Healthy Microbes Make Healthy Soil

Soil microbes are an essential asset to maintaining soil health within crop fields. The microbiology and health or these organisms should be of top focus within management practices. Zac Freedman, assistant professor in Soil Science at UW-Madison was at the recent Agronomy and Soils Field Day in Arlington, Wisconsin to share some of the important aspects of soil microbes.

Freedman’s research in soil microbiology is focused on helping the microbiomes in fields thrive. One topic in his studies includes how crop management strategies can promote a microbial function called carbon use efficiency. That looks at how these organisms can efficiently assimilate carbon into their biomass, instead of it being released into the environment. Many studies have been done on how soil in Wisconsin has lost much of it’s carbon content over time, and this could be one technique to help replace some of the carbon that has been lost.

Healthy plant growth also depends on a healthy microbiome as well. Freedman stresses the importance of the symbiotic relationship that these microbes have with many different types of crops. Plants can fix carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and the carbon they take in gets put into the soil. That encourages root tissue growth that will eventually be decomposed by these microbes after the plant is gone. The carbon entering the soil also produces a sugar rich substance that can help feed the microbiome while the plant is still growing. In return, these microbes can feed the plant nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium which would otherwise be unavailable for its use.

Through studying soil microbiology, he observes that even though people know these microbes exist, they haven’t been focused on it enough. The big push for focusing on soil health lately has brought this topic to light, and has helped people realize that without a healthy soil microbiome, you won’t have a healthy and productive crop. Proper management practices, along with adding organic amendments when needed can help those soils where microbes may be suffering.