Does adding minerals to the soil provide the same benefits to plants as building the soil’s biology? Beneficial microorganisms in the soil have more functions than science knows. The beneficial influences of soil microorganisms on plant growth are countless.  In this article we’ll explore some of these influences and find out ‘Why your soil needs biology more than minerals’

6 Key Benefits of Building Soil Biology

1. Soil Microorganisms Fix Atmospheric Nitrogen 

Nitrogen fixation plays a crucial role and benefit to plants. It is a process by which certain microorganisms convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can utilise for their growth and development.

In the soil, nitrogen fixation is primarily carried out by bacteria known as diazotrophs. These bacteria have the unique ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen gas (N2) into ammonia (NH3), which can then be further converted into plant-available forms.

The availability of fixed nitrogen in the soil is essential for plant nutrition, and is an essential element required for various biological processes, including protein synthesis, chlorophyll production, and overall plant growth.

Most plants are unable to directly utilise atmospheric nitrogen due to its inert nature, but this is where nitrogen-fixing bacteria play a vital role.

By converting atmospheric nitrogen into usable forms, these bacteria contribute to increasing the nutrient content of the soil. This enhanced soil fertility benefits plants by providing them with an adequate supply of nitrogen for their metabolic needs. 

2. Soil Microorganisms Unlock Bound Minerals

Soil microorganisms have the ability to unlock bound minerals in the soil, making minerals and trace elements available for plants to uptake.  These bacteria have the ability to break down organic matter and release essential nutrients, such as phosphorus and potassium, which are often bound or “locked up” in the soil.

By breaking down these organic compounds, beneficial bacteria make these nutrients more readily available for plants to uptake.

Locked up minerals refer to nutrients that are present in the soil but are not readily accessible to plants due to various factors like pH levels, organic matter content, or mineral composition. Beneficial soil microbes help break down these mineral complexes through processes like mineral solubilisation and chelation.

Mineral Solubilisation; involves the secretion of organic acids by certain microbes that can dissolve mineral compounds, releasing essential nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, and iron into a form that plants can absorb.

Chelation; is another mechanism where soil biology produce compounds called chelators that bind with minerals and prevent them from becoming insoluble or fixed in the soil.

By accessing locked up minerals, beneficial soil microbes enhance nutrient availability for plants. This leads to improved plant growth, increased nutrient uptake efficiency, and ultimately better overall crop health and yield.

3. Soil Biology Breaks Down Organic Matter

Soil microbes play a crucial role in breaking down organic matter in the soil, which in turn benefits plants and enhances soil fertility. These microscopic organisms, including bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, are responsible for the decomposition of dead plant and animal material into simpler forms.

When organic matter such as leaves, roots, and other plant debris accumulate on the soil surface or are incorporated into the soil, soil microbes begin their work.

Microbes secrete enzymes that break down complex organic compounds into smaller molecules that can be easily absorbed by plants.

The process of decomposition releases essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium back into the soil. These nutrients are then made available to plants for growth and development.

4. Soil Biology Builds Soil Structure

As organic matter decomposes, it improves the structure of the soil by enhancing its ability to hold water and nutrients.

Furthermore, beneficial bacteria produce sticky substances that bind soil particles together, improving soil aggregation and water infiltration. This activity helps create a favorable environment for plant roots to access both water and nutrients.

Microbes contribute to the formation of stable soil aggregates, which enhances water infiltration and retention capacity.

Furthermore, soil biology also forms mutualistic relationships with plants through symbiotic associations such as mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi form a network of fine threads called hyphae that extend into the root system of plants. In return for sugars produced by photosynthesis in plant leaves, mycorrhizal fungi help plants access nutrients from the soil more efficiently.

5. Biological Networks In The Soil Support Plant Immunity

Beneficial soil microorganisms play a crucial role in supporting plant immunity and enhancing soil fertility. These microorganisms form complex networks in the soil, known as microbial communities, which interact with plants in various ways.

One of the key benefits of microbial networks is their ability to improve plant health and enhance resistance against diseases and pests.

Certain strains of beneficial microbes can directly suppress pathogenic organisms by producing antimicrobial compounds or competing for resources. This helps to reduce the incidence and severity of plant diseases, leading to healthier crops.

Soil microorganisms

6. Soil Microorganisms Detox Chemicals From The Soil

The presence of beneficial microbes in the soil plays a crucial role in detoxifying it from harmful chemicals and pollutants. Soil microorganisms have the ability to break down and metabolise various toxic substances, thus improving soil health and fertility.

Beneficial microbes, and the addition of Biological Soil amendments containing microorganisms such as lactobacillus, have the capacity to degrade organic pollutants through a process called biodegradation.  They utilise enzymes to break down complex compounds into simpler forms that can be easily absorbed by plants or further decomposed by other microorganisms.

Detoxification not only reduces the concentration of harmful substances in the soil but also prevents their migration into groundwater or nearby ecosystems.

In summary, the presence of beneficial microorgansms and microbial networks in the soil is crucial for supporting plant immunity and maintaining optimal soil fertility. Harnessing their potential through sustainable agricultural practices can lead to healthier crops, reduced reliance on synthetic inputs, and improved overall ecosystem functioning.

By enhancing soil fertility through the presence of beneficial microorganisms, farmers can improve nutrient availability, enhance soil structure, and promote healthier plant growth.

In answer to the question ‘Why does your soil need biology more than minerals?’, if the soil is given what it needs to support the beneficial microorganisms and biological networks, then the biology will find the minerals.

Probiotics for Plants

Probiotics for human health are not new but the concept of managing plant health through the manipulation of probiotic organisms associated with plants has gained interest only recently.

Plant-specific stimulation of specific microbial groups in their rhizosphere suggests that plants may have evolved to strategically stimulate and support particular microbial groups capable of producing antibiotics as a defence against diseases caused by soil-borne pathogens.

Diseases caused by soil-borne fungal pathogens result in more than $150 million of annual production losses in cereal crops in Australia.

– Beneficial Microorganisms for Sustainable Agriculture by Vadakattu V.S.R. Gupta, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.  Download Article

Colonies of lactic acid bacteria

Colonies of lactic acid bacteria in SONIC Liquid Fish Hydrolysate (above image).

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