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Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming Science

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An understanding of agroecosystems is key to determining effective farming systems. Here we report results from a 21-year study of agronomic and ecological performance of biodynamic, bioorganic, and conventional farming systems in Central Europe. We found crop yields to be 20% lower in the organic systems, although input of fertilizer and energy was reduced by 34 to 53% and pesticide input by 97%. Enhanced soil fertility and higher biodiversity found in organic plots may render these systems less dependent on external inputs.
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DOI: 10.1126/science.1071148
, 1694 (2002); 296Science
et al.Paul Maeder,
Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming
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already weakened by overfishing (18). Possi-
ble mechanisms by which such changes may
be manifest are reviewed by Sundby (19).
Because changes in community structure re-
flect the adjustment of pelagic ecosystems to
modifications in water masses, currents, and/
or atmospheric forcing, it is clearly important
to continue to monitor plankton associations,
which provide us with a valuable means of
checking the well-being of marine ecosys-
tems in the North Atlantic Ocean and possi-
bly in other oceanic regions.
References and Notes
1. D. Roemmich, J. McGowan, Science 267, 1324 (1995).
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Ecol. Prog. Ser., in press.
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(1994).
8. Supporting material is available on Science Online.
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Ecol. Prog. Ser. 204, 299 (2000).
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Ser. 219, 189 (2001).
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(1997).
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Atlantic Salmon. Environmental and Biological Factors
Influencing Survival, D. Mills, Ed. (Fishing News Books,
Bodmin, UK, 2000), pp. 92–115.
16. J. C. Quero, M. H. Du Buit, J. J. Vayne, Oceanol. Acta
21, 345 (1998).
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Ser. 215, 283 (2001).
18. C. M. O’Brien, C. J. Fox, B. Planque, J. Casey, Nature
404, 142 (2000).
19. S. Sundby, Sarsia 85, 277 (2000).
20. B. J. Pyper, R. M. Peterman, Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci.
55, 2127 (1998).
21. We are grateful to the staff of the Sir Alister Hardy
Foundation for Ocean Science and the shipping compa-
nies, captains, and crew whose sustained support has
allowed the long-term maintenance of the Continuous
Plankton Recorder (CPR) data set. The main support for
this work was from the United Kingdom, the Nether-
lands, the Atlantic Salmon Trust, the French PNEC Art 4
Programme, and the EU MAST-III programme. Consor-
tium support for the CPR survey is provided by agencies
from the following countries: Canada, the Faeroes,
France, Iceland, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic
Commission, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, the
United Kingdom, and the United States.
Supporting Online Material
www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/296/5573/1692/
DC1
Materials and Methods
Figs. S1 to S4
References
27 February 2002; accepted 25 April 2002
Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in
Organic Farming
Paul Ma¨der,
1
* Andreas Fliebach,
1
David Dubois,
2
Lucie Gunst,
2
Padruot Fried,
2
Urs Niggli
1
An understanding of agroecosystems is key to determining effective farming
systems. Here we report results from a 21-year study of agronomic and eco-
logical performance of biodynamic, bioorganic, and conventional farming sys-
tems in Central Europe. We found crop yields to be 20% lower in the organic
systems, although input of fertilizer and energy was reduced by 34 to 53% and
pesticide input by 97%. Enhanced soil fertility and higher biodiversity found in
organic plots may render these systems less dependent on external inputs.
Intensive agriculture has increased crop
yields but also posed severe environmental
problems (1). Sustainable agriculture would
ideally produce good crop yields with mini-
mal impact on ecological factors such as soil
fertility (2, 3). A fertile soil provides essential
nutrients for crop plant growth, supports a
diverse and active biotic community, exhibits
a typical soil structure, and allows for an
undisturbed decomposition.
Organic farming systems are one alterna-
tive to conventional agriculture. In some Eu-
ropean countries up to 8% of the agricultural
area is managed organically according to Eu-
ropean Union Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91
(4). But how sustainable is this production
method really? The limited number of long-
term trials show some benefits for the envi-
ronment (5, 6 ). Here, we present results from
1
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, Acker-
strasse, CH-5070 Frick, Switzerland.
