Biodiversity Below Ground

Field of lush green grasses

Healthy Soils to Support Plant Growth

This is part five of our six-part Farm Gate series on soil—the foundation of our sustainable future.

Biodiversity is the collection of all living species on earth. The interdependent relationships between species and their interactions with the natural environment within a defined geographical area create an ecosystem. When these relationships are in balance, ecosystems are healthy.

Ecosystems can be big or small. They form naturally but can also be influenced by human activity. Farms and the areas that surround them are agroecosystems and are defined by the plants, animals and inputs present on the farm. Looking closely at healthy farm soils, you can find smaller ecosystems at play. Many species of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa and arthropods interact to create healthy soils to support plant growth. Here are the vital functions they perform.

Bacteria and fungi break down plant residue. They retain and convert nutrients to support crop growth and protect plant roots from disease-causing organisms. They support soil aggregation, aeration and water holding capacity for improved soil structure.

Nematodes and protozoa consume pests that feed on roots and bacteria and fungi. They release nutrients in a form that plants can use to support growth and regulate bacteria and fungi populations.

Arthropods shred plant litter as they feed on bacteria and fungi. They provide habitat for bacteria in their guts and fecal matter and enhance soil structure as they burrow.

Soil containing diverse soil organisms is healthy and resilient. It’s better able to support plants during drought, floods, heat waves and pest infestation. Practicing no-till farming and keeping soil rooted supports soil diversity. But there are two additional practices to consider when trying to maximize soil health.

  1. Diversify crops and cover crops. Different plant species rely on and support different soil organisms. Changing the crops and cover crops in your rotation will help support a diversity of soil organisms.
  2. Include livestock or other forms of organic inputs into your farm system.

We’ll share more on this topic in our next and final article in this series.   

Other articles in this series

Helpful resources

Improve soil structure with support from CVC

CVC’s Rural Water Quality Program helps farmers implement soil and water improvement projects on their farms. Project funding and technical expertise is available for eligible projects. Find your program and connect with us to get started.

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