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As a no-tiller, Ralph Alshouse recognizes the importance of nurturing the living organisms found in the soil to produce high-yielding crops. An intensive study of many of the soil conditions found in no-till has helped him fully understand what is occurring with the soils in his Corydon, Iowa, no-till corn and soybean operation.
“Good soil tilth is only a thrifty multitude of thousands and thousands of interacting living soil creatures,” he says. “It all starts with the lowly earthworm that feeds on crop residues, manure and other recycled creatures. From earthworms, we can then go to nematodes.”
Alshouse says that nematodes are much simpler than earthworms and are not made up of body segments. He finds that nematodes are useful indicators of soil health because they are diverse and perform many functions of fiber digestion that make food available to no-till plant roots.
While 20,000 species of nematodes have been described by researchers, as many as half a million different types may exist that eat bacteria, fungi, protozoa and other nematodes. Unfortunately, Alshouse says no-till soil compaction reduces the population of nematodes, which need space between soil particles to move around.
To further reduce no-till soil erosion, he found that a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study of soil structure indicates that a strain of fungi called glomalin is the glue that is used to hold the various pieces and parts together.
Alshouse is convinced that no-till encourages the growth of soil organisms…