Microbes production and usage is able to address one of the key drawbacks in current agricultural practices, which is the lack of understanding on soil microbial activities, resulting in degraded soil physically, biologically and chemically over long term. It is a well-known fact that agricultural yields are declining globally over time due to adverse soil conditions due to continuous use of chemical-based fertilizers. If this trend continues, soil condition will face irreversible damage, resulting in man-made desertification around the worlds farmlands. Only around 50% of fertilizers actually go to the plant, the remaining is usually drained away by surface run-off to the waterways, polluting them in the process. Worldwide, close to 100 million tons of nitrogen are wasted every year in this way, resulting in excessive nutrient pollution in large lakes and oceans, creating “dead zones” that kills marine life. In 2017, the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” alone stretched to an area of 8,776 square miles, which signifies the huge environmental hazard being created by the use of these chemical-based fertilizers.
This is where soil microbes come to the rescue, as an ideal replacement for nitrogen-based fertilizers, by letting the microbes play the role of “manufacturing” the wholesome nutrients needed by the plant. Naturally, many types of soil microbes “fix” nitrogen by sucking the nitrogen gas from atmosphere, which plants cannot directly use, and converting it into bioavailable form of nutrient for the plants to absorb through their root. However, the widespread use of man-made fertilizer over the last century has reduced these microbes’ functions, which also play other critical roles in conditioning the soil, such as maintaining the soil structure, organic matter replacement, and other soil characteristics. With microbes’ rich soil, plants yield is increased, along with the quality of the produce.
The key types of soil microbes are bacteria, Actinomycetes, Fungi, Protozoa, and Nematodes. Each of them plays a critical and unique role in boosting soil health. In fertile soil, there may be hundreds of billions of microbes in a single gram of soil. Some of their key functions within the soil ecosystem are as below:
- Break down organic matters, cycling nutrients to provide Nitrogen and other essential nutrients, which acts as comprehensive and wholesome food for the plants.
- Act as natural insecticide/biocontrol agent to suppress parasitic organisms, which reduces dependency on chemical-based pesticides and fungicides.
- Produce output that stimulate plant growth, which can act as natural replacement for artificial plant growth hormones.
- Condition the soil to provide healthy soil structure, holding them together to prevent loss of nutrients when exposed to water.
- Detoxify harmful chemicals existing in the soil