MICROSCOPIC ALLY: MANAGING YOUR MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI FOR HEALTHY SOIL
There is a whole other microscopic world to your farm, and it lies just below your feet. It is said that just one teaspoon of soil can contain “1 billion bacteria, 120,000 fungi, and 25,000 algae”1! Today, I want to introduce you to just one of those microorganisms, your ally to Mycorrhizal fungi.
A Mycorrhizal fungi is a threadlike microorganism that lives beneath the soil and within the roots of your plants. The fungi and your plants have a symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship. For example, the fungi aids the plant in a variety of ways, including2;
- Expands the root network from 10 to 1000 times 3
- Will absorb and transport all Macro and Micronutrients 3
- Improve soil health and quality; soil structure, soil moisture retention, and water movement through the soil
- More protection against pathogens
- Reduced issues related to soil erosion
- More communication between plant communities, where the fungi will relay important messages from plant to plant (i.e. predator, pest, or pathogen threats)
And of course, in exchange for all the hard work the fungi have performed, the plant releases carbohydrates, which are a food source for the fungi.
Around 90% percent of the plants on the planet are actually connected by these Mycrohizzal fungal networks! This benefits important crops such as wheat, rice, maize, oats, and barley greatly.4
Encourage the growth of Mycorrhizal fungal networks by:
Reducing Tillage: When you till the soil you damage the structures within the Mychorhizal fungi. It’s recommended that in order to encourage fungal growth you should focus on low or no tillage.
Reduce Erosion: Retaining the structure and integrity of the soil is an important step to encouraging soil microorganisms such as fungi.
Reduce High Rates of Fertilizer: When high rates of fertilizer, specifically phosphate, are used it can discourage the growth of these fungal networks.
Crop Rotations: There are some crops such as Canola, buckwheat, forage radish, camelina, and mustards that actually discourage the growth of the Mycorrhizal fungi. This means when considering crop rotations, remember fields that once had the crops listed above will have poor Mychorrizal development. You should not rotate in a crop that’s heavily dependent on these fungal connections because they will not have a strong enough presence in the soil and will need to be developed further with an intermediate crop that requires only a minimal Mychorrizal fungi network.
Cover Crops: Because Mycorrhizzal fungi survive via the carbohydrate input from the plant, when you chose to fallow, the mycorhizzal fungi population can decrease.
Written and Published by Jessica Kohls, BSc, PgCE – Dutch Biologist