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Soil and Compost Ecology Seminar

PROBLEM: Recent findings by soil scientists, potentially important to farmers, are not available; the knowledge is confined to the academic community.

SIGNIFICANCE: Those who work with synthetic fertilizers frequently point out that plants cannot tell the difference between a nitrogen atom from their product and one derived from compost. Although correct in a trivial sense, this fact is used to imply that no substantive differences exist between synthetic and natural fertilizers. The latest scientific findings have uncovered profound differences in the way these two fertilizer regimes affect soil bacteria and fungi. The research further reveals that altered microbial populations dramatically influence every other organism inhabiting the soil, including crops and crop pests, and can lead to the success or failure of transitions away from chemical farms and establishing biological control. Farmers interested in doing on–farm experimentation including comparisons of microbial bioassays before and after interventions and on the best and worst parts of their farms need guidance how to collect samples and understand the results.

STRATEGY: Host a seminar at which Dr. Elaine Ingham summarized current knowledge of soil microbial populations and their impact on water and nutrient retention, prevention and mitigation of soil borne disease, relationships to soil arthropod pests, etc.

OUTCOME: The seminar, conducted in October 23, 1996, attracted an audience of 90 growers, farm advisors, and other agriculture and urban pest management experts. Dr. Ingham addressed the above need using simplified concepts based on categorizing microbes into functional groups. She explained the mechanisms by which conventional chemical agriculture interferes with the normal functioning of the soil food web forcing continued applications of synthetics elaborating on an example in Central Coast strawberry coast. Her dynamic style kept most of the crowd attentive well past the scheduled close of the meeting.

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