2
Swiss Federal
Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture,
Reckenholzstrasse 191, CH-8046 Zu¨rich, Switzerland.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-
mail: paul.maeder@fibl.ch
Fig. 2. Principal component analysis of long-
term changes in SST in the North Atlantic
Ocean. (A) First eigenvector and principal com-
ponent (PC) (in black). Long-term changes in
NHT anomalies (in red) and the Pearson corre-
lation coefficient between the first PC and NHT
anomalies are indicated. (B) Second eigenvec-
tor and PC (in black). The long-term changes in
the winter NAO (in red) and the Pearson cor-
relation coefficient between the second PC and
the NAO index are indicated. The signal dis-
played by the first PC is highly correlated pos-
itively with NHT anomalies [Pearson correla-
tion coefficient (r
P
) 0.67, P 0.001]. In the
Subarctic Gyre, the values of the second PC
decreased until about 1993 and then increased.
The long-term change in the second PC is high-
ly correlated negatively with the NAO index
(r
p
0.63, P 0.001). Probability was cor-
rected to account for temporal autocorrelation
with the method recommended by Pyper et al.
(20).
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the 21-year “DOK” system comparison trial
(bio-Dynamic, bio-Organic, and “Konventio-
nell”), which is based on a ley rotation. The
field experiment was set up in 1978 on a loess
soil at Therwil, Switzerland [(7) and support-
ing online material). Two organic farming
systems (biodynamic, BIODYN; bioorganic,
BIOORG) and two conventional systems (us-
ing mineral fertilizer plus farmyard manure:
CONFYM; using mineral fertilizer exclusive-
ly: CONMIN) are emulated in a replicated
field plot experiment (table S1 and fig. S1).
Both conventional systems were modified to
integrated farming in 1985. Crop rotation,
varieties, and tillage were identical in all
systems (table S2).
We found nutrient input (N, P, K) in the
organic systems to be 34 to 51% lower than
in the conventional systems, whereas mean
crop yield was only 20% lower over a period
of 21 years (Fig. 1, Table 1), indicating an
efficient production. In the organic systems,
the energy to produce a crop dry matter unit
was 20 to 56% lower than in conventional
and correspondingly 36 to 53% lower per unit
of land area (tables S4 and S5).
Potato yields in the organic systems were
58 to 66% of those in the conventional plots
(Fig. 1), mainly due to low potassium supply
and the incidence of Phytophtora infestans.
Winter wheat yields in the third crop rotation
period reached an average of 4.1 metric tons
per hectare in the organic systems. This cor-
responds to 90% of the grain harvest of the
conventional systems, which is similar to
yields of conventional farms in the region (8).
Differences in grass-clover yields were small.
Cereal crop yields under organic manage-
ment in Europe typically are 60 to 70% of
those under conventional management,
whereas grassland yields are in the range of
70 to 100%. Profits of organic farms in Eu-
rope are similar to those of comparable con-
ventional farms (9). Appropriate plant breed-
ing may further improve cereal yields in or-
ganic farming. There were minor differences
between the farming systems in food quality
(10).
The maintenance of soil fertility is im-
portant for sustainable land use. In our
experimental plots, organically managed
soils exhibit greater biological activity than
the conventionally managed soils. In con-
trast, soil chemical and physical parameters
show fewer differences (Fig. 2).
Soil aggregate stability as assessed by the
percolation method (11) and the wet sieving
method (12) was 10 to 60% higher in the
organic plots than in the conventional plots
(Fig. 2A). These differences reflect the situ-
ation as observed in the field (Fig. 3, A and
B), where organic plots had a greater soil
stability. We found a positive correlation be-
tween aggregate stability and microbial bio-
mass (r 0.68, P 0.05), and between
aggregate stability and earthworm biomass
(r 0.45, P 0.05).
Soil pH was slightly higher in the organic
systems (Fig. 2B). Soluble fractions of phos-
phorus and potassium were lower in the or-
ganic soils than in the conventional soils,
whereas calcium and magnesium were high-
er. However, the flux of phosphorus between
the matrix and the soil solution was highest in
the BIODYN system (13). Soil microorgan-
isms govern the numerous nutrient cycling
reactions in soils. Soil microbial biomass in-
creased in the order CONMIN CON-
FYM BIOORG BIODYN (Fig. 2C). In
soils of the organic systems, dehydrogenase,
protease, and phosphatase activities were
higher than in the conventional systems, in-
dicating a higher overall microbial activity
and a higher capacity to cleave protein and
organic phosphorus (12). Phosphorus flux
through the microbial biomass was faster in
organic soils, and more phosphorus was
bound in the microbial biomass (14, 15).
