microBIOMETER® testing for soil health and yield stability

Nature article reports that microbial biomass estimates by microBIOMETER® correlates with soil health and yield stability.

The microBIOMETER® soil test was used to report microbial biomass in a recent Nature publication*. Scientists Dr. Judith Fitzpatrick and Dr. Brady Trexler of microBIOMETER® collaborated with a University of Tennessee team headed by Dr. Amin Nouri. The team evaluated the effects on soil health and yield stability of 39 different methods of raising cotton over 29 years. The conditions tested included till, no-till, various cover crops and different levels of nitrogen fertilization.

The study found that the major impacts on yield were very dry or wet conditions, and low or high temperatures. The deleterious effects of these weather extremes on yield were mitigated by regenerative agricultural practices which resulted in adequate soil, C, N, soil structure and microbial biomass.

Conservation agriculture increases the soil resilience and cotton yield stability in climate extremes of the southeast US

*Nouri, A., Yoder, D.C., Raji, M., Ceylan, S., Jagadamma, S., Lee, J., Walker, F.R., Yin, X., Fitzpatrick, J., Trexler, B. and Arelli, P., 2021. Conservation agriculture increases the soil resilience and cotton yield stability in climate extremes of the southeast US. Communications Earth & Environment, 2(1), pp.1-12.

Soil carbon is a complex creature.

Soil carbon is important to soil health because it enables microbial life. Microbes are able to obtain carbon directly from plant exudates, however, much of their carbon source is from the dead plant and plant derived materials that they digest.  We harvest much of the above ground matter from crops, but plant roots, cover crops and various manures can provide additional sources of carbon and other nutrients for microbes.  Pure carbon, for instance coal, is not something we add to soil to increase fertility.  It is the soil organic carbon, the carbon originally derived from the living plant, animal and microbial sources, that predicts soil health. This is because it is food for microbes. Without fungi and bacteria making the glues that allow microbes to stick to soil and create soil texture, the soil becomes a powder that is easily eroded and does not hold water. Moreover, without microbes that are so tightly bound to the soil to store nutrients, the soil becomes barren.

Soil carbon begins as plant exudates and dead plant material and ends as humus, the molecular remnants of the bodies and refuse of dead animals and microbes that digested the plant material.  Newly broken-down plant material is close to the surface and available to microbes as soluble organic carbon.  Using this easily accessible carbon, microbes can multiply. Furthermore, carbon that is in microbes and other inhabitants of the soil food web can be viewed as a savings account.  Turnover in the food web is rapid and these materials are being recycled. As organic carbon molecules become in excess, i.e., they are not rapidly recycling, they attach themselves tightly to minerals and clay.  In this state they are more difficult for microbes to access. They begin to descend deeper into the soil becoming even more closely associated with soil particulate matter and can now be described as sequestered carbon.  The amount of carbon your soil can potentially sequester depends heavily on the particulate matter of your soil. Some soils can accumulate as much as 20% others probably less than 3%.   

Earth has surrendered 50% of its sequestered carbon to the atmosphere. How did this happen?  As a plant starts to grow, it sends out exudates that stimulate the dormant microbes to start multiplying and working to bring nutrients to the plant.  If there is insufficient soluble organic carbon available, the plant stimulated microbes will need to mine carbon from stored carbon sources.  Over many years of non-regenerative farming, the microbes have depleted this stored carbon.  Mineral fertilizers have replaced the microbes bringing minerals to the plants, but they do not provide carbon for microbial growth. Moreover, plants do not put out exudates for microbes when supplied with mineral nutrients – the stimulus for exudates is the need for minerals. The tragic outcome of low microbes is the loss of soil texture which leads to soil erosion and the inability of the soil to retain moisture.  

You need to have all forms of carbon for soil health; plant exudates to stimulate microbial growth, newly digested matter, soluble organic carbon for the population explosion, and stored carbon for the poor times when the microbes need to delve into their reserves.  You also need to store carbon by feeding the microbes carbon and replacing minerals in a manner that does not inhibit microbial growth.  Sequestered carbon is 60-80% the remains of dead microbes.  

Agronomist in the U.K. assisting clients with soil health.

Source: Ben Taylor-Davies Twitter

Ben Taylor-Davies, also known as Regen Ben, is a farmer and bioagri-ecologist working from Herefordshire in the UK. His farm is based in Ross-on-Wye and has been focused on environmental improvements for the past 22 years. His work includes creating 12km of new hedges with 6m of pollen and nectar or ground bird nesting margins around every field as well as working on river meadow restoration.

Following a Nuffield scholarship in 2016 and the opportunity to travel the world (USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, South Africa, France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Mongolia, China, Singapore and Australia), Ben was intrigued by the regenerative agriculture movement which very much complimented the environmental work he was doing back on his own farm. When discussing these soil health focused farming methods with clients as an agronomist, it struck a chord with many of them too; the future of agriculture and real farm sustainability.

Ben came across microBIOMETER® in 2019 and found it an incredibly useful tool in benchmarking clients farms in order to start monitoring change in what they were doing. The real time results offered by microBIOMETER® provides Ben with full control over how, where and when he takes readings. Ben uses his microBIOMETER® readings in conjunction with the What3words app which allows him to accurately repeat measurements in subsequent years in order to build a picture of successes and failures.

microBIOMETER® assisting farmers with regenerative agriculture around the world.

Sometimes the wisdom we need to build a great future is buried in the past. Regenerative agriculture isn’t an entirely new concept, it’s actually more of a return to the wisdom of farmers from days gone by. What’s old is new again and its popularity is spreading around the globe like a prairie fire.

