Using Biological Inoculants to Enhance No-Till Agriculture practices
Over the past decade we have had many of our customers changing their systems/rotations to include No-till/minimum till systems or moving towards regenerative pastures for their environmental and economic advantages. No-till systems have the potential to offer benefits over more traditional intensive tillage systems, including:
- Reduced labour
- Less need for heavy machinery
- Lower fuel costs
- Improved long-term productivity
- Reduced soil erosion
- Greater soil moisture retention
- Decreased soil compaction.
Perhaps most importantly No-Till also has a dramatic effect on the soil ecosystem. The soil, as we know, is a live, dynamic, natural ecosystem which is home to a diverse range of organisms including bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa and others, often referred to as the ‘Soil Food Web’. The balance of this soil food web is delicate with small changes often having a dramatic impact on the make-up which can lead to the dominance of one species. Intensive Farming is one of the factors that influence this balance with practices including tillage, heavy fertilisation, compaction and heavy use of agri-chemicals contributing towards a domination of negative microbes. When this occurs the function of the soil changes and we see a significant increase in soil borne diseases, lower organic matter recycling, etc. It can result in decreased yields, crop losses and a serious soil health issue. Tillage and working the soil disturbs this balance and can lead to a proliferation of weeds and disease
The challenges of No-Till systems however can also be significant. The significant build-up of organic matter on the soil surface can provide a significant food source for your soil and nutrients for future crops but if this soil organic matter (SOM) is not broken down quickly and efficiently it can become a problem. It can increase prevalence of soil-borne diseases. This increase compromises root health in future crops. Also this SOM can form a layer of thatch creating an anaerobic environment. This presents real problems for roots and will limit the nutrition and oxygen that a plants root will receive.
How EM Can Help No-Till Systems
Using Biological products and in our case EM we can address these challenges directly.
EM will help the decomposition process of organic materials, and during fermentation will produce normally unavailable organic acids, such as lactic acid, acetic acid, amino acid, malic acid and bioactive substances and vitamins. These substances stimulate native microorganism populations and are known to promote plant cell division (growth).
Secondly the diversity of microorganisms contained in EM and the metabolites they produce will increase the number and diversity of microorganisms in the soil. When microorganisms are activated, protozoans and larger organisms such as worms will increase in number and a healthier ecosystem will result. This also plays an important role in SOM recycling and building humus as a full range of organisms in the soil food web is required for this complex process. EM will also stimulate Mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi form relationships with over 95% of plant species. They surround and even enter the roots of these plants, and provide nutrients such as phosphorus and water to plants in exchange for carbohydrates, usually sugars.
This acceleration of the nutrient cycling process will also improve nutrient availability. In addition EM also increases the production of the enzyme phosphatase in the soil. Phosphatase is important as this enzyme will release locked up P in the soil that previously would be unavailable to plants. It is well-known that agricultural soils are not lacking in phosphorus, it is just a case of availability. As such, releasing locked up phosphorus in no-till fields is often a better solution than adding even more to the soil as fertilizer, which can be negative or restrictive to the mycorrhizal fungi which we are trying to stimulate and cultivate in no-till soils.
High thatch build ups can produce anaerobic environments in the soil. EM has the benefit of having facultative microbes in the brew. Facultative microbes are capable of switching to fermentation or anaerobic respiration if oxygen is absent. So where aerobic microbes die off in the presence of no or limited oxygen, EM can survive and help restore the soil. The microbes will help restore the soil to an aerobic system. Using EM produces a regenerative environment and will stimulate resident aerobic microbes to once again function helping to change the environment. This will speed up the process in restoring the aerobic function to an anaerobic system. The microbes will also breakdown the thatch to further open up the soil and release nutrients to the plants root systems.
Applying target microbial inoculants and food sources help to return the organisms that are needed to build and maintain soil structures and a health soil food web. EM will produce lots of polysaccharides - glues that hold the soil together and hold in moisture, improving drought resistance. EM will help increase aggregate stability; improved stability reduces soil erosion and run-off.