Evidently, nutrients in the organic systems
are less dissolved in the soil solution, and
microbial transformation processes may
contribute to the plants’ phosphorus supply.
Fig. 1. Yield of winter wheat,
potatoes, and grass-clover in the
farming systems of the DOK tri-
al. Values are means of six years
for winter wheat and grass-clo-
ver and three years for potatoes
per crop rotation period. Bars
represent least significant differ-
ences (P 0.05).
Table 1. Input of nutrients, pesticides, and fossil energy to the DOK trial systems.
Nutrient input is the average of 1978–1998 for BIODYN, BIOORG, and CONFYM
and 1985–1998 for CONMIN. Soluble nitrogen is the sum of NH
4
-N and NO
3
-N.
The input of active ingredients of pesticides was calculated for 1985–1991.
Energy for production of machinery and infrastructure, in fuel, and for the
production of mineral fertilizer and pesticides has been calculated for 1985–1991.
Farming
system
Total nitrogen
(kgNha
1
year
1
)
Soluble nitrogen
(kgNha
1
year
1
)
Phosphorus
(kgPha
1
year
1
)
Potassium
(kgKha
1
year
1
)
Pesticides (kg active
ingredients ha
1
year
1
)
Energy
(GJ ha
1
year
1
)
BIODYN 99 34 24 158 0 12.8
BIOORG 93 31 28 131 0.21 13.3
CONFYM 149 96 43 268 6 20.9
CONMIN 125 125 42 253 6 24.1
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Mycorrhizae as members of the soil com-
munity ameliorate plant mineral nutrition and
contribute to soil aggregate formation (16 ).
Root length colonized by mycorrhizae in or-
ganic farming systems was 40% higher than
in conventional systems (7) (Fig. 2C).
Biomass and abundance of earthworms
were higher by a factor of 1.3 to 3.2 in the
organic plots as compared with conventional
(17) (Fig. 2D). We also investigated epigaeic
arthropods that live above ground, because
they are important predators and considered
sensitive indicators of soil fertility. Average
activity density of carabids, staphylinids, and
spiders in the organic plots was almost twice
that of the conventional plots (18) (Fig. 2D).
Healthy ecosystems are characterized by
high species diversity. The DOK trial shows
that organic farming allows the development of
a relatively diverse weed flora. Nine to 11 weed
species were found in organically managed
wheat plots and one species in conventional
plots. Between 28 and 34 carabid species were
found in the BIODYN system, 26 to 29 species
in the BIOORG system, and 22 to 26 species in
the CONFYM system (18). Some specialized
and endangered species were present only in
the two organic systems. Apart from the pres-
ence and diversity of weeds, direct effects of
pesticides and the density of the wheat crop
stand are most likely influencing arthropod ac-
tivity and diversity.
One of the particularly remarkable find-
ings, presented in Fig. 4, was a strong and
significant increase in microbial diversity
(BIOLOG Inc., Hayward, CA) in the order
CONMIN, CONFYM BIOORG BIO-
DYN, and an associated decrease in the met-
abolic quotient (qCO
2
)(19). According to
Odum’s theory on the strategy of ecosystem
development, the ratio of total respiration to
total biomass decreases during succession in
an ecosystem (20). This quotient has been
adapted to soil organisms (21), where CO
2
evolution is a biological process mainly gov-
erned by microorganisms. The lower qCO
2
in
the organic systems, especially in the BIO-
DYN system, indicates that these communi-
ties are able to use organic substances more
for growth than for maintenance.
Under controlled conditions, the diverse
microbial community of the BIODYN soil
decomposed more
14
C-labeled plant material
than the ones of the conventional soils (22).
In the field, light fraction particulate organic
matter, indicating undecomposed plant mate-
rial, decayed more completely in organic sys-
tems (23). Hence, microbial communities
Fig. 2. Physical, chemical, and biological soil
properties in soils of the DOK farming systems.
