New soil test can be tied to yield

Feeding soil microbes comes from feeding plants, says A & L Labs research

Imagine being able to predict yield just from a soil health test.

A & L Labs in London believes it has found a way to do so, with 93 per cent accuracy.

Greg Patterson, CEO of A & L Labs, said while announcing the new VitTellus Soil Health test at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show that they have spent eight years working on the soil health test.

The VitTellus soil health report comes from an algorithm analyzing 427 different data points.

The algorithm sends out a report score from zero to 60.

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The basis of the soil health test comes from some new thinking that Patterson has done that challenges some of the conventional thinking on the role of feeding microbes in the soil.

“How are these plants communicating with the bugs and how do these bugs get used by the plants and what cultivates them? It’s not what everybody’s been thinking.”

Conventional wisdom says that heavy use of agriculture inputs, like pesticides and chemical fertilizers harm the health of the microbes in the soil.

It’s more about balanced soil health and soil fertility in general, he said.

Patterson is convinced that it is the plant that feeds carbon to the soil microbes. As a result, the most important thing you can do is feed the plant to feed the microbes.

“The reason cover crops work is we feed these bugs,” he said.

Forty to fifty per cent of photosynthates go in the ground from the crops, he said. Once you harvest the crop, that source of nutrients for the microbes is gone and they are not fed for the rest of the year.

Soil inoculants are popular and they work to populate an area with increased numbers of soil microbes, said Patterson. But there are some who claim they don’t stick around. That’s because they aren’t continually being fed by the plant.

And if there’s poor soil health, and the plants aren’t being fed well, the chemicals put onto the field, will “beat the heck out of these bugs,” said Patterson.

Some sellers try to pitch inoculants as leading to reductions or eliminations in other inputs, meaning that if enough soil microbes are added, then there can be a reduction in use of fertilizer and pesticides. Patterson argues that you need to support the plants, which feed the microbes and that includes keeping them healthy.

A & L is also looking to isolate helpful soil microbes. They’ve looked at 4500 ‘bugs’ and have isolated 1500 whose function they understand.

A farmer planning to move to organic production was going to stop using fertilizer. They changed their mind after discussing their soil health report with Patterson.

The fertilizer isn’t poison, it’s plant food, said Patterson.

“Nutrient balance is everything. For those of you that have a love affair with N, it’s not about N, it’s about all the other stuff. Keep that in mind,” said Patterson.

About the author

Editor

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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