Crop rotation and the role of microorganisms

Crop rotation has been used effectively  for centuries; however, this is the first article that I have seen that discusses the changes in the microorganisms in the soil as a result of the rotation.

It’s probably not surprising that the organisms changed. What surprised me was that with the wheat the soil microorganisms were mostly bacteria. When crops the crops were changes to oats or peas, there was a shift to soil fungi.

I’d expect to see more studies about the role of microorganisms in the soil in the future. As we move towards using less fertilizer and towards sustainable agricultural practices the role of microorganisms may well be the key feature.



Crop rotation and the role of microorganisms

Crop rotation has been used since ancient times to improve plant nutrition and to limit the spread of disease. A new study reveals this relates to enriching the soil with bacteria, fungi and protozoa.

Crop rotation is the practice of growing a series of different types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons. The practice of crop rotation gives various benefits to the soil, such as the replenishment of nitrogen.

In essence, the new research has demonstrated that changing the crop species massively changes the content of microbes in the soil, which in turn helps the plant to acquire nutrients, regulate growth and protect itself against pests and diseases, boosting yield. The location where this happens is called the rhizosphere. The rhizosphere is the narrow region of soil that is directly influenced by root secretions and associated soil microorganisms.

To show this an organic agricultural study was conducted. Soil was collected from a field near Norwich (in the U.K.) and planted with wheat, oats and peas. After growing wheat, the analysis of the soil showed that it remained largely unchanged and the microbes in it were mostly bacteria. However, growing oat and pea in the same soil caused a huge shift towards fungi.

To show this, extensive genetic testing was required because each gram of soil contains over 50,000 species of bacteria. The findings of the study could be used to develop plant varieties that encourage beneficial microbes in the soil.

The study was published in Nature’s The ISME Journal. The paper is titled “Comparative metatranscriptomics reveals kingdom level changes in the rhizosphere microbiome of plants.”

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