No-Till’s “Super Glue” Works Wonders

The improved organic matter in many no-tilled soils may be due to this unique compound.

Known as the glue that holds humus to soil particles, a gooey substance called glomalin plays a critical role in the success of your no-till program.

Glomalin was first discovered by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist Sara Wright in 1996. Produced naturally in your soil by the mycorrhizal fungi that lives on the roots of most plants, the sticky protein is part of the taxonomic order of fungi that’s responsible for many of the well-known benefits that you receive due to improved soil organic matter with no-till. The staffer with the ARS Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., recently used nuclear magnetic resonance imaging to determine that glomalin is structurally different than any other component in organic matter.

Boosting No-Till Soil Life

No-tilling results in more fungi living on your plant roots that use carbon to produce more glomalin and healthier soils. Wright believes the glomalin clumps soil particles together besides preventing erosion and keeping soil carbon from escaping into the air. These clumps also become miniature storehouses for moisture and plant nutrients.

As the roots grow, the glomalin sloughs off into the soil where it acts as a “super glue” by helping sand, silt and clay particles stick to each other and to the organic matter. While glomalin gives good no-tilled soils their tilth and feel, Wright says the soil would be just loose dust and bits of organic matter that are highly susceptible to wind and water erosion without it.

In her research, Wright found 2.7…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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