Analyses were done within the plough horizon
(0 to 20 cm) except for soil fauna. Results are
presented relative to CONFYM ( 100%) in
four radial graphs. Absolute values for 100% are
as follows. (A) Percolation stability, 43.3 ml
min
1
; aggregate stability, 55% stable aggre-
gates 250 m; bulk density, 1.23 g cm
3
.(B)
pH(H
2
O), 6.0; organic carbon, 15.8 g C
org
kg
1
;
phosphorus, 21.4 mg P kg
1
; potassium, 97.5
mgKkg
1
; calcium, 1.7 g Ca kg
1
; magnesium,
125 mg Mg kg
1
.(C) Microbial biomass, 285 mg
C
mic
kg
1
; dehydrogenase activity, 133 mg TPF
kg
1
h
1
; protease activity, 238 mg tyrosine
kg
1
h
1
; alkaline phosphatase, 33 mg phenol
kg
1
h
1
; saccharase, 526 mg reduced sugar
kg
1
h
1
; mycorrhiza, 13.4% root length colo-
nized by mycorrhizal fungi. (D) Earthworm bio-
mass, 183 g m
2
; earthworm abundance, 247
individuals m
2
; carabids, 55 individuals;
staphylinids, 23 individuals; spiders, 33 individ-
uals. Arthropods have not been determined in
the CONMIN system because of the field trial
design. Significant effects were found for all
parameters except for bulk density, C
org
, and
potassium (analysis of variance; P 0.05). For
methods, see table S3.
Fig. 3. Biodynamic (A) and conventional (B) soil surface in winter wheat plots. Earthworm casts and
weed seedlings are more frequent in the biodynamic plot. Disaggregation of soil particles in the
conventional plots leads to a smoother soil surface. Wheat row distance is 0.167 m. Source: T.
Alfo¨ldi, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture [Forschungsinstitut fu¨r biologischen Landbau
(FiBL)].
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with an increased diversity in organic soils
transform carbon from organic debris into
biomass at lower energy costs, building up a
higher microbial biomass. Accordingly, the
functional role of diverse plant communities
in soil nitrate utilization has been quoted
(24), as well as the significance of mycorrhi-
zal diversity for phosphorus uptake and plant
productivity (25). The consistent results of
these two studies (24, 25) and our own within
the soil-plant system support the hypothesis
that a more diverse community is more effi-
cient in resource utilization. The improve-
ment of biological activity and biodiversity
below and above ground in initial stages of
food webs in the DOK trial is likely to pro-
vide a positive contribution toward the devel-
opment of higher food web levels including
birds and larger animals.
The organic systems show efficient re-
source utilization and enhanced floral and
faunal diversity, features typical of mature
systems. There is a significant correlation
(r 0.52, P 0.05) between above-ground
(unit energy per unit crop yield) and below-
ground (CO
2
evolution per unit soil microbial
biomass) system efficiency in the DOK trial.
We conclude that organically manured, le-
gume-based crop rotations utilizing organic
fertilizers from the farm itself are a realistic
alternative to conventional farming systems.
References and Notes
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396, 262 (1998).
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Hinman, Nature 410, 926 (2001).
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Niggli, Biol. Fertil. Soils 31, 150 (2000).
8. P. Simon, Landwirtschaftliches Zentrum Ebenrain,
CH-4450 Sissach/BL, personal communication.
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Organic Farms in Europe (University of Hohenheim,
Hago Druck & Medien, Karlsbad-Ittersbach, Germany,
2000), vol. 5.
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Ecosys. Environ. 69, 253 (1998).
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demic Press, London, ed. 2, 1997).
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18. L. Pfiffner, U. Niggli, Biol. Agric. Hortic. 12, 353
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26. We sincerely thank all co-workers in the DOK trial,
especially W. Stauffer and R. Frei and the farmer
groups. We also thank T. Boller and A. Wiemken and
two unknown referees for their helpful comments.
This work was supported by the Swiss Federal
Office for Agriculture and the Swiss National Sci-
ence Foundation.
