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Organic farmers’ practices shaped by soil microbiome beliefs

Organic farmers’ practices shaped by soil microbiome beliefs

By Andi Anderson

Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Cornell University have conducted a pivotal study that investigates the relationship between organic farmers' beliefs about the soil microbiome and their agricultural practices.

The study focuses on how these beliefs shape decisions that ultimately affect plant defenses and pest control.

Associate Professor Shadi Atallah, from the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at Illinois, emphasized the scarcity of research on farmers' perceptions of the soil microbiome and its influence on their farming choices.

The goal is to understand the economic incentives behind adopting microbiome-friendly practices in organic farming.

The study surveyed 85 organic vegetable farmers in New York, assessing their beliefs, practices, and motivations.

It also involved collecting soil samples from their farms to analyze the interaction between soil microbes and plant defenses.

The researchers provided the farmers with information about how soil microbiomes affect plant health, then gauged their agreement with various factors that influence these tiny ecosystems.

Lead author Elias Bloom, a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell, noted that while 96% of the farmers believed in the microbiome's impact on plant defenses, there was a diverse range of beliefs about the factors promoting a healthy microbiome.

The study identified seven clusters of beliefs centered around the impact of on-farm practices, external factors, and their combinations.

Farmers who believed that practices like no-till farming or cover cropping were beneficial for the microbiome were more likely to implement these methods.

These practices are generally supported by scientific literature as beneficial for maintaining a healthy soil ecosystem.

Demographic factors such as farm size and the farmer's age also influenced the adoption of specific practices. Larger farms, for example, were found to be less diversified and less likely to adopt no-till practices, indicating a need for strategies to scale such practices effectively.

To effectively promote microbiome-friendly farming practices, Atallah suggests using socio-economic characteristics as proxies for farmer beliefs, as these are more observable and measurable.

The next phase of the research will involve analyzing the collected soil samples to directly link changes in the microbiome with economic theories and current farmer beliefs.

This research deepens the understanding of organic farming motivations and highlights the broader implications for human health, drawing parallels between soil health and the human gut microbiome.

Photo Credit: gettyimages-sasiistock

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