworm activity.