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 testing at a hemp farm in Iowa

soil testing
Austin testing soil testing at a hemp farm with microBIOMETER®

PLANT Group is a team of designers, engineers, and ecologists. The company is building systems to connect humans and nature. In the process, they are soil testing at a hemp farm in Iowa, Honeysuckle Hops & Hemp.

First, through their partnership with Blue Forest Farms, the team at PLANT Group is using microBIOMETER®. They are utilizing the tool to research soil health and carbon sequestration implications of growing hemp.

Furthermore, Austin has an interest in publishing research on their alternate organic hemp production methods.  microBIOMETER® is assisting them in collecting some “pretty cool data on microbial biomass and fungal ratios in the soil in response to these strategies.”

Meanwhile, the company recently launched a new line of hemp food products, Hemp Hearts. They grow each plant regeneratively. This includes a focus on soil carbon, biodiversity, and ecosystem health.

Did you know one hectare of hemp can absorb 15 tons of CO2 per hectare? Hemp’s rapid growth makes it one of the fastest CO2-to-biomass conversion tools available. Therefore, let’s stop cutting down our forests. Plant some hemp instead!

Lastly, please visit the PLANT Group website to meet the rest of the team and learn more about their business. And follow them on Instagram to keep up to date on their progress!

microBIOMETER® in University of Michigan Research Study

Joshua Mikesell utilized microBIOMETER® in a University of Michigan Intern Student Program last fall for his 501(c)3 compost business Happy Coast.  The goal of his compost business is to seek out organic waste products and develop ways to reduce and recycle these materials. In preparation for the study, Joshua created multiple controlled scenarios to test biomass in certain situations and in several types of compost.

For the project, they sorted through food waste obtained from local businesses and developed a process and ingredient list to produce their own organic fertilizer. microBIOMETER® was used to perform the initial tests. Then after their pellet applications was used again to determine effectiveness.

The University of Michigan was so impressed with Joshua’s study they now want to send him as many students as possible to continue this work.

Click here to read the entire report as well as view all the microBIOMETER® data collected.

New York Times features Prolific Earth Sciences advisor/board member

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels, a valued advisor and member of our Board, was recently featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine article, He Wrote a gardening column: He ended up documenting climate change.

For 45 years Jeff has written a gardening column for the Anchorage Daily News and over this time has helped adapt Alaskan growers to their much longer growing season. And in doing so has become a documenter of climate change.

Jeff joined  Prolific Earth Sciences because he knew the only way to wean agriculture off synthetic fertilizers was to trust the microbes to deliver nutrients to plants. Jeff is the well-known author of the all-time best selling gardening book, Teaming with Microbes, as well as Teaming with Fungi, Teaming with Nutrients and DIY Cannabis all very readable, informative and available on Amazon.

Soil testing update from Brazil

Chiappetta Agricultural Company

We were excited to hear from our long-time customer Marcelo Chiappetta of  Chiappetta Agricultural Company on how his microBIOMETER® testing has been progressing. Below is what he shared with us.

“Here in southern Brazil the past 5 years we’ve been working with biological agriculture and changing the way we see and manage our farm; more and more like an agricultural organism. Taking care of microorganisms, plants, animals and humans and focusing on producing high quality grains.

Fungal and bacterial ratio is fundamental to know how our soil is related to what crop we grow. And now, after starting to brew compost tea and using compost extract, microBIOMETER® is helping us measure and understand the right recipe of carbon and nitrogen related to the amount of fungi that we want to build in our composts before adding to the soil. We see that good microbial biomass along with organic matter is excellent for our soils.

In practical terms, we see biological flowering in crop fields and this is the proof that we are doing a great job with nature. Our soil is our bioreactor, and we need to feed it with the right nutrients. The Brazilian biome is rich on biodiversity and as farmers and soil guardians we have a responsibility to bring life back to our farm again in a sustainable way of producing food.”

Click here to read more on Marcelo’s soil testing.

Improving soil health and carbon content

soil testing carbon
Soil testing

Modern agriculture practices have led to the systematic degradation of the world’s soil and release of carbon into the environment. The effects are increased need for expensive and environmentally dangerous inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides), the loss of fertile top soil, decrease in water holding capacity of soil and dangerously high levels of atmospheric carbon.

Farmers, industry, and environmentalists are looking for cost-effective and reliable ways to measure soil health, to assess impacts of progressive changes on soil and harvest management, and to measure carbon in soil. Before microBIOMETER®, growers have traditionally relied on expensive lab testing of soil. Many current methods are technique and individual lab dependent. Therefore, run-to-run and lab-to-lab variation can greatly affect consistency leading to increased variability. Current methods are performed in labs and the soil is aged and changed from the time of collection. Furthermore, lab tests are difficult to use in developing countries as they can cost upwards of $500 per sample. This makes the test prohibitive to some markets and limits the number of times a grower can test their soil.

Our mission at Prolific Earth Sciences is to enable soil stewards all over the world to use mobile technology and our low-cost soil test to assess regenerative soil practices, to improve soil health, and work towards increased soil carbon sequestration. microBIOMETER® equips growers with the data necessary to make decisions on which practices are the most cost-effective. Inputs such as fertilizers are expensive and changes to practice are risky. Monitoring soil microbial biomass inexpensively, in real time, can help a soil steward quickly assess if an input and practice is improving soil health and worth the investment. In other words, assess before you invest! We also envision microBIOMETER® one day being a powerful tool in the measurement and audit of carbon sequestration programs.

microBIOMETER® has been on the market for over 3 years with direct and distributor sales and currently has customers in over 20 countries.

microBIOMETER® educating farmers in the Gulf Region on the importance of life in the soil.

