Organic farms have healthier soil than farms getting regular inputs of synthetic fertilizers, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in England, and published in the journal Environmental Microbiology.
Researchers examined soil at nine English farms for the presence of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), which increase the ability of plant roots to absorb soil nutrients and fight disease. They found a much higher concentration and diversity of AMF on organic farms than on non-organic farms.
“Nitrogen fertilizers often used in agriculture cause an accelerated mineralization of the soil’s organic reserves, thus a net loss of humus and a reduction in the soil’s fertility,” writes Marie-France Muller in her book Colloidal Minerals and Trace Elements.
Researcher Christopher van der Gast said that pesticides, herbicides and regular tilling of the soil all damage AMF and reduce the ecological diversity of farm soil.
“For most people it is about what you can see above ground,” he said. “But the below ground biodiversity of the organisms are also key. It is a missing factor that most people do not think about. Our research demonstrates that the way humans manage the landscape can play a key role in determining the distribution of microbial communities at both the local and regional scales.”
Rising fertilizer costs and an increasing concern for sustainability have led to a 10 percent increase in the use of compost across the United Kingdom over the past year.
“The work provides us with new understanding which we can use to promote these fungi in agricultural systems,” said researcher Gary Bending of the University of Warwick. “This in turn could improve crop production. With the proportion of the earth’s surface which is managed by humans increasing rapidly, this understanding is essential if we are to predict and manage microbial functioning in the environment to meet many of the major challenges faced by human society, such as food supply and the mitigation of climate change. Addressing these challenges, whilst maintaining environmentally sustainable agricultural practices, requires an understanding of microbial diversity.”
Sources for this story include: telegraph.co.uk.
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