Students of the Soil

Soil health is a critical component of the economy and ecology of organic farm management. Efficient soil health management techniques enhance crop productivity, protect the environment, and support the small budgets of small farmers.

While it is primarily through crop rotations and cover-cropping that organic farmers build and maintain soil health, nutrient management is also a key practice. By timing applications of organic fertilizer to varying periods of nutrient availability in the soil, farmers can apply less fertilizer, protect their limited budget, and minimize their overall impact on the soil ecology.

Both the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) currently fund soil health research projects designed to promote  farmer productivity and environmental sustainability.

At UC Berkeley, a team of researchers led by Timothy Bowles, a doctor of ecology and professor of agroecology, is now focused on helping small organic farmers make more informed decisions about soil nutrient management, in particular, which types of organic fertilizer to use and how to time these applications on biologically diverse organic farms.

Bowles believes the current research on plant-soil-microbe interactions could someday lead to a transformation of our agricultural system from one based on synthetic inputs, to one that relies on sustainable and ecological processes.