Harnessing the Power of Soil Microbes

Tacy CalliesSoil Improvement


Although often ignored due to their intangible nature, microorganisms play significant roles in agriculture. The natural microbial processes allow for long-lasting interactions between nutrients, plants and soils.

Masanori Fujimoto, assistant professor at the University of Florida, is leading a research and education project titled “Harnessing Microbes for Sustainable Food Production.” The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program. The goal of the project is to educate growers about the essential role microbes play in sustainable agriculture and about methods to fertilize and improve soils using naturally occurring materials and processes. Fujimoto is leading a series of virtual workshops to educate growers.

Interactions that occur in soil are complex, involving physical, chemical and biological processes that can enhance the ability for soil to grow crops.

Soil microbes live in the rhizosphere, the area in the soil around the plant root. Beneficial functions of soil microbes include decomposing organic matter, water retention, disease suppression, pest prevention and fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere. Two specific types of soil microbes include mycorrhizal fungi and rhizobia bacteria.

Mycorrhizal fungi enhance nutrient and water uptake for the plant. According to Fujimoto, crops benefit from mycorrhizal fungi because the fungi supplies the plant with phosphate.

Rhizobia bacteria supply legumes with most of the nitrogen they need for development. This process not only provides nitrogen for host legume plants, but also benefits future crops because any excess nitrogen is released into the soil. 

Implementing sustainable agricultural practices on farms can increase efficiency and effectiveness while helping to protect the environment. Preserving and encouraging soil microbes is key to creating more sustainable practices.

To encourage microbial growth, Fujimoto recommends using no-till or low-till practices, cover crops and crop rotation. By maximizing these sustainable practices and utilizing different methods, microbial communities begin to thrive in the soil. Additionally, composting and utilizing anaerobic digestion have also proven beneficial to plants and soil health.

To attend the next SARE webinar on Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m., contact Kelsey Orr at kelsey.orr@ufl.edu.

This article was written by Ashley Robinson, AgNet Media communications intern in Gainesville, Florida.