In production agriculture, soil is the foundation for everything. Soil is responsible for water availability, managing nutrients and minerals for the plants, and hosting a massive microbiome teeming with life. Most growers are aware of common best practices around soil health: limiting passes over the field to avoid soil compaction, minimizing tillage, cover cropping and developing advanced drainage systems to name a few. However, supporting the soil microbiome to ensure it is primarily populated with beneficial microbes is a newer approach to developing robust soil health. This can help plants to reach closer to their true genetic potential.
HELM is pushing the boundaries of soil health best practices by focusing on a concept called “shaping the soil”. Shaping the soil refers to preparing the soil to make it an environment for vigorous and healthy root and plant growth.
Managing for beneficial microbes
There are microbes in the soil that can help our crops to thrive, and others that can harm them. The useful microbes are called “beneficial microbes,” and the harmful ones are called pathogens.
Beneficial microbes are essential to plant health and productivity. They come with a host of benefits, including:
- Speeding up nutrient release to the crop
- Helping soil particles to stick together for a stronger soil structure
- Improving the water holding capacity of the soil
- Accelerating breakdown of plant residues
- Promoting plant growth
HELM has tools within its Plant Advantage™ portfolio that can help good microbes to flourish in the soil. Soil-Set® is a metabolite-based product specifically designed to feed and support good microbes. They can then outcompete and outpopulate pathogens for healthier, more productive soil. High populations of good microbes crowd out pathogens for resources, providing a healthier growing environment for the crop.
What metabolites do
Metabolites are the output of microbes. They are the end product growers want when they put microbes on the soil. Instead of releasing live bugs into an inconsistent and unpredictable environment, HELM takes a different approach. Utilizing a controlled, consistent fermentation process, HELM captures the metabolites that good microbes produce and uses them as the foundation for Soil-Set.
Many biological products are microbes or “live bugs”, as they are commonly referred to. Microbes can be unpredictable and inconsistent in field performance because they need to have specific environmental conditions to perform well. In addition, they, can struggle in tank mixes with herbicides and fertilizers and require more careful handling than metabolites.
The metabolite difference
Metabolites allow for precision feeding of strictly beneficial microbes. As a real-world example, imagine you are trying to feed cows on pasture without feeding coyotes nearby. If you feed hay, you can be sure only the cows will eat it, and it won’t be wasted on coyotes. Soil-Set works in a similar way, designed as a specific food source for specific good microbes.
Fermentation metabolites deliver two major benefits to the soil and the crop:
First, the product that you are putting on your field is consistent, easy to use, and will have the same desired effect, every time. The risk of environmental variability is limited dramatically through using metabolites. Because it is known what these microbes do naturally, HELM has built a production system to recreate that more consistently and reliably.
Second, metabolites are much easier to handle, mix, and apply. They fit into most herbicide and fertilizer programs and can be easily included into the existing passes you are making over the field. They also require little to no special treatment in storage.
Help the plant to help itself
By shaping the soil as a foundation for your crop, you can limit the amount of energy the plant spends defending itself from pathogens; you can redirect those resources to productivity. This allows the plant to conserve energy rather than wasting it by fighting off disease. The plant will also have an additional boost from the beneficial microbe population in the soil.
As you consider your options for the next growing season, look towards improving your soil microbiome to increase plant health and durability for the season.
To learn more about soil health and the microbiome, consider taking our online Soil Health Learning Module. You can also reach out to your local retailer or HELM representative or look at individual products on helmcrop.com.