Do you know what’s in a handful of soil?

Soil is a haven for biodiversity and micro-organisms. The world’s soil contains between one quarter and one third of all living organisms. These organisms need to be protected.

Organisms which increase soil fertility, fix nitrogen and mineralise nutrients for example need to be looked after in our soils.

Fiona Brennan – Teagasc – explained to the attendance at the Biological Farming conference that while we still know relatively little about soil organisms, what is clear is that the abundance and diversity changes with soil types and is impacted by management. Soil management is really important for soil biodiversity.

The importance of soil in society

“About 95% of all our food comes from soils, but this is actually just one of a whole range of functions that soil provides for agriculture and also to the broader society.

It sequesters carbon; filters and purifies our water; it is a major driver of global nutrient cycling. It’s a huge store of biodiversity.

“Soil also provides chemicals that are important for society. For example, most of our antibiotics that are used in hospitals today all come from soils. Soils provide a huge range of functions.

These functions are underpinned by the biology. It’s not just that the biology is living in soil; it’s part of the soil. This is what makes soil – when you strip out the biology you lose most of the functions.

Fiona described the diverse range of biology in soil and the different jobs it has. She explained that the microbes in the soil range from the very microscopic – that can only be seen under a microscope – up to nematodes and protozoa; and then to visible organisms like earthworms, ants and wood lice.

There are more organisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on the planet.

Fiona added that only about 1% of soil microbes have been identified.

“These microbes vary between soil types, textures, pH and soil organic matter. However, there are a few facts that ring through across these soils and soil microbes.”

A fistful of soil contains:
  • About 50km of microbial networks;
  • 100 million bacteria;
  • 100,000 protozoa;
  • 10,000 nematodes;
  • Up to 5,000 insects, worms, etc.

Protecting these organisms was the main theme at the Biological Farming Conference this week. For more from the event keep an eye on AgriLand.