The Science of Soil Life

Learn from 4 decades of research into the Soil Foodweb.  

Articles Published about the Soil Foodweb.

Articles in print media and journals that support the Soil Foodweb approach.

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Peer Reviewed Studies and Journals

Peer reviewed cited sources for scholarly journals about Soil Foodweb Research over the past 40 years.

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A Reflection on the Past

From the Green Revolution to the Biological Revolution

From the 1950's to the 1970's the "Green Revolution" ushered in the widespread adoption of chemical agriculture worldwide. Chemical Fertilizers like NPK, along with Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fungicides quickly were adopted into a new approach to agriculture.  Agronomists and Scientists of the day thought they could simply add chemicals plants required...and get the desired growth.  

However, it turns out they were missing the most important element of all...the Soil Biology.  Few scientists before Dr. Ingham and her husband Russ gave much though to the organisms within the soil.  Any scientist could take a soil sample and see Bacteria, Fungi, Protozoa, Nematodes, Amoeba, and Microarthropods under the microscope...but they didn't know HOW these organisms were affecting the soil itself.  As it turned out, Dr. Elaine Ingham started finding out that these organisms were not just important, they were the FOUNDATION of soil fertility.  Her research into the interactions of these organisms became known as the Soil Foodweb, and was a 180 degree shift from the chemical paradigm. 

While before, chemicals were thought to be silver bullet to plant growth, Dr. Ingham showed that the interaction of organisms in the soil was the real reason plants could take up nutrients and make them available.  In addition, these fertilizers, pesticides, and tilling techniques were actually degrading the soil year after year with each application.

As Dr. Ingham started to work with farmers and researchers, she started to prove that Soil Biology could improve the yields of plants and soil fertility far beyond the application of chemicals.   Compost and Compost teas could be applied that could  restore the Soil Biology, and repair the ecological function within the soil.

Her approach, research and results over 40 years show that by repairing the soil foodweb, a farmer's yields, soil health, and plant quality can be far improved over chemical applications.  What Elaine and her students are showing is that the soil foodweb approach to agriculture can be a true biological paradigm to replace our failing agriculture system.

Check out the articles and journals below to see some of the benefits and research on the Soil Foodweb approach.

The Benefits of Soil Life

A brief overview on how Soil Biology treatments can restore soil back to an optimal state of health. These results are backed up by scientific data, case studies, recorded evidence, and first hand experience.

  • Carbon Sequestration and GHG Mitigation.
  • Increased Yields and Reduced Input Costs.
  • Better Water Retention and Survival Rates During Drought.  Less Need for Irrigation.
  • Better Survival Rates During Extreme Weather (Flooding, Drought, Heatwaves, etc.)
  • Improved Crop Health and Resistance Against Pests and Weeds.
  • Can Eliminate the Need for Crop Rotation.
  • Better Ability to Break Down Toxic Chemicals, Along with Pesticide, Herbicide, and Fungicide Residuals.
  • Rapid Conversion from Chemical Farming to Certified Organic in as Little as One Growing Season.
  • Increased Profits from Crop Production and Reduced Input Costs and Crop Losses.
  • Effective Erosion Control.
  • Higher Crop and Plant Quality: Higher Brix, Available Nutrients, Less Deficiencies.
  • Better Animal Health and Reduced Animal Costs from Better Plant Growth and Waste Management.
  • Costly, Problematic Waste Streams can be Turned Into Beneficial Soil Amendments and Compost.
  • Breakdown of Hazardous Human and Animal Wastes.
  • Improved Landscape Aesthetics and Ability to Withstand Foot-Traffic.

What Soil Biology Can Do For Our Future.

Reflections on Permaculture

In 2014, a dynamic group of speakers collected in San Diego at an event called PV1 to discuss the advances in permaculture practices. Topics from grazing, to managing bees, to orchard production focused on the practical aspects of agriculture, but practices with a solid foundation in the underlying reasons for the practical management suggested. That an entire group such as this works with natural principles and does not try to force nature to fit into man's short-sighted control of plant productions means a practical, useful set of management tools are being developed to allow agriculture to become truly sustainable. The approach is to work WITH the planet on a long-term basis, instead of racing to short-term gains which ultimately destroy the very resources needed to stay alive. Permaculture has grasped that nature works by using the whole of life, from micro- to macro- sets of organisms, to cycle nutrients and to build soil. If we ignore any part of the system nature has used to build the biological world around us, we imperil ourselves.  

Working with Nature.
Continuing to promote sustainable practices without falling into the financial trap of selling one product, or teaching one set of practices, as if on-size-fits-all, will be a litmus test for permaculture. There is so much left to learn, so much more to be understood, we cannot afford to limit ourselves by assuming one tool, or even one set of tools, works everywhere. We need to continue to learn about the uniqueness of each area on the planet and which set of practices will allow that area to blossom. Different tools and practices are needed, or need to be combined in different ways, to be successful. Join in the joy of discovery! 

Elaine R., Ingham
President, Soil Foodweb Inc


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