Successful farming depends on successful crop management, starting with the smallest building blocks. Microorganisms drive the crop growing system and ensure the success of your harvests for years to come. Learning about these tiny, important creatures can make an outsized difference in your farm’s success.
What Are Microorganisms?
Microorganisms are small forms of life that can live as single cells, though many form colonies of cells. They help crops grow while also fighting off harmful bacteria. The average handful of soil contains billions of different living organisms, including larger species of bugs and worms as well as tiny microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, algae and protozoa. Perhaps surprisingly, more microorganisms exist in topsoil than in subsoil. They are most abundant next to plant roots.
How Do Microorganisms Help Plant Health?
At the most basic level, most plants need a combination of three basic macro-nutrients–nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium—to thrive. Throughout their growth cycle, individual plants also require a variety of other nutrients.
Microorganisms help connect plants with the nutrients in the soil and encourage growth. This symbiotic process is sometimes called the soil foodweb. Once the nutrients are available, soil organisms aid in a process known as mineralization, helping to break down nitrogen and other nutrients and return them to their mineral forms so they are more easily absorbed and utilized.
Microorganisms help bring and retain nutrients in the soil; compete with, inhibit, and consume disease-causing agents; help speed decomposition of plant residue, toxic materials, and pollutants that threaten the integrity and health of plant roots; and form soil aggregates that improve water infiltration, root penetration, and water retention capacities of the soil.
How Do You Care for and Encourage Microorganisms?
It’s important to properly fuel the engine that drives your crop growing system. Helping the microorganisms thrive allows the entire growing environment to flourish. To help ensure their success, take some basic steps to encourage the growth of essential microorganisms on your property.
Adding organic material to your soil provides food for microorganisms, which enhances their ability to help crops grow. Managing your soil’s oxygen and water holding capacity will also improve your soil fertility and plant health.
Crop protection products and more conventional methods of farming may kill these beneficial microorganisms. It can take significant time for microorganisms to recover and regain control after exposure. Take care to plan the right formula and schedule for using the correct methods to counteract these deleterious methods.
As soil aggregates are broken, the organic matter mixes and the balance of bacteria and fungi can change quite significantly. Overly dry soil and excessively wet soil can cause tremendous shifts in microbial populations. These shifts are normal but not really desirable. In both extremes these microbes will generally die. The most beneficial microorganisms live in an environment that has a balance of air and water. There are steps to be made that can help deter these occurrences, but total elimination is unlikely.
If you make the effort to determine and execute the correct steps for your unique soil enhancement and maintenance needs, you will start to see larger life forms (such as earthworms), which are a good indicator that the smaller life forms are thriving. You will also see other gains in the life of your soil.
Expert Advice at Your Fingertips
SoilRight can help you evaluate your soil’s health and determine how you can improve it. Improving the microcosm can help increase yields, improve the health of your crops, minimize disease, and encourage overall productivity and profit. Contact us today to schedule a consultation for a soil analysis and see how these tiny powerhouses can help make a huge difference.