In every agronomic system, three fundamental components of soil need to be considered; the chemical, physical and biological. The proper evaluation and integration of these soil components insure plants have good soil, develop strong roots and have proper nutrition to complete the crop cycle.
The chemical and physical components of soil have been exhaustively studied and well documented in thousands of agronomy textbooks. The application of this knowledge of organic and inorganic chemistry has modernized and revolutionized agriculture throughout the world. The application of chemical technology in agriculture has made it so efficient and successful; it not only transformed agriculture, but also literally transformed the world by changing agrarian dominated cultures into diverse integrated societies.
Because of the many years of successful use of chemistry in agriculture, we have become so confident and comfortable with that success that we have neglected one of the basic components of soil; the biological component. Soil microbiology has always been acknowledged as an important part of soil management and crop production, but maybe with the exception of using chemistry to suppress an undesirous biological problem, the biological component of soil is often left to its own devices, overlooked or ignored entirely. Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter if you grow row crops, permanent crops or simply work with a backyard landscape – the process of growing is a biological and biochemical process. You can support these biological and biochemical processes with nutrition supplied through chemistry, but you cannot replace them.
Cultural management practices, constant soil disturbance, fertilizer and pesticide applications have all contributed to the slow erosion of the biological component of soil. Cultivation of soil radically changes the biological nature of soil. It depletes both the quantity and quality of humus in the soil and with it the biodiversity of micro-organisms which are responsible for the efficient cycling of nutrients. The biological components of soil are certainly harder to measure and characterize than chemical components, but their evidence of decline is most evidenced by the ever increasing inputs in terms of NPK to achieve the same agronomic result. If the addition of NPK was the simple answer, agronomy would not exist as a science and every grower would be successful. Maintaining soil fertility is much more complex and sophisticated than replacing macro and micro nutrients. A major part of that complexity and sophistication is the role the biological component of soil plays.
Although there is much more to learn about this biological component of soil, much is already known. Many strategies have been useful in supporting these important biological soil processes necessary for not only successful, but sustainable agriculture.
Agricultural soils that are continuously cropped are the antithesis of the example of virgin top soil. It is changed from a system of high plant diversity where all carbon is returned to the soil to a monoculture where a single species of plant is grown. The crop is harvested and nutrients and carbon (energy) is removed from the system. Crop residue that is returned to the soil is of a single type that erodes the diversity of carbon types stored in the humus bank. The continuously cropped agricultural soil erodes the humus bank (organic matter) in soil. The transient humus is used up quickly. The loss of transient humus erodes the diversity of microbial activity and the ability of the system to recycle nutrients. The energy of the system is being used much faster than it can be returned to the system. Soon you have a situation where you are trying to operate a high performance automobile on a very low octane fuel. It works, but not very efficiently. It takes more and more inputs (fertilizer) to achieve the same result.
The importance of organic matter in soil is widely discussed and debated, but the general conclusion is that fertile productive soil is characterized by the quantity and quality of humus it contains. Continuously cropped soils erodes both the quality and quantity of the humus which leads to what I call “Biological Erosion” of soil. There is no fancy chemical replacement for what is imparted to soil by complex biological processes. These can only be replaced by biological processes.
The product line produced by SOBEC, Inc. was designed to replace and restore as many of these specific biological processes as possible. All products contain a diverse population of non-successive beneficial microbes, a host of microbial metabolites, soluble or active humus from natural sources and humus derived from microbial fermentation. Soil fertility is the integration of the chemical, the physical, and the biological properties of soil. SOBEC®, VESTA® and BHF-10 support the biological properties that are widely acknowledged as being crucial to any fertility program.