Organic farming is better for the long term health of the soil, according to a new study.
By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Published: 7:00AM BST 14 Sep 2010
The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology looked at microscopic fungi in the soil that helps plants grow.
The study of nine farms in England, published in the journal Environmental Microbiology, found that organic farms have a much more diverse range of fungi living in the soil than on conventional farms.
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) has a symbiotic relationship with most plants, allowing the roots to absorb nutrients better and fighting off disease.
Dr Christopher van der Gast, of the CEH, said the use of herbicides and pesticides, as well as constant tilling of the soil breaks down the fungi on intensive farms.
But on organic farms , that do not use chemicals, there is a more diverse range of microbes living in the soil. This helps the crops to grow without the expense of artificial fertilisers.
Dr van der Gast said the findings could help farmers around the world to understand how to make plants grow better in the long term, without destroying the nutrients of the soil with intensive farming.
“For most people it is about what you can see above ground. But the below ground biodiversity of the organisms in are also key. it is a missing factor that most people do not think about,” he said.
“Our research demonstrates that the way humans manage the landscape can play a key role in determining the distribution of microbial communities at both the local and regional scales.”
Co-author Dr Gary Bending,from the University of Warwick, said the findings could help boost food security.
“The work provides us with new understanding which we can use to promote these fungi in agricultural systems. This in turn could improve crop production. With the proportion of the earth’s surface which is managed by humans increasing rapidly, this understanding is essential if we are to predict and manage microbial functioning in the environment to meet many of the major challenges faced by human society, such as food supply and the mitigation of climate change. Addressing these challenges, whilst maintaining environmentally sustainable agricultural practices, requires an understanding of microbial diversity.”
::Farmers are increasingly using compost on fields around Britain as more councils collect food scraps from homes.
Research on behalf of the Association for Organics Recycling found the use of compost increased by 10 per cent last year.
Farmers said the increase was because of the rising cost of artificial fertiliser and the increasing quality and amount of compost coming from local authorities that now collect food and garden waste.