TECHNOLOGY

How healthy is a farm soil? Check how active its germs are


But industrial agriculture is endangering these germs. When farmers focus on field rotation after fielding the same crop and killing non-profit plants (aka weeds) with chemicals, the microbiome may be less healthy. These methods have encouraged effective soil erosion due to the loss of arable land due to traditional tiling and urban construction. Increased flooding and drought due to climate change make the situation worse, with too much or too little water disturbing the balance of nutrients and living organisms in the soil.

This is a big problem because it can cause loss of biodiversity as well as economic loss for farmers. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which released an assessment of land degradation and recovery in 2018, at least 2.2 billion people have been affected by soil degradation. Although it is not limited to one region, sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Southeast Asia are the worst affected by industrialization and soil erosion.

Palin, a member of No-L, a non-profit soil health group in the plains, is already enthusiastic about these issues. “Soil is a very living system,” he says. His team advocates against tilting, as they say it causes erosion and destroys ecosystems in the soil. “I’m not sure that a single instrument will ever measure all the elements of healthy soil,” Palin said. But the probes that researchers at Washington State University are creating, he said, “could help see the trend.”

Jenny Cao-Niffin, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science, who was not involved in the study, said she saw the commitment of soil scientists to meet with engineers in this way. “One scenario where this tool can work well is to evaluate the impact of a management strategy on soil health or soil microbial activity, such as measuring the impact of pesticides or fumigants on soil biological activity,” Cao-Nifen said. “Another example is the evaluation of temporal changes in soil biological activity, which is shifting from conventional to organic farming methods.”

This is the next step: creating a probe that can be sent to farmers in real-time. To do this, they will make the device portable and easy to hit the ground. (The current version plugs into a wall and a computer.) Ideally, they want farmers to get real-time results on their mobile devices. “The dream is that by figuring out what our electrochemical measurements are about the soil, we can give farmers the tools to measure them more directly,” Friesen said, allowing them to adjust practices such as using pesticides and chemicals if sensors indicate the soil is not productive. .

Although it may be several years away, they hope that their probes will eventually be able to measure other things, such as the amount of organic matter and water. Beyenal envisions a complete database of soil measurements, taken from different fields, which can eventually be used to create a “soil indicator” or a numerical scale that can tell farmers how healthy their soil is. “We know soil health is really complex,” Beyonc বলেন said. “That’s our starting point. We want to provide some common numbers so people can understand it.”


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