While regenerative agriculture gives a well-earned nod to the past, its relationship with science and technology allows it to effectively transform the way we currently grow food. microBIOMETER®, with their customers all around the world, are leading the way with technology that shows farmers when their soil health practices are working and when they are not.

“I believe biological agriculture is the way to regenerate and create more resilient soil that will supply nutrients and higher immunity to the plants. This is why microBIOMETER® has become an invaluable asset to my soil management efforts.” ~ Marcelo Chiappetta of Chiapeta Empresa Agricola in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

Creating healthy soil may take the wisdom of generations of farmers, but microBIOMETER® supplies the knowledge farmers need to best manage potential outcomes.

microBIOMETER® Soil Testing in New Zealand garden community

In learning how to develop healthy soil for healthy plants and people, Frans Plugge of New Zealand discovered the importance of increasing the fungi population in his garden and this led him to microBIOMETER®.

“The microBIOMETER® soil test makes measuring the fungi to bacteria ratio so easy,” Frans said. 

To promote the benefits of soil regeneration, Frans has started the community street garden using the principles of regenerative agriculture; minimizing artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.  Frans plans to take regular measurements of the fungi to bacteria ratio using microBIOMETER® to monitor his progress as well as create a great discussion point with members of the garden community, therefore, contributing to a healthy plant community.

Some of the microBIOMETER® results Frans shared with us for his home garden and compost:

  • Our compost.  1102 ug C/g, F:B 1.7:1
  • Veggie garden soil. 310 ug C/g  F:B 0.1:1
  • Purchased compost soil mix. 1299 ug C/g F:B 2.4:1
  • Soil from native bush. 469 ug C/g  F:B 0.8:1

The first photo pictured here is a bare clay strip that Frans forked loose but did not turn. He added a thin layer of garden compost along with a layer of soil sowing in ten different species of autumn crops; legumes, grasses, and cereals. Then he planted brassicas into the garden (second photo).

Over the years, Frans typically added compost and dug in green crop in the main vegetable garden, but had not had great success in yield. This autumn in the area the microBIOMETER® sample was taken from, he planted an autumn cover crop of 7-8 different species and a selection of brassicas amongst them. The idea is when the cover crop begins to go to seed, they cut at root level and drop as mulch (third photo).  Frans is hoping they can stop digging in an effort to build up healthy soil organisms.

Frans’ conclusions related to New Zealand’s potential to reduce its carbon footprint:

  • If all New Zealand farmers lifted their soil organic matter (SOM) by .25% per annum, we could offset all New Zealand’s annual GHG emissions including methane.
  • Globally, numerous farmers are lifting SOM by 0.5 – 1% per annum over many years.
  • Add in parks, recreation spaces, berms, gardens and Crown Land.

About Frans:

  • Completed his degree at Lincoln University in Valuation and Farm Management
  • Founded ECOsystems in 1995 with the vision “Saving Energy and the Environment” and the mission “To reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings by 50%”
  • Longstanding and current elected board member of the Carbon and Energy Professionals N.Z. (CEPNZ).
  • In 2018, established the Kata School to promote practices of continuous improvement that Toyota has used for 70 years. He is the current chair.
  • Attended and presented at Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership training in Brisbane and completedthe Kiss the Ground training on Regenerating Soils.
  • Currently focused on using the behaviours of Toyota Kata scientific thinking and experimenting towards a vision to develop the culture required to achieve the challenge of carbon positive.

microBIOMETER® testing soil and compost in the Netherlands

With a small R & D grant awarded from the Dutch government, Jo Ploumen of the Netherlands is using microBIOMETER® to determine fungal to bacterial ratios in vermicompost filled in a Johnson-Su Bioreactor versus residence time. Jo also uses microBIOMETER® to measure microbes and F:B ratio in select soil samples as a member of a garden club. He found the differences by method of gardening; organic vs fertilizer and bare vs covered soil to be striking!

“I like microBIOMETER® as it is a cost-effective tool with a high impact, potentially,” Jo said.

Jo’s impressive resume includes studying Chemical Technology at the Technical University of Eindhoven, employment at multinational AKZO Nobel as an R & D specialist and co-founder of Pulsed Heat BV. In 2019, Jo founded Ploumen E.S. Compost to begin research based on the findings of Dr. David Johnson. Johnson is the developer of the Johnson-Su Bioreactor which delivers a compost with very unique properties.

We are honored to have Jo as a valued customer, data collector and partner on our journey to increase awareness of soil health, regenerative practices and carbon sequestration!

Photo source: Taos News

Choosing an Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi for your Plant

Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) colonize 80% of crops. Their effect on plant growth can be positive, neutral or negative. It depends on many factors including the crop species and genotype, the species of AMF, and the characteristics of the soil. A low pH favors colonization of the plant by AMF while application of chemical fertilizers, especially phosphate, inhibits colonization by AMF. In the absence of chemical fertilizers and in the presence of low levels of pH, AMF provides the plant with phosphorous. AMF can extract P from rocks so it can get P from soil that tests low for P.

AMF can dramatically increase plant yield and resistance to pathogens and drought, as well as decrease irrigation needs and sensitivity to salinity. Thus, AMF can be of great assistance in transitioning from conventional to sustainable/regenerative agricultural. There are now many suppliers of AMF but there is no guarantee that any one product will be optimal for your crop and your soil.

The new microBIOMETER® test, which estimates fungal to bacterial ratios in soil, can help you decide which AMF works best with your plant and soil because it can detect colonization of rhizosphere soil for fungi within a month of AMF application.

Leifheit, E. F., Veresoglou, S. D., Lehmann, A., Morris, E. K., & Rillig, M. C. (2014). Multiple factors influence the role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in soil aggregation—a meta-analysis. Plant and Soil, 374(1-2), 523-537.