Matt Ruark, Extension soil scientist
Department of Soil Science
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Total Time – 3:04
0:13 – Importance of soil
0:33 – What’s in soil
1:23 – Are microbes good or bad?
1:47 – Promoting good microbes
2:20 – Where to find more information about inoculants
2:54 – Lead out
Lorre Kolb: The life of soil, we’re visiting today with Matt Ruark, Extension soil specialist, Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Lorre Kolb. Matt, what is important about soil.
Matt Ruark: Well soil is obviously one of our biggest economic resources in the state of Wisconsin. Agriculture obviously is a huge industry in the state and we use our soil resource to produce the crops that feed our animals and that feed us. So, we’re doing a lot of work here to preserve that resource.
Lorre Kolb: What is in soil that works for agriculture, that helps the plants grow?
Matt Ruark: Well, a great way to answer that is to bring up this idea of soil health. And we talk about soil health as having a holistic look at the soil. We have the physical aspect of the soil, how well that soil sticks together and lets water infiltrate in and how well it holds water during dry periods; we have the chemical properties of the soil, most importantly the nutrients that it holds that it supplies to plants; and then we have the biological part of the soil. Now the biological part of the soil is perhaps one of the most understudied aspects of soil science. And it’s incredibly important because there’s microbes in the soil that are degrading – last year’s plant materials, they are cycling nutrients and they’re the big drivers of nitrogen and sulfur cycles in our soil.
Lorre Kolb: So the microbes that are in the soil, are they good, bad, do they help?
Matt Ruark: There’s a lot of them that are bad and we do things to control them, but there are many that are very good and very important. For example, there’s different kinds of bacteria and fungi in the soil that are beneficial to the plant and actually promote the health of the plant.
Lorre Kolb: What can you do to promote the good microbes?
Matt Ruark: There’s certain management practices you can do reducing the amount of soil disturbance like tillage, the more organic matter you can bring in and try to build your organic matter in and that can be through compost, through manure, through just growing other crops. There’s a lot of interest in should we inoculate our seeds or inoculate our soil with these microorganisms. So a lot of companies are producing these additives to the soil to try to stimulate the bacteria, the fungi growth around the seed when you plant.
Lorre Kolb: So where can people find out more about the inoculants and the research that’s been done?
Matt Ruark: We have three new Extension publications on this topic that can be found at the University of Wisconsin Learning Store. And what we’ve done in each of these articles is review the current state of knowledge of all of these specific soil bacteria or fungi and determine if they’ve ever shown to be beneficial or not and generally speaking they have. We don’t have a lot of field data in Wisconsin to verify this, but it’s been a big topic of interest recently among farmers and many homeowners.
Lorre Kolb: We’re visiting today with Matt Ruark, Extension soil specialist, Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Lorre Kolb.