Supporting Online Material
www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/296/5573/1694/
DC1
Materials and Methods
Fig. S1
Tables S1 to S5
21 February 2002; accepted 26 April 2002
Control of Stomatal
Distribution on the Arabidopsis
Leaf Surface
Jeanette A. Nadeau and Fred D. Sack*
Stomata regulate gas exchange and are distributed across the leaf epidermis
with characteristic spacing. Arabidopsis stomata are produced by asymmetric
cell divisions. Mutations in the gene TOO MANY MOUTHS (TMM) disrupt
patterning by randomizing the plane of formative asymmetric divisions and by
permitting ectopic divisions. TMM encodes a leucine-rich repeat–containing
receptor-like protein expressed in proliferative postprotodermal cells. TMM
appears to function in a position-dependent signaling pathway that controls the
plane of patterning divisions as well as the balance between stem cell renewal
and differentiation in stomatal and epidermal development.
Stomata allow gas exchange and thus are key
to the survival of land plants, yet the genes
controlling stomatal development are poorly
understood (1, 2). Both the number and dis-
tribution of stomata are regulated during leaf
development. Stomata are formed after a se-
ries of asymmetric divisions of transiently
self-renewing precursors termed meriste-
moids [fig. S1 (3)]. Stomata are continually
produced during the mosaic development of
the leaf, and many form by division of cells
next to preexisting stomata (Fig. 1A). Correct
spacing results when the plane of formative
asymmetric divisions is oriented so that the
new precursor, the satellite meristemoid, does
not contact the preexisting stoma or precursor
(1, 4 ). Intercellular signaling provides spatial
cues that regulate division orientation and
may also block asymmetric division in cells
adjacent to two stomata or precursors (4 ).
The recessive too many mouths (tmm) muta-
tion randomizes the plane of asymmetric di-
vision in cells next to a single stoma or
precursor and permits asymmetric divisions
in cells next to two stomata or precursors,
thus producing clusters of stomata (Fig. 1, A
and C). Also, tmm meristemoids divide fewer
times before assuming the determinate guard
mother cell fate. These phenotypes suggest
that TMM is required for cells to respond
appropriately to their position during stoma-
tal development and that TMM participates in
intercellular signaling.
With the use of positional cloning (3),
TMM was found to encode a leucine-rich
repeat (LRR)–containing receptor-like pro-
tein of 496 amino acids with a molecular
weight of 54 kD (Fig. 2A). The predicted
protein product contains 10 uninterrupted
plant-type LRRs (5) and a putative COOH-
terminal transmembrane domain. TMM en-
Department of Plant Biology, Ohio State University,
1735 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-
mail: sack.1@osu.edu
Fig. 4. Soil microbial functional diversity
(Shannon index H’) and metabolic quotient
(qCO
2
soil basal respiration/soil microbial
biomass) correlate inversely. A higher diversity
in the organic plots is related to a lower qCO
2
,
indicating greater energy efficiency of the more
diverse microbial community. The Shannon in-
dex is significantly different between both con-
ventional systems (CONFYM, CONMIN) and
the BIODYN system, the qCO
2
, between
CONMIN and BIODYN (P 0.05).
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... The use of fertilizers is a concern because once its quantities cannot exceed the limit of the soil to retain and convert the nutrients to what the soil needs, considering the cost, the consumption, and the contamination (Mäder et al. 2002;Coltro et al. 2006;Bruno et al. 2011;Poudel et al. 2015;Almeida 2016;Ho 2017). To overcome these issues, small farmers need to strengthen their relationships by organizing themselves into associations, thus reducing obstacles to assessing production impacts for a better environment for product certification (Bravo-Monroy et al. 2016;Latynsky and Berger 2017). ...
... In some cases, this high consumption could be influenced by insufficient knowledge about irrigation techniques. Another The rural migration Todaro (1969) concern in this sample is related to the use of chemical fertilizers by half of the farmers, and the consequences of the soil contamination, the cost, and the consumption (Mäder et al. 2002;Coltro et al. 2006;Bruno et al. 2011;Almeida 2016;Poudel et al. 2015;Ho 2017). In Economic Dimension, the associative integration among farmers, other producers, and sellers (Perfetti et al. 2013;Bro et al. 2019) is impossible because their interest to be in a Cooperative is merely economic (marketing, logistic, and financial reasons), as Latynsky and Berger (2017) stated. ...
