In the past, a large percent of crop production was focused on chemical usage, followed by mechanical technology, and lastly biological considerations. Ben Elliott, vice president of agronomy operations at Brookside Agra/Cardinal Agriculture Services, says the future of crop production hinges on understanding soil biology and structure.
"We are learning about a whole new dynamic to agronomy today in growing crops and it is very exciting," Elliott says. "From my time in the industry, I have seen people absolutely push back on what we talk about, and now we have evidence that microbiology is viable. In reality, biology has more to do with the health, production and yield in your crop than does mechanical or chemical aspects of it."
Just like the human microbiome contains populations of microorganisms that colonize the gut, mouth, skin and other areas of the body, populations of microorganisms colonize the soil and all things growing within the soil, he says. There are populations of microbial species that exist on and around the plant, but an overwhelming majority of them exist below the soil line.
"We share some of the same relationships in our own bodies with microbes that we need doing work for us in the soil where we grow crops. Those microbial species in the soil are responsible for ensuring that the functioning systems work efficiently and keep it thriving and healthy. Think of the soil as the 'gut' of farming."
Microbes in the soil, which include bacteria and fungi, are beneficial to the health of the soil, and in turn, vegetation growing in those soils, he says.
"The diseases that occur in your crops are a direct result of the balance of the microbes that are in your soil," Elliott explains. "If we pay attention to the biological structure of our soil, we set ourselves up with a soil environment that can hold more water and nutrients and create a symbiotic exchange of water and nutrients between the plant and the soil."
O'Fallon, Ill.-based Brookside Agra has developed an all-natural water conservation agent called H2OExcel, formulated with humic acid-containing biologicals, extracts from desert plants and other non-plant-derived nutrient enhancers, that work to increase biological activity in the soil and defend against soil and plant dehydration. Using H2OExcel on crops, turf and other types of vegetation has been scientifically proven in multiple independent university studies and field trials to:
- Decrease water usage by 30-50%
- Lower costs to maintain vegetation
- Increase plant strength
- Reduce crop failure
- Increase root mass
"H2OExcel is highly efficient and works to naturally change the polarity of water and soil to keep water available deeper in the soil profile. This results in supercharged biological activity within the soil that paves the way for vital nutrients to reach a growing plant and its root zone," Elliott says.
For example, there are many microbes, such as nitrogen (N)-fixing bacteria, that help to naturally produce N in the soil, one of the most limiting nutrients in crop production and one that is easily lost from the soil system. Plants with access to adequate amounts of N exhibit dark green healthy leaves and vigorous growth.
H2OExcel helps to promote an environment within the soil where beneficial N-fixing bacteria can multiply and thrive. Microbes in the soil, particularly bacteria, are driven by temperature and moisture.
"These types of bacteria create symbiotic associations with the roots of legumes like peas and beans, and trees such as alder and locust. When these bacteria infect a growing root hair, visible nodules are created which allows the plant to supply simple carbons to the bacteria. The bacteria in turn converts N from the air into a form that the plant host can use. When leaves or roots from the host plant decompose, soil N content is increased nearby," Elliott says.