Tillage: Harness the invisible power of soil's biology
As tillage farmers, we often underestimate the contribution that soil flora and fauna can make to our crops. At the National Compost Conference recently, the emphasis was on the role that compost can play in maintaining vital soil processes.
The main areas of interest were in nutrient supply, organic matter maintenance, moisture retention, soil structure enhancement and contribution to soil biology. The topic of soil biology generated a good discussion.
Soil biology is essentially concerned with the living part of the soil including fungi, bacteria, worms, beetles, slugs, leatherjackets and lots more.
Earthworms are probably the most obvious soil inhabitant and are generally looked on as beneficial. Despite the bad press they get, slugs, symphilids, and nematodes all play beneficial roles in organic matter breakdown.
The problem with these latter organisms is that they sometimes find it difficult to differentiate between the crop and organic debris.
Soil organic matter requirements, as outlined by the Department of Agriculture, are mainly concerned with maintaining soil stability and minimising soil erosion, which has a negative impact on water quality.
Organic matter is the only soil component that the farmer has any control over. The percentage of organic matter in soil influences the activity of the vast army of soil microbes. A living soil, with the correct balance of fungi, microbes, various insect groups and worm populations, acts to make nutrients available to the crop.
Growers using organic manures are extremely dependent on good soil biological activity. The process of these beneficial soil activists is regulated by the soil temperature, pH level, oxygen and moisture content.