The importance of soil health is becoming a more urgent focus for growers. While soil health and improving soil quality are important topics, it is often hard for growers to understand what happens within the soil and how it can have major impacts on their crops.
Soil is more than meets the eye – it’s full of microscopic living organisms, known as microbes. A single teaspoon of soil on a farm contains over a billion of these microbes, such as bacteria and fungi. This is known as the soil microbiome – the invisible, living biological component of the soil, which is a key indicator of soil health. When active, the beneficial microbes work to support crops in a variety of ways, including improving the soil’s structure and water holding capacity, and helping to release crucial nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium into the soil for eventual crop uptake.
The health of the soil microbiome and water storage are intimately linked. Active microbes help soil bind together – bacteria by secreting a glue-like substance called extracellular polysaccharides, and fungi by weaving soil particles together with their net-like extensions called hyphae. As microbes bind more and more soil particles together, they form aggregates, which give soil an excellent structure. This improved structure is what gives soil the desired property of excellent water holding capacity and productivity.
Unfortunately, soil microbes in the field lack a proper food source and go dormant as a survival strategy. Research shows about 75% of soil microbes are dormant. Soil with an inactive microbiome, coupled with drought (like the one we had this summer across much of North America), cannot effectively store water for the crops to grow to their potential. Soils with poor structure also cannot drain off excess moisture. Both are key to optimizing overall plant and crop health.
Water holding capacity is like a savings account for water, allowing your soil to store water for later and to be able to effectively drain water away if it becomes too much. For that, you need an active, well-fed microbiome. This is where a microalgal food source, like PhycoTerra® soil amendment, can be beneficial.
Microalgae serve as a superior food source for soil microbes, both active and dormant. Feeding microalgae wakes them up and gets them back to work. When they do this, they begin to put soil back together by creating those fungal threads and bacteria-based “glues” mentioned earlier. Improved soil structure leads to better soil health, which improves water holding capacity.
How it Works
PhycoTerra® delivers a balanced, superior food source to a diverse range of beneficial microbes. It wakes up the native microbes already in your soil and can be applied to various soil types, crops and cropping systems, such as no-till, conventional tillage, and cover crops. PhycoTerra® can be applied around planting through pre-emergence either by in-furrow or spray application with other common ag inputs.
PhycoTerra® kickstarts a fast microbial response, which is key in Canada. The biggest challenge Canadian growers face, especially on the Prairies, is time. The growing season isn’t long. Anything growers can do to boost their soil health is going to have benefits. Third-party trials testing PhycoTerra® performance from New Brunswick to Alberta delivered significant yield improvements at the end of that shorter growing season.
In 2021, growers saw yield and return on investments on their crops when applying PhycoTerra® early in the season. The early start helped the plants push through abiotic stress like high temperatures and low soil moisture availability by helping soil store water for later for when the crop really needed it. By the end of the season, growers saw the positive impact of a healthy soil microbiome with improved plant response and ultimately better crop yield.