Students of the Soil

Soil health is a critical component of both the economy and ecology of organic farm management. Efficient and sustainable soil health management techniques can enhance crop productivity, sustain the environment, and support the livelihoods of small farmers.

While crop rotations and cover cropping are the primary way that organic farmers build and maintain soil health, efficient use of organic fertilizers that are carefully timed to nutrient availability in soil can also help organic farmers sustain the health of both their crops and the broader environment.

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 both 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 farmers make more informed decisions about soil nutrient management, in particular, which types of organic fertilizer to use and how to time fertility applications on biologically diverse organic farms.

As part of his research on agroecology, soil ecology, and plant-soil-microbe interactions, Bowles studies the way biodiversity and ecological processes work together to create productive, resilient, and healthy agricultural systems.

Along with other organic farmers, agronomists, and conservation biologists, Bowles believes the overarching goal of his research is to support the transformation of our agricultural system from one that is reliant on intensive, synthetic inputs, to one based on sustainable ecological processes.