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Soil - a deep dive

Soil - a deep dive

By Andi Anderson

A recent study conducted by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Cornell University delves into the beliefs of organic vegetable farmers regarding the soil microbiome and its influence on their farming methods.

The research aimed to uncover how these beliefs shape the agricultural practices they adopt, particularly in terms of soil management.

“There is very little research on what farmers think about the soil microbiome and what it means for which agricultural practices they adopt,” explained Shadi Atallah, an associate professor at Illinois.

This study serves to bridge that knowledge gap, focusing on organic farmers’ perspectives and their economic motivations to adopt microbiome-friendly practices.

The team surveyed 85 organic vegetable farmers in New York, collecting data on their beliefs, practices, and motivations, alongside soil samples from their fields.

An overwhelming majority, 96%, recognized the impact of the microbiome on plant defenses and pest suppression. However, opinions varied on the practices that promote a healthy microbiome.

Lead author Elias Bloom of Cornell highlighted the correlation between beliefs and practices. “Farmers who believed on-farm practices such as no-till or cover crops are important for influencing the microbiome also tended to adopt those practices,” he stated.
This finding aligns with existing literature advocating for these methods as beneficial for the microbiome.

Further analysis showed that farm size and the farmer’s age influenced the adoption of these practices.

Larger farms, often less diverse, were less likely to implement no-till and biological mulches. “To promote these ecosystem benefits, researchers need to think about how to bring no-tillage and diversified crop production to a larger scale so they can be more manageable for larger farms,” Bloom suggested.

As the study progresses, the researchers will analyze the soil samples to further connect microbiological data with farmers' beliefs.

This comprehensive approach aims to provide insights into incentivizing specific organic practices through potential market incentives, such as microbiome-friendly ecolabels on food products.

“Understanding why different farmers might select different practices based on what they believe about the microbiome is a first step to understanding how to incentivize certain kinds of organic practices,” Atallah concluded, outlining the long-term vision of the research.

This study contributes to our understanding of organic farming dynamics and opens the door to more tailored and effective agricultural policies.

Photo Credit: illinois-state-university

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Categories: Illinois, Education, Rural Lifestyle, Sustainable Agriculture

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