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Soil Care Network Newsletter

August 2019

by Anna Krzywoszyńska

 

Research

  • What may soil security mean in practice? This paper by Bennett et al discusses Australian Soil Security framework as an example of how soil security may be mobilised to support better land use and food system.

  • Amino acid tagging gives scientists a new tool to understand the activity of soil microbes in situ. “Studying soil microbiomes can be challenging because soil is heterogeneous (...) Parsing out which microbes are living in a soil is “almost impossible” because soils are dense, complex, and opaque (...)  scientists have traditionally relied on indirect methods, like analyzing DNA, to determine what microbes are in the soil. “However, when we collect DNA from soil, we get not only DNA from active microbes, but DNA from microbes that have died [or] are dormant.” Getting DNA from inactive microbes can muddy the water in microbiome studies. Malmstrom explains that determining which cells are active or inactive is important when trying to understand which microbes consume certain organic matter or cycle nutrients.” The method has already allowed researchers to show that soil microbe communities at depth (72cm) are much more active than previously expected

  • As more soil is polluted with heavy metals, finding ways of assessing which soils are safe for growing crops in becomes more important. A heavy metals soil analysis tool developed by XJTLU in China looks like a promising way forward

  • To store carbon in the soils, we need to combine cover crops with compost. Research by researchers at UC Davies, incl. Soil Care Network member Kate Scow, shows that while planting cover crops increases carbon in the top layer of the soil, it depletes it in deeper layers, leading to overall carbon loss. Combining cover crop with compost, however, is a very successful carbon capture strategy. "One reason we keep losing organic matter from soils is that our focus is on feeding the plant, and we forget the needs of others who provide important services in soil like building organic carbon," said senior author Kate Scow, director of the UC Davis Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility. "We need to feed the soil, too."

Soils in the news

 

  • An exciting development in the US, where an open-source platform is launched for farmers to share soil data and support one another in better soil management while collaborating with researchers. The too, called OpenTEAM, “offers field-level carbon measurement, digital management records, remote sensing, predictive analytics and input and economic management decision support in a connected platform that reduces the need for farmer data entry while improving access to a wide array of tools. The platform will support adaptive soil health management for farms of all scales, geographies and production systems. OpenTEAM will also accelerate scientific understanding of soil health by providing more high-quality data to researchers collaborating on the project.”

 

Soils policy and social movements

  • To help address food insecurity and soil quality degradation, the Namibian government launches the ‘plant a tree’ project, which will provide food-insecure families with fruiting tree seedlings

Editorials, blogs and opinion

  • This long read on the research into plant-fungal interactions is excellent for many reasons. Firstly, it shows the importance of sociological concepts, such as justice, cooperation, and competition, to the scientific understandings of ecological processes. Secondly, it highlights some very exciting research into how plants and fungi work together and perhaps even communicate. Finally, it has some beautiful animations and videos of underground exchanges.

Resources

  • An interesting 15-part podcast series, Soil Sense, explores how the agricultural sector can move to soil care. “We believe that building healthier soils is not just a prescription, but rather a pursuit. This journey requires collaboration, curiosity, and communication among farmers, agricultural researchers, agronomists, consultants, and extension. You’re going to hear their stories and discover how and why they’re working together to make sense out of what’s happening in the soil.” Tune in here

  • The Soil Health Bucket is a versatile tool for delivering soil health education, distributed by the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition

  • If you are looking for some soil health training in the UK, a Network member Niels Corfield is offering a range of courses this autumn, 'The courses provide practical advice to help attendees improve farm production, as well as realising other benefits such as flood risk reduction and biodiversity enhancement'. '.