With only 12 percent of land on Earth suitable for crop farming, both water efficiency and soil health are of equal importance. The world’s precious soil hosts more than a quarter of the planet’s biodiversity.
“However, as soils are continually treated with pesticides and fungicides, hundreds of ecosystems and billions of microbes are being destroyed,” said Robert Walker, global general manager for Alltech Crop Science, at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference.
This leads to imbalances that destroy crops, sometimes not just for a season, but for the foreseeable future.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 20 to 25 percent of soils worldwide have already been degraded through modern agriculture practices. In fact, an additional area the size of Austria is degraded each year. 1 The world’s growing population, with an increasing demand for food production, has brought new attention to soil degradation.
“Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level that was available in 1960,” said Walker, citing the FAO report.
Time is of the essence in finding new solutions, as it takes 1,000 years for 3 centimeters of new topsoil to be generated. Where can answers be found for application today? Walker sees opportunities in organic farming, precision agriculture and beneath our feet, in the soil itself.
Answers rooted in the soil: Microbes at work
“Proper soil nutrition should be our first line of defense,” said Walker on the topic of saving the soil and helping producers increase their crop production.
“Only 2 percent of all microbes in soil have been identified. What if we were to harness the other unidentified 98 percent?”
Microbes can help support plant health in the following ways:
- Increasing nutrient availability
- Enhancing root growth
- Neutralizing toxic compounds in soils
- Providing disease suppression
- Increasing plant immunity and boosting resistance against environmental extremes
One success story can be found in Costa Rica, where microbial technology is being successfully deployed to help banana producers fight disease and reduce the use of synthetic fungicides.
By incorporating new microbial technologies with soil management methods such as conservation tillage, producers have ONE big opportunity, Walker predicts. While synthetic chemistries have helped with feeding a growing population, weed resistance and limited productivity challenge current systems.
“It’s time to develop a new system of agriculture based on natural principles for crop and soil health and productivity,” said Walker.
An additional benefit of integrating microbial technology with conservation tillage applies to water use.
“With each 1 percent increase in organic matter, there is the ability for the soil to hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre,” concluded Walker.
He encourages producers worldwide to adopt ONE new technology to conserve soil vitality.
To read more about soil, which is “our silent ally in food production” according to the United Nations, and Alltech’s microbial research, click here.
Source 1: Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, “Soil Atlas 2015.”