Microbes digest soil mineral reserves and break down residues to create plant-available nutrients. Beneficial microbes also keep pathogens in check through processes such as competitive exclusion. A healthy soil has abundant and diverse populations of microbes - bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and more. In many cases, however, applications of pesticides, high-salt fertilizers, as well as excessive tillage can throw the system out of balance. Management practices intended to boost plant production can often have inadvertent, negative effects on soil microbial life.
By inoculating with known beneficial microbes, you can re-introduce plant-growth promoting, nutrient-delivering, disease suppressing life back into your soil.
There has been much buzz recently about a type of fungus that's a bit easier to say than it is to spell - mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi have a symbiotic relationship with over 80% of all agricultural crops; they receive sugars from the plant and in exchange provide nutrients and water, especially in times of drought. The fine filaments (called hyphae) expand the root zone of the plant - sometimes up to tenfold - and deliver hard-to-reach nutrients, such as phosphorus and zinc. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are the most common type of mycorrhizae in crops, and in addition to their role in providing nutrition to plants, they are major players in the production of organic matter. They produce large quantities of a substance called glomalin, which is critical for building stable carbon in the soil. So if you're looking to increase organic matter levels on your farm, inoculating with mycorrhizal fungi is a key component.
The latest in plant research shows that certain microbes can enhance plant growth in a variety of ways. These include bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis, which stimulate plant growth as well as induce immune resistance. Certain species of Trichoderma (fungi) similarly increase plant growth, and are known to be predators of root-feeding nematodes and other disease causing organisms. Phosphorus-solubilizing bacteria and free-living nitrogen fixers can increase plant growth by providing otherwise unavailable nutrients.
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