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This paper aims to assess the sustainability of coffee production in Brazil by a framework at the farm level. The framework developed comprises four dimensions of sustainability structured from the literature review. Primary data were collected from 20 coffee farms selected from the most producing communities in the Planalto de Vitória da Conquista locality, sited in Centro-Sul Baiano middle region at the Bahia state. The main environmental issues identified related to coffee farmers are inadequate management of water consumption, influenced by the lack of knowledge about irrigation techniques in some cases, and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The economic evaluation of the activity revealed a low index of producers belonging to a class organization. In social aspects the issues are low level of technical/technological instruction for coffee producers, temporary workers are often used, the old age of most producers, the lack of family succession for the activity, low incomes, the high number of temporary workers, and the absence of the worker gains. As for the technical dimension, only half of the farmers invest in innovation, which causes high obsolescence of their equipment and machinery and a low participation rate in training courses. In the environmental dimension, the farmers return the packages of pesticides to the stores where they bought them. In the technical dimension, most farmers perform soil analysis. Besides addressing the identified challenges, the initiatives can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, especially the 9th, 12th, and 13th.
... Organic systems offer a high soil biodiversity including abundant micro-and mesofauna which play critical roles in improving soil health, food supply and other ecosystem services (Briones 2018;Mommer et al. 2018;Wall et al. 2015). The virulence of many soilborne pathogens is suppressed in C-rich soils (e.g., organic soil or soils with manure additions; Cohen et al. 2005;Maeder et al. 2002;Xu and Jeger 2021), which are associated with the promotion in the diversity and density of soil biota (Carrión et al. 2019;Deng et al. 2022;Mommer et al. 2018). Fungivorous collembolans and nematodes have been successfully used to regulate the population dynamics and activities of pathogenic fungi, such as Phytophthora (Lussenhop 1992), Gaeumannomyces graminis var. ...
... The efficiency of faunal control over P. ultimum is may be attributed to the fungal grazing preference and increased microbial activity. Our results suggest that the key to ensure its effectiveness in natural soils is to create a soil environment that maintains the diversity and density of these fungivorous soil fauna (Guerra et al. 2021;Maeder et al. 2002). It should be noted that only the P. ultimum-tomato system with defaunated soil was tested in this study, whereas in natural soils there are more phytopathogenic fungi and soil animals to affect the crop health. ...
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... Various authors contrast the characteristics of industrialised production-of yield maximisation, the use of chemical inputs, and ecosystem suppression and control-with the ecological production approach of yield optimisation, species and landscape diversification and the synergistic integration of natural processes (e.g., [1][2][3]). While industrial production systems may thus attain high yields and profits over the short term, they are dependent on high costs and energy inputs and are associated with long term economic losses associated with soil fertility, biodiversity and crop nutritional quality [4]. ...
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In 2020 and amidst the upsurge in discourse around de-industrialisation, a consortium of sixteen indigenous leaders and organisations released a briefing statement that urged change amongst modern regenerative farming movements. Called ‘ Whitewashed Hope ’, the critique encouraged these movements to go deeper than simply taking indigenous practices out of context, but rather to encompass the worldviews they represent and in doing so to enable the cultural and relational changes needed for humanity’s collective healing. This paper takes a critical analysis approach to address the question of whether the critique of regenerative agriculture holds true for biodynamic agriculture in particular. This is explored using the hypothesis that there is no evidence of a synergistic relationship between the biodynamic worldview and the indigenous worldview as characterised in the document Whitewashed Hope . Drawing from the works of Rudolf Steiner as well as from other biodynamic texts, the paper uncovers synergies that exist between biodynamic and indigenous worldviews and explores the implications for regenerative farming systems. The aim of this paper is to instigate further debate and enquiry around the underexplored topic of how our worldviews impact our farming systems and of ways to develop an expanded worldview for more revitalised farming in the European context. Graphical Abstract
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The larvae of the black soldier fly (BSFL, Hermetia illucens) efficiently close resource cycles. Next to the nutrient-rich insect biomass used as animal feed, the residues from the process are promising plant fertilizers. Besides a high nutrient content, the residues contain a diverse microbial community and application to soil can potentially promote soil fertility and agricultural production through the introduction of beneficial microbes. This research assessed the application of the residues on plant-associated bacterial and fungal communities in the rhizosphere of a grass-clover mix in a 42-day greenhouse pot study. Potted soil was amended with BSFL residues (BR+) or conventional compost (CC+) produced by Rwandan waste management companies in parallel to residues and compost sterilized (BR-, CC-) by high energy electron beam (HEEB) as abiotic controls. The fertilizers were applied at a rate of 150 kg N ha−1. Soil bacterial and fungal communities in both fertilizer and soil were assessed by high-throughput sequencing of ribosomal markers at different times after fertilizer application. Additionally, indicators for soil fertility such as basal respiration, plant yield and soil physicochemical properties were analyzed. Results showed that the application of BSFL residues influenced the soil microbial communities, and especially fungi, stronger than CC fertilizers. These effects on the microbial community structure could partly be attributed to a potential introduction of microbes to the soil by BSFL residues (e.g., members of genus Bacillus) since untreated and sterilized BSFL residues promoted different microbial communities. With respect to the abiotic effects, we emphasize a potential driving role of particular classes of organic matter like fiber and chitin. Indeed, especially taxa associated with decomposition of organic matter (e.g., members of the fungal genus Mortierella) were promoted by the application of BSFL residues. Soil fertility with respect to plant yield (+17% increase compared to unamended control) and basal respiration (+16% increase compared to unamended control) tended to be improved with the addition of BSFL residues. Findings underline the versatile opportunities for soil fertility arising from the application of BSFL residues in plant production and point to further research on quantification of the described effects.
