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Archive | Soil Life

Building Soil Health with Volcanic Basalt

by Rich Affeldt

volcanic-basaltOrganic and sustainable farmers have long relied on rock dust as an all-natural way to improve roots systems, increase yields and promote general plant health in a wide variety of crops and conditions. Yet, it has taken the rapid depletion of our global soils to bring rock dust to the attention of modern agricultural science. The good news is that there is undeniable evidence that rock minerals can help restore soil health, minimize crop deficiencies and boost resistance to pests and disease.

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What is Humus & How is it Formed?

Secrets of Fertile SoilsExcerpt from Secrets of Fertile Soils: Humus as the Guardian of the Fundamentals of Natural Life by Erhard Hennig, published by Acres U.S.A.

by Erhard Hennig

Humus forms as a result of the complicated interplay of inorganic conversions and the life processes of the microbes and tiny creatures living in the soil. Earthworms play a particularly important role in this process. Humus formation is carried out in two steps. First, the organic substance and the soil minerals disintegrate. Next, totally new combinations of these break down products develop, which leads to the initial stages of humus. Humus formation is a biological process. Only 4-12 inches (10-30 centimeters) of humus-containing soil are available in the upper earth crust. This thin earth layer is all that exists to provide nutrition to all human life. The destiny of mankind depends on these 12 inches!

Cultivated soils with 2 percent humus content are today considered high-quality farmland. What makes up the remaining 98 percent? Depending on the soil type, soil organisms constitute about 8 percent, the remains of plants and animals about 5 percent, and air and water around 15 percent.

The remaining 70 percent of soil mass is thus of purely mineral origin. The mineral part of the soil results from decomposition and the erosion of rock. The dissolution of these components is carried out by the lithobionts, which can be seen as the mediators between stone and life. It was Raoul H. Francé who coined the term “lithobiont,” which means “those who live on stone.” The lithobionts are the group of microbes that begin the formation of humus. They produce a life-giving substance from the nonliving mineral. On the basis of this process, living matter, earth, plants, animals and human beings can begin, step by step, to build.

Only soils with an optimal structural state of tilth have a humus content of 8-10 percent. Untouched soils in primeval forests can, at best, reach 20 percent. A tropical jungle can’t use up all its organic waste, so humus can be stored. All forests accumulate humus, but real humus stores only emerge over the course of millennia. Once upon a time accumulations of humus known as chernozem (Russian for black earth) could be found in the Ukraine.

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Interview: Scientist, Author Jonathan Lundgren Discusses Ground-Breaking Research into Insects and Species Diversity

Acres U.S.A. is North America’s monthly magazine of ecological agriculture. Each month we conduct an in-depth interview with a thought leader. The following interview appeared in our Febjonathan-lundgrenruary 2016 issue and was too important not to share widely.

Dr. Jonathan Lundgren is an agroecologist, director of the Ecdysis Foundation and CEO of Blue Dasher Farm in Brookings, South Dakota. He received his Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of Illinois in 2004 and was a top scientist with USDA-ARS for 11 years. Lundgren received the Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering awarded by the White House and has served as an advisor for national grant panels and regulatory agencies on pesticide and GM crop risk assessments. Lundgren has written 107 peer-reviewed journal articles, authored the book Relationships of Natural Enemies and Non-prey Foods and has received more than $3.4 million in grants. Dr. Lundgren has trained five post-docs and 12 graduate students from around the world. One of his priorities is to make science applicable to end-users, and he regularly interacts with the public and farmers regarding pest and farm management and insect biology. Lundgren’s research program focuses on assessing the ecological risk of pest management strategies and developing long-term solutions for sustainable food systems. His ecological research focuses heavily on conserving healthy biological communities within agroecosystems by reducing disturbance and increasing biodiversity within cropland.

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch

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Inputs Alter Microbial Life

Microbial life in the soil. "E coli at 10000x, original" by Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU. - This image was released by the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, with the ID K11077-1.New research from Iowa State University shows that agricultural inputs such as nitrogen and phosphorus alter soil microbial communities. Adding nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, commonly used as fertilizers, to the soil shifts the natural communities of fungi, bacteria and microscopic organisms called archaea that live in the soil, said Kirsten Hofmockel, associate professor.

Hofmockel and other scientists associated with the Nutrient Network, a global group of scientists, revealed that microbial community responses to fertilizer inputs were globally consistent and reflected plan responses to the inputs. Many soil microbes perform helpful functions in the native ecosystems and altering those microbial communities may have negative environmental consequences, Hofmockel said. The researchers found nutrient additions favored fast-growing bacteria and decreased the abundance of fungi that share a symbiotic relationships with grassland plants. This encapsulation of the research is from the December 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life — Increasing Soil Organic Matter through Organic Agriculture

Better infiltration, retention and delivery to plants helps avoid drought damage. Organic is on the left, conventional on the right. Photo courtesy of Rodale Institute

Better infiltration, retention and delivery to plants helps avoid drought damage. Organic is on the left, conventional on the right. Photo courtesy of Rodale Institute

by André Leu

This year has been declared the International Year of Soils by the 68th UN General Assembly with the theme “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life.” I am particularly pleased with the theme because this is a message that we in the organic sector have been spreading for more than 70 years, and at first we were ridiculed. Now there is a huge body of science showing that what we observed in our farming systems is indeed correct.

“Organic farming” became the dominant name in English-speaking countries for farming systems that eschew toxic, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers through J.I. Rodale’s global magazine Organic Farming and Gardening, first published in the United States in the 1940s. Rodale promoted this term based on building soil health by the recycling of organic matter through composts, green manures, mulches and cover crops to increase the levels of soil organic matter (SOM) as one of the primary management techniques.

Numerous scientific studies show that SOM provides many benefits for building soil health such as improving the number and biodiversity of beneficial microorganisms that provide nutrients for plants, including fixing nitrogen, as well as controlling soilborne plant diseases. The decomposition of plant and animal residues into SOM can provide all the nutrients needed by plants and negate the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers that are responsible for numerous environmental problems. Continue Reading →

The Soil Solution

The Soil Solutionby Graeme Sait

The UN has named 2015 International Year of Soils, and we should embrace this initiative with open hearts and willing hands. It is an incredibly timely focus in light of a series of serious challenges impacting our future and perhaps our very existence. Soil health directly affects plant, animal and human health. It also impacts topsoil erosion, water management and ocean pollution. Most importantly, it is now recognized that climate change is directly related to soil mismanagement. I believe a global soil health initiative can help save our planet.

The Top Five Threats

While in the UK, I met with a professor who shared some deeply concerning findings. He informed me that a recent survey of leading British scientists revealed that as many as one in five of the best thinkers in the country believe that we will be extinct as a species by the end of this century, or perhaps much earlier. This information should serve to spur meaningful action from every one of us. There are five core threats that need to be urgently addressed, and they all relate back to the soil. Continue Reading →