THE SOIL FOOD WEB

by Kyra Fielden – Grower Services Bay of Plenty

Fruit quality in market has been a concern this season. There are many factors that affect fruit quality and fruit rots which Erica talks about in her March-April 2019 newsletter article. I’d like to focus in on the importance and impact of good soil health, diversity and structure on pest and disease suppression.

In the Bay of Plenty, we generally have good soil organic matter levels – however, do we know how active our soil organic matter is? Are there live and active bacteria, fungi, worms and other beneficial organisms, that make up the soil food web, living in our soil? What is their population and how do they relate to each other? Are they functioning to their optimum to support tree and crop health? How hard is our soil working to decompose organic matter including woody materials and spores that might otherwise lie around and have the potential to re-infect plant material?

We can test for these organisms, analyse them and work to build healthier stronger soil food web systems that can combat diseases. Testing for organisms in soil is as important as testing for nutrients, because if one type of organism like bacteria for example, is out of balance in the soil it can have a negative impact on other soil organisms and in turn on your tree health and crop production.

In order to improve soil structure, we need to have living, breathing active soil biology, we must ensure they have sufficient moisture, air and food continually throughout the year.

When soil aeration is improved, the beneficial organisms outnumber the pathogenic species providing pest and disease suppression.

More benefits of improving soil health biology including temperature, compaction, too much or too little moisture, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides – just to name a few.

The most effective tool is to minimise these effects and what we can’t minimise we can boost or buffer against them to support the soil biological population and activity.

Erica and I are working on providing an orchard programme to growers with a more biological growing focus. If you are interested in learning more about this approach or would like to be part of this programme please contact me.

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