Environmental Laboratory

Naturally Reducing Dependency on Synthetic Fertilisers and Other Chemicals - A Novel Approach to Soil Health Assessment

Jun 03 2010

Author: Dr Vinodh Krishnamurthy, Sue Wilson on behalf of Olympus Europa SE & CO.KG

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Located in Hampshire UK and set up by former F1 racing driver Jody Schekter, Laverstoke Park Farm is an organic and biodynamic operation producing an eclectic range of crops and livestock, including a herd of water buffalo. At the foundation of the farm’s approach is the maintenance of a diverse and healthy soil biological population. This is because the soil is a highly complex ecosystem and the organisms living within it are critical to its quality and ultimately that of the farm’s produce. Consequently, the farm has established the only licensed Soil Foodweb Laboratory in Europe. Utilising this proprietary soil health testing technique, the laboratory studies the activity of different groups of beneficial microorganisms in the soil on behalf of a variety of farms, forests and even golf courses throughout Europe.

Soil biology is often neglected, but is critical to a healthy farming environment. Soil Foodweb testing provides a way of implementing a biological approach to soil health which has helped growers to reduce their dependency on synthetic fertiliser and other chemical inputs as the soil biological activity increases. This testing technique was originally established by Dr Elaine Ingham at Oregon State University, USA, and is now commercially established and used by growers around the world. This article discusses Soil Foodweb testing in more detail and how it is now helping growers globally to maintain a healthy farming environment naturally.

Why Soil Life is Important
Micro-organisms perform a multitude of roles in the soil, including decomposing organic matter and in doing so releasing nutrients to the plant. The activity of soil micro-organisms also improves the water holding capacity and the structure of the soil. This makes the soil more porous, allowing better root penetration, which in turn means that plants have greater access to oxygen, nutrients and water. Through their role in nutrient cycling and decomposition of organic compounds, such as pesticides, micro-organisms can also affect the amounts of pollutants in the environment. Maintaining a healthy balance of beneficial micro-organisms can also actively keep out plant pathogens by either preying on them directly, or by enhancing general plant health. All of which helps to achieve a more sustainable farm.

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