Soil: Schools of Thought

September 1, 2014

Attending many soil workshops and talks recently, I’ve learned a lot. Here’s my paraphrase of the essence of each thought leaders’ message so far.

Elaine Ingham is a leader in soil microbiology and research of the soil food web. At a day-long workshop at NOFA Summer Conference, she emphasized getting the biology right (ratio of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, etc) by using aerobic compost and tea which will lead to healthier plants and profits. Major insight: better understanding of the relationships in the soil food web.

Cornell Soil Health team put together a four-day workshop on soil health assessment. We visited research and commercial farms, learned about their assessment and testing procedures, and talked through management scenarios. Major insight: most of the time, the chemical aspect of soil is fine. It’s the biological and physical properties that are in a degraded state. We need to assess soil health holistically. Use cover crops!

Christine Jones is an Australian soil ecologist and did a day-long workshop organized by NOFA. Her message was that what drives the soil carbon building process is microbes and more importantly photosynthesis. We briefly touched on the role of ruminants on grasslands. Major insight: We need to become light farmers to put carbon back into the ground.

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2 Responses to “Soil: Schools of Thought”

  1. gmoke Says:

    Thanks for the gist. I think Christine Jones would agree with “use cover crops!” Especially the exclamation point.

    • Hao Chen Says:

      Thanks, George. In my mind, I put together the two pyramids she drew into one: People -> Animals -> Plants -> Soil -> Microbes -> Photosynthesis, and human behavior change could be the leverage point to act as a “trophic cascade” to change the amount of photosynthesis happening.


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