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Scientists are Beginning to Understand the Conversation Between Plants & Soil

June 07, 2017 |

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“To a child, soil is just dirt – a home for worms. To a gardener, soil is a collection of organic matter and nutrients. But to plants, soil is a hotbed of chemical activity. And plants don’t just observe, they actively participate in this activity.

Plants release chemicals into the soil, called exudates, that tell microbes to turn on or turn off certain chemical processes. Scientists are beginning to understand these signals and are hoping to exploit them to improve the efficiency, sustainability and environmental impact of the trillion dollar agricultural industry.

The three main nutrients plants need to grow are carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. A plant’s carbon needs come from air in the form of carbon dioxide, but the nitrogen and phosphorus needs come from the soil, and often nitrogen is the element in shortest supply naturally – and so to increase their yields, farmers add nitrogen to the soil.

Artificial nitrogen fertiliser is an essential component of an agricultural system that feeds more than 7 billion people, but it comes with a huge environmental cost. As the population grows, and as feeding habits change to more meat-based diets, looks set to become even more of a problem…”

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