Do you ever marvel at how a coastal California Redwood tree can grow to be over 30 stories tall without added fertilizer? Or do you wonder how a wild fig tree can produce hundreds of pounds of fruit year after year without the use of pesticides? It is the diversity and quantity of beneficial soil organisms that make such extraordinary growth and productivity possible.
The Symbiotic Relationship Between Plants and Beneficial Soil Microorganisms
Healthy soil is a lively place! A single teaspoonful of good soil hosts billions of beneficial microbes. When all types of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes) are present— both in the soil and on foliage — plants thrive and develop a strong resistance to pests and disease. These organisms perform functions critical to plant health in exchange for foods provided by each plant known as “exudates” (carbohydrates, simple sugars, and proteins).
On average, one third of a given plant’s energy from photosynthesis is used to produce exudates. These “foods” are then exchanged with soil microbes in return for benefits such as mineral chelation and protection from pathogens. This mutually beneficial relationship resembles a “biologic marketplace” where plants and microbes both prosper.
Soil microorganisms perform the following functions vital to plant growth:
- Build and maintain soil structure
- Protect plants from foliar and root diseases
- Convert macro- and micro-nutrients contained in the soil into plant available forms
- Fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available for plant uptake
- Increase root growth and vigor
- Build water-holding capacity in the soil
Unintended Consequences of Conventional Agriculture
Many agricultural practices, including long-term use of synthetic chemicals, frequent tillage, and soil compaction have had a devastating “antibiotic” effect on soil microbial populations. This loss of microbial life ultimately degrades soil quality and results in unhealthy plants requiring intensive cultivation to produce viable crops. Soil erosion and silting of local waterways follows.
The Biologic grower understands that beneficial soil microorganisms function as an elite, microscopic workforce that caters to a plant’s every need — from nutrient uptake to disease suppression. Creating truly regenerative systems modeled after nature’s productively results in higher farm profits, enhanced crop nutrition and improved soil conditions for future generations.
James J. Hoorman, “Understanding Soil Microbes and Nutrient Recycling”. https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/SAG-16
Ingham, E.L. Soil Biology, The Soil Biology Primer, Chapter 3–Chapter 6. Natural Resource Conservation Service. See https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/conservation-basics/natural-resource-concerns/soils/soil-health/soil-biology-primer
Richard Jacoby et al. “The Role of Soil Microorganisms in Plant Mineral Nutrition—Current Knowledge and Future Directions”. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2017.01617/full