Sustainable Organic Q8 was launched in mid-2018, educating people on recycling their organic waste, being environmentally aware and teaching people how to grow whatever and wherever they can. As far as gardening/farming styles, Sustainable Organic focuses on the value of the living soil and the soil food web and teaching home gardeners and farmers to slowly shift the general culture from MONOCULTURE, “Babysitting plants” and providing all their needs from nutrients to medicine to DIVERSITY, Building and regenerating an ecosystem that will take care of itself or at least be a bit less exhaustive and much more sustainable.

Sustainable Organic has helped bring diversity above grounds back to the region in the past couple years. However, many people are still very new to the life underground and living soil. Their gardening/farming practices rely heavily on providing nutrients and immunity/medicine to plants. To them it is cheap, it works, and they’re so set in their ways that the idea of change is becomes a source of anxiety.

Although more and more gardeners are praising the life in the soil, they also practice routine solarization and refuse to refrain from it, reflecting their hazy understanding of soil biology and the soil food web and what it really takes to construct. Testing the soil to most growers means checking nutrient availability, water content and pH.

For the sake of adding some objectivity to soil biomass and increasing the value of soil biomass testing, Sustainable Organic sent microBIOMETER® test kits to popular gardeners in Kuwait, Saudi and Dubai to experiment with by testing their soils and compost. These gardeners have a large number of followers and they educate via social media, gardening courses, and workshops. By starting to broadcast microBIOMETER® as a means of testing the biomass in the soil and amending it based on the readings received, Sustainable Organic intends to create a trend in the region shifting the focus more on the life in the soil than the mineral content.

“microBIOMETER® is an innovation that has made it possible to quantify the life in the soil. This economic tool, I believe, not only helps us improve our soil at the gardening/farming level, but it can also help us deepen our understanding and comprehension of the soil food web and the LIFE underground. This will ultimately lead to a tremendous positive change at the psychological and behavioral level.  It’s common to see people in our region praising the life in the soil (finally), but then professing solarization at the end of or the beginning of a grow season. This is an obvious clash in concepts that we hope are not deeply understood. We believe with popularizing the use of the microBIOMETER®, we can help clear the fog!

It’s beautiful to see people go out in the middle of the desert and start digging holes to “build” soil, plant trees and mulch around them; then announce seeing mushrooms and biologic diversity; start talking about soil biology, arbuscular fungi and carbon sequestration and tell farmers near them to try out the living soil method learned from Sustainable Organic. They say think globally and act locally. We intend to revive the desert in the Arabian Peninsula with Mother Earth and her fever at heart!”

About Dr. Jassem Bastaki. Originally from Kuwait, Jassem acquired his education in Head and Neck Endocrine Pathology in Pittsburgh, PA. In 2012, he left Pittsburgh to practice diagnostics and oncology in Kuwait and in doing so transitioned from fertile land to urban settings in some of the harshest climates in the world. The stress from his line of work led him back to gardening; indoors and hydroponic initially until he learned how to garden outdoors no matter the climate or conditions. Every second he spent with his plants taught him more and more about life and the reality we are unaware of. “We are guests on this earth with everything else that lives on it and in it.” The more he realized what was missing and where to find it, he wanted to help everyone find their way back to earth.

Jassem is a microBIOMETER® distributor in the Gulf Region as well as Iraq, Jordan and Egypt.

Microbial Biomass vs. Microbial Respiration

What is the difference between microbial biomass (MB) and microbial respiration rate (RR) ?

Both parameters are used to assess soil microbial health. The respiration assay measures the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the microbes in a given weight of soil. The soil is dried and then rewetted and put in an airtight jar that allows measurement of the amount of CO2 produced over 24 hours. The CO2 is produced by the activity of the microbes in the rewetted soil. Between 20% and 70% of the microbes die during drying but their dead bodies often provide nutrition for the survivors to use and regrow the population to its original level.

Respiration reflects the regrowing work that is being done. The respiration level is often mistakenly believed to predict microbial biomass (MB), but it does not. Microbes in a low pH or toxic soil have to work harder, therefore, their respiration rate is higher, just as your respiration rate in the gym is higher than when you are watching TV. Outside of the U.S. the respiration rate (RR) is only considered in relation to MB and this q-value RR/MB is used to determine the level of stress in a soil. If RR is high for the MB, the soil is in trouble.

MB, as measured by microBIOMETER®, correlates with chloroform fumigation—always and microscopic evaluation of soil. It is an excellent predictor of soil health because the size of the microbial population correlates with the nutrition available in the soil. If the soil is deficient in carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus or any other mineral, or contains toxins, MB will be low. In fact, MB is low in any soil that is compacted, has a low pH or is overly dry, because microbes need oxygen and moisture and the correct pH for enzymatic activity.

In nature, the plant uses 30% of its food production to feed a microbial population that will mine the soil for the N, P, K, S etc. that it needs. Interestingly MB is low in soil treated with high levels of mineral fertilizers; researchers have shown that the stimulus for the plant to grow a microbial population is its need for nitrogen and phosphorus. If these are artificially supplied the plant is not stimulated to feed the microbes that usually provide these nutrients to the plant. And since the microbes are at least half of the immune system of the plant, you now need lots of pesticides to protect the plant.

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.

Soil research using microBIOMETER®

In the spring and early summer of 2020, the Nutrient Management Spear Program at Cornell University conducted a soil survey of yield-stability based management zones on a New York dairy farm.

Ben Lehman, research assistant in the Nutrient Management Spear Program at Cornell University, completed a study on the Within- Field Variability of Soil Characteristics and Corn Yield Stability on a New York Dairy Farm.

Ben utilized microBIOMETER® in his research to determine the microbial biomass of the soil samples.

This study was presented at the 2020 American Society of Agronomy Annual Meeting.

Source: Cornell Center for Materials Research