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In a long-term trial, the earthworm populations of two biological farming systems, two conventional systems and one control treatment were compared in a seven year crop rotation on a Luvisol from loess. The earthworms were investigated by handsorting at four dates during 1990–92. Nicodrilus longus (Ude), N. nocturnus (Evans), N. caliginosus (Savigny) and Allolobophora rosea (Savigny) were the dominant earthworm species in all treatments. The earthworm biomass and density, the presence of anecic species, and the number of juveniles were significantly higher in the biological than in the conventional or unfertilized plots. In addition, more earthworm species were found in the biological plots. In this trial, plant protection management seems to be the main factor responsible for the differences in earthworm populations.
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In agricultural systems, optimization of carbon and nitrogen cycling through soil organic matter can improve soil fertility and yields while reducing negative environmental impact. A basic tenet that has guided the management of soil organic matter for decades has been that equilibrium levels of carbon and nitrogen are controlled by their net input and that qualitative differences in these inputs are relatively unimportant. This contrasts with natural ecosystems in which there are significant effects of species composition and litter quality on carbon and nitrogen cycling,. Here we report the net balances of carbon and nitrogen from a 15-year study in which three distinct maize/soybean agroecosystems are compared. Quantitative differences in net primary productivity and nitrogen balance across agroecosystems do not account for the observed changes in soil carbon and nitrogen. We suggest that the use of low carbon-to-nitrogen organic residues to maintain soil fertility, combined with greater temporal diversity in cropping sequences, significantly increases the retention of soil carbon and nitrogen, which has important implications for regional and global carbon and nitrogen budgets, sustained production, and environmental quality.
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The effects of conventional and biological farming systems on soil P dynamics were studied by measuring some microbiological parameters after 13 years of different cropping systems. The treatments included control, biodynamic, bio-organic, and conventional plots and a mineral fertilizer treatment. The farming systems differed mainly in the form and quantity of nutrients applied and in the plant protection strategies. The results of a sequential fractionation procedure showed that irrespective of the form of P applied, neither 0.5 M NaHCO inf3 sup- nor 0.1 M NaOH-extractable organic P, but only the inorganic fractions, were affected. The residual organic P, not extracted by NaHCO3 or NaOH was increased in the biodynamic and bio-organic plots. The soil microbial biomass (ATP content) and the activity of acid phosphatase were also higher in both biologically managed systems. These results were attributed to the higher quantity of organic C and organic P applied in these systems, but also to the absence of or severe reduction in chemical plant protection. The relationship between acid soil phosphatase and residual organic P was interpreted as an indication that this fraction might be involved in short-term transformations. The measurement of the intensity, quantity, and capacity factors of available soil P using the 32P isotopic exchange kinetic method showed that P could not be the factor limiting crop yield in the biological farming systems. The kinetic parameters describing the ability of P ions to leave the soil solid phase, deduced from isotopic exchange, were significantly higher for the biodynamic treatment than for all other treatments. This result, showing a modification of chemical bonds between P ions and the soil matrix, was explained by the higher Ca and organic matter contents in this system.