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Soil Health: Crop Rotation Alone Can Stir Helpful Microbes, Researchers Say

Sep 04, 2015 12:24 PM EDT
Site of University of New Hampshire Crop Rotation Project
Researchers from the University of New Hampshire discovered crop rotation could combat agricultural intensification issues.
(Photo : Stuart Grandy/UNH.)

University of New Hampshire researchers investigated how crop rotations, aside from any other management systems, can do a sort of yogurt-fix on soil and stir helpful microbial communities. To do this, the team looked and the relationships among crop rotational diversity, soil structure, microbial community structure and activity, and soil organic matter chemistry. Their findings were recently published in the journal Ecology Letters.

"The data we present are the first to support the hypothesis that increasing rotational diversity fundamentally changes microbial community structure and activity, with positive effects on aggregate formation and soil organic matter accrual," Lisa Tiemann, a former postdoctoral student at UNH, said in a news release. "These findings provide further support for the use of rotational diversity as a viable management practice for promoting agroecosystem sustainability."

The researchers avoided using fertilizers, pesticides, or other management factors. They found that they could increase the amount of carbon in soil by 33 percent, by increasing rotational diversity.

"Increasing plant biodiversity by crop rotation is a powerful tool for farmers to increase soil quality. Even increasing rotation by one or two crops, especially if cover crops are used, will improve soil physical, chemical, and biological processes that help regulate yields and environmental quality," Stuart Grandy, Tiemann's postdoctoral advisor, said in a release.

The researchers also reported that they saw an increase in nitrogen concentrations as crop diversity increased. This is also a sign of soil fertility. That's good news, because such fertility is also related to food security, carbon sinking and water quality.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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