Soil Health: An Overview For Growers

Healthy soil is the foundation for successful agricultural production. It is critical for maximizing crop yield and productivity. One factor that can inhibit soil health is plant parasitic nematodes. In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of soil health, how nutrient cycling affects soil health, and the importance of soil fumigation in controlling nematodes to maximize crop output.

What Is Soil Health?

The term soil health has steadily gained popularity for the past few decades. There is a growing interest in understanding how healthy soil impacts commercial agriculture and what can be done to improve soil health for growers.

A quick internet search yields a plethora of results, but what does soil health really mean? According to the USDA Department of Agriculture, “Soil health is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.”

Image Credit: USDA

If we think of soil as a living ecosystem, we can begin to understand how to influence soil health. This means understanding the biological and physical properties of soil that support crop production in a sustainable way. As we think of soil health in regards to agriculture, we can think of it as the “integrative property that reflects the capacity of soil to respond to agricultural intervention, so that it continues to support both the agricultural production and the provision of other ecosystem services[1].” In other words, “sustainable soil management is to conserve ecosystem service delivery while optimizing agricultural yields[2].”

Why Is Soil Health Important?

Soil is a complex ecosystem comprised of organic matter, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, arthropods, nematodes, and more. When soil is healthy, nutrients are balanced and pests are minimized so plants can establish strong, healthy root systems, allowing for maximum crop output.

Healthy soil is necessary to provide adequate nutrients for plants, optimizing their growth potential. Poorly-managed soils can lead to reduced nutrient uptake and decreased yields due to disease or pest infestation. By implementing good management practices—such as regular monitoring of pH levels, facilitating proper drainage systems, and maintaining adequate organic matter content in your soils—you can ensure optimal conditions for efficient nutrient uptake and maximum crop output.

Additionally, timely applications of fertilizers can help maintain a healthy balance between nitrogen and other essential minerals in your soils which promotes stronger root development and more vigorous plants overall. Additional practices such as rotating crops and minimizing tillage can also have a positive effect on long-term soil health.

What Is Nutrient Cycling, And Why Does It Matter?

The three most important soil-derived nutrients for plants are:

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K)  

Achieving the right balance of these nutrients is vital to soil health and, ultimately, plant growth, vigor, quality, and yield. When crops are harvested, rather than being allowed to decompose over time as in non-agricultural settings, key elements like N/P/K are removed from the soil biome. Over time, as growers use the same plots of land, the nutrients in the soil are often depleted—especially if crops are not rotated or cover crops are not used in between growing seasons. Implementing practices such as soil amendments and compost can help balance N/P/K levels.

It is important to understand that plants cannot directly use the nutrients from N/P/K—they have to be “unlocked” and made available to the plant via a complex process called nutrient cycling. During this process, the microbes in the soil convert the nutrients in a way that allows for plant uptake. This is why healthy soils are rich in beneficial microbes. These microbes are increased in the soil through cover crops or decomposing plant material. New scientific evidence also shows that populations of beneficial microbes like Trichoderma may rebound to higher levels after fumigation with TELONE™.

Other Tips For Improving Your Soil Health – Managing Plant Parasitic Nematodes

In contrast with beneficial microbes that facilitate nutrient cycling, plant parasitic nematodes feed on the root system of certain plants and cause significant damage to crops if left unchecked. These microscopic roundworms can be difficult to detect as they are so small, but there are some signs you can look out for, such as stunted growth or yellowing leaves. You may also notice wilting of the plant or an overall lack of vigor in your crop’s growth.

If you suspect that your soil contains populations of plant parasitic nematodes, it’s important to learn what species and population densities are present. This will allow development of a pest management plan specific to your needs.

The best defense against plant parasitic nematodes is TELONE™. TELONE™ is a pre-plant soil fumigant introduced into the soil as a liquid and rapidly converting to a gas, killing nematodes in what will be the future crop root zone.  This process kills both nematode larvae and eggs without damaging the later planted crop since the fumigate is fully dissipated by soil processes before planting occurs.

By using a pre-plant soil fumigant like TELONE™, the active ingredient used to manage nematodes never comes in contact with the plant—it does all the work before any seeds or rootstock are introduced into the soil. That means no contact with your crop, and zero residuals. Additionally, new advances in science show that using TELONE™ helps enhance microbial activity as a result of increased heathy roots providing increased nourishment of microbes versus nematode damaged roots.  Many important soil microbe species depend heavily on plant root exudates as a food source, so increased healthy roots improve the soil microbiome. 

TELONE™ And Soil Health

A groundbreaking study by the well-regarded Phytobiomes Journal reveals that plots treated with 1,3-dichloropropene (sold by Teleos Ag Solutions under the brand name TELONE™) were richer in bacterial communities than plots left untreated. TELONE™ targets crop-destroying nematodes while creating a carbohydrate-rich environment that allows healthy bacteria to thrive, resulting in improved soil health. Species from the bacterial family Enterobacteriaceae have been shown to increase with differing rates of TELONE™ II treatment. These beneficial bacteria metabolize dead invertebrate pathogens, potentially leading to improved soil health.

The article continues:

“‘We found it interesting that only minor effects of 1,3-D were observed on both bacterial and fungal communities, suggesting that soil can be a robust ecosystem and fumigants may not have a long-term impact on the overall microbial community,’ said researcher Kenneth Frost. The research also showed that the average efficacy of 1,3-D was estimated to be 98% across all nematodes studied, which included root lesion and stubby root nematodes.”

In other words, new advances in science are showing that fumigation with TELONE™ may have minimal impact up to actually enhancing biological communities; it does not sterilize the soil, as was the previous misconception. This means growers can feel confident knowing they have a tool to manage nematodes without disrupting long-term soil health.

Improve Your Soil Health With TELONE™

Soil health is essential for maximizing crop output, which means that how to improve soil health is a critical component of your agricultural production strategies.

Plant parasitic nematodes can cause serious damage if left untreated; however, proper management techniques such as soil fumigation with TELONE™ can help reduce pest populations while still allowing you to maintain healthy soils with optimal nutrient content for maximum yields each season. By understanding how important healthy soils are for increasing crop output, growers can take advantage of all the benefits associated with having well-maintained soils!

Get in touch with us today to discover how TELONE™ can make a difference to your crops.

[1] Amit Anil Shahane, A. Anil Shahane, & Yashbir Singh Shivay, Y. Singh Shivay. (0000). Soil Health and Its Improvement Through Novel Agronomic and Innovative Approaches. Frontiers in agronomy, 3, -. doi: 10.3389/fagro.2021.680456

[2] Kibblewhite, M. G., Ritz, K., & Swift, M. J. (2008). Soil health in agricultural systems. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences363(1492), 685–701.

The resources and information provided are meant purely for educational discussion, contains only general information about legal matters, and is not to be construed as advice. Please note that any information or resources provided are not legal or regulatory advice, and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information provided as an alternative to legal advice from your attorney or other professional services. Teleos Ag encourages readers to consult with counsel, and their local, county, and state regulators. We make no representations or warranties, express or implied, in relation to the information provided through our resources and blog posts. It is the readers responsibility to know the laws related to 1,3- D, appropriate PPE, Licensing, etc., in his or her City, County, State, and Country.

Randy Huckaba