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00:01– [Kari] There’s more microbes in a teaspoon of soil

00:04-than there is humans on the planet.

00:09– [Sarah] Soil is a very key thing to our life.

00:11-We walk on it every single day.

00:14-It is vital for us as a community,

00:16-as researchers, as farmers,

00:18-and as the general public to support the soil

00:21-that we rely on and that we thrive on.

00:25-(gentle music)

00:30-When you think about soil,

00:31-a lot of times we talk about soil ecosystem services.

00:34-So what is the soil doing?

00:36-Recycling nutrients, sequestering carbon,

00:39-they’re minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.

00:41-They’re holding in water

00:43-and actually microbes are really at the center

00:45-of all of those things.

00:46-(cheerful music)

00:53– One of my interests was astrobiology

00:55-and looking for planets with other soil life on it,

00:58-but I figured it was more important

01:00-to focus on our home planet earth

01:02-and correcting the mistakes that we’ve made

01:03-to the soil profiles.

01:06– Microbes are really complicated

01:07-and they’re really hard to study in the lab,

01:10-but I’m really interested in is what the microbes are doing

01:13-out in the field, and in order to do that

01:15-we have to actually get out in the field and sample soil.

01:18-And a lot of times what we’re doing is taking that soil

01:21-and trying to freeze the microbes

01:23-in whatever state they’re in, in the fields.

01:26– My master’s thesis

01:28-looks towards a long-term field experiment

01:33-and the focus of this project is to see how

01:36-more sustainable practices

01:38-are going to impact a field in the long-term

01:41-because this plot was established back in 1995,

01:44-so I can determine how 25 years

01:47-of sustainable agricultural practices

01:50-change the soil microbial community,

01:52-both for bacteria and fungal communities.

01:55– I think sometimes farmers talk about

01:57-having the most microbes,

01:59-so trying to get the biggest microbial population.

02:01-And I think that’s maybe less important

02:03-than a really diverse microbial population.

02:06-Part of it is understanding how different practices

02:09-influence different microbes

02:10-and promoting the ones that are good

02:11-and try to minimize the ones that are bad.

02:14-And what we’ve seen is that tillage really differentiates

02:17-the types of microbes that are growing.

02:20-We’re looking at the bacteria and the fungi,

02:22-and we see that totally different fungi can grow

02:24-when you have tillage in your system compared to no tillage.

02:28– Right now, I’ve been able to look specifically

02:30-at the sequencing data from fungal

02:32-and bacterial communities.

02:35-Tillage as well as a corn-soy-wheat rotation

02:39-have the most impact on how the community structure changes.

02:46– Some of the bigger challenges with soil health is a change

02:49-in the thinking of how things have always been done.

02:52-There’s a lot of people out there

02:54-that are hesitant to change because we’ve always plowed.

02:57-We’ve always done these different practices.

02:59-Tillage is the equivalent of a tornado, a hurricane,

03:04-and a fire all at the same time.

03:06-It rips apart the soil and kills a lot of your biology.

03:09-We’ve adapted our farming practices

03:11-by moving completely out of primary tillage.

03:14-We now no-till or minimum-till or strip-till.

03:19– Yeah, I think for every farm

03:20-there’s different soil management practices that can work.

03:23-We need to kinda take a toolbox approach where

03:25-different management practices can be integrated,

03:29-minimizing tillage as much as possible,

03:32-increasing the number of crops that you grow,

03:34-adding things like cover crops

03:36-so that you don’t have any bare soil on the ground.

03:39– The impact of crop rotation is that

03:41-the root structures of the plants

03:43-will promote different microbial life

03:46-that are more geared towards that host plant itself.

03:50– So even if we’re sampling in a corn plot,

03:52-you can tell that there’s different microbes there

03:54-depending on the types of crops

03:56-that were grown in previous years.

03:58– [Thomas] We grow corn, soybean, wheat rotation,

04:02-utilize cover crops whenever possible.

04:04-Those roots do a lot of the till action for us.

04:06-That’s some of the nicest seed beds I’ve ever planted.

04:09– [Kari] Something that we’ve been thinking about

04:10-a lot lately is using animals in the system.

04:14-So using either pasture or manure,

04:17-and incorporating manure into the system

04:19-so that you’re taking those nutrients from

04:22-an animal system and putting them back onto the soil

04:25-and adding carbon and nutrients.

04:27– [Thomas] We aim to spread manure over the entire farm

04:29-in rotation now instead of just the convenient farms.

04:33-Manure is high in nutrients, so nitrogen, potash,

04:37-phosphorus. So you get all different nutrients.

04:40-Our yields are increasing,

04:43-but also we’re more consistent with our yields

04:45-across our fields.

04:47-It really surprised me how rapidly

04:50-we did start to see changes in our soil.

04:53-I would advise other farmers to start small, but start now.

05:00– What we’re trying to do, at

05:01-the university is find ways that we can increase yields

05:05-and increase production and also increase profitability

05:08-while still protecting the environment.

05:10-And I think if the general public understood the role

05:13-that soil played in sustainable agricultural systems,

05:16-they would want the healthy soil.

05:19– [Thomas] I hope that the next generation continue to study

05:22-and realize the impacts of some of our practices

05:26-and continue to push towards a more sustainable way

05:29-to raise crops.

05:31-(gentle music)