In the ever-evolving landscape of British agriculture, the pursuit of sustainable and eco-friendly practices has become a top priority. Amidst this journey, the spotlight has turned to the intriguing world of mycorrhizal mycelium. These remarkable fungi form a unique partnership with plant roots, offering a multitude of benefits for both soil health and crop productivity. In this article, we delve into the wonders of mycorrhizal mycelium and explore how harnessing their potential can revolutionise farming practices. With insights from ground-breaking research conducted by scientists like Hawkins, Kiers, Sheldrake, and others, we will shed light on the invaluable role of mycorrhizal mycelium as a global carbon pool.
The Marvels of Mycorrhizal Mycelium:
Mycorrhizal mycelium operates as a dynamic underground network, serving as a vital bridge between plants and the soil. As plants provide carbohydrates to the fungi, they reciprocate by extending their hyphal strands, expertly exploring vast stretches of soil in search of essential nutrients and water. This intricate network of mycelium allows plants to access nutrients that might otherwise remain out of reach, ultimately leading to improved nutrient uptake efficiency—a key element for the future of modern farming, reducing nutrient losses in soils and their environmental consequences while addressing crop nutrition needs more effectively.
Enhanced Nutrient Uptake and Soil Health:
Through their extensive hyphal network, mycorrhizal mycelium captures crucial elements such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and micronutrients, thereby enhancing overall plant health. The result? Higher crop yields and increased resilience against environmental stresses, such as drought and disease.
Glomalin: The Soil-Building Compound:
Furthermore, mycorrhizal mycelium plays a vital role in enhancing soil structure through the formation of aggregates that foster improved aeration and water infiltration. Alongside mycorrhizal mycelium, glomalin, a glycoprotein produced by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, also contributes to this process, enhancing soil structure and boosting its carbon storage capacity. Acting as a natural glue, glomalin binds soil particles together, creating stable aggregates crucial for soil stability and resilience against erosion.
Carbon Sequestration and Climate Mitigation:
If we stand back for a moment and consider the role of these tiny fungi globally we can see that they exist as one of man’s best hope to redress global warming. Research by Hawkins, Kiers, Sheldrake and others confirms the profound impact of mycorrhizal mycelium on soil health and nutrient uptake. Their findings reveal that global plant communities allocate 3.93 Gt CO2e per year to arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, 9.07 Gt CO2e per year to ectomycorrhizal fungi, and 0.12 Gt CO2e per year to ericoid mycorrhizal fungi. Based on this estimate, a staggering 13.12 Gt of CO2e (approximately 36% of current annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels) fixed by terrestrial plants is allocated to the underground mycelium of mycorrhizal fungi annually.
Understanding Farmers’ Needs:
For British farmers, the need for fertile soil that consistently delivers essential nutrients to crops while enduring the unpredictable British climate is paramount. Sustainable farming is about striking a balance—reducing dependence on heavy chemical inputs, minimising soil erosion, and preserving the soil’s long-term health. Achieving this equilibrium is not only crucial for safeguarding future agricultural productivity but also for protecting the very environment that sustains us and contributing towards climate mitigation.
How to support mycorrhizal network in soils:
1. Minimise Deep Ploughing:
Deep ploughing can disrupt the delicate fungal structure formed by mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. By adopting reduced tillage or no-till practices, farmers can preserve the mycorrhizal networks and ensure their continued growth and effectiveness.
2. Intercrop with Host Plants:
In situations where farmers are planting non-associating crops that do not naturally form symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi e.g. Brassicaceae, they can consider intercropping with host plants like clover which is an excellent host for mycorrhizal fungi and sustain the fungal community below ground.
3. Introduce Mycorrhizal Fungi through Cover Crops:
The most effective way to intervene in the process of building mycorrhizal fungi communities in soils is by introducing them using specially treated cover crops after harvesting, once in a crop rotation. These legume-based cover crops are inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi. This method is particularly beneficial for rejuvenating soils and promoting mycorrhizal colonisation in areas lacking these fungi.
Modern British farming practices are finally recognising the untapped potential of mycorrhizal fungi in our soils. As regenerative farming becomes an integral part of every farmer’s thinking, it is becoming increasingly clear that farming efforts must shift towards building biology as well as managing crops to foster resilience and functional soils.
By reducing heavy chemical inputs, minimising deep ploughing, and considering intercropping with mycorrhizal fungi associating plants, we can nurture the growth of these remarkable soil allies. Furthermore, introducing mycorrhizal fungi through treated cover crops can accelerate the build-up process and promote long-term soil health and fertility. To see and learn more about this remarkable fungi, visit SMART ROTATIONS by PlantWorks ltd, the UK’s only mass producer of Mycorrhizal fungi, at CROPTEC stand 1.446.