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Mycorrhizae and the drought of 2012

The drought of 2012 has apparently been the worst this country has seen in over 50 years.  According to the USDA almost 80% of agricultural land is experiencing drought.  More than half of US counties have been designated disaster areas.  The Great Plains and Midwest were hit the hardest.  This has sent the price of soybeans and corn skyrocketing.

Most soybean and corn growers are using traditional synthetic methods developed after World War II.  For a long time feeding soils and crops synthetic fertilizer has been a cost effective near term solution despite its longer term implications for soil depletion, run off and health issues associated with the chemicals.  Now, it seems, the longer term implications are being questioned as is the costs associated with synthetic growing due to the ever increasing price of oil, which many of the synthetic chemicals are derived from.  Don has discussed these implications in various newsletters before.  These conditions are not the immediate cause of the drought.  Nevertheless, the conditions may have exacerbated the results, whereas we believe mycorrhizae and holistic growing practices would have reduced the impact of the drought and likely have for many growers using mycorrhizae.

How much can mycorrhizae help?  Although it is not a cure for drought conditions (plants still need water), mycorrhizae does reduce the need for water.  Once colonization of the roots occurs, hyphae form which allow the mycorrhizal fungi to forage for nutrients further into the soil.  The roots are thus able to find more moisture from the existing soil.  This is a condition plants/fungi developed over millions of years to adapt and survive when less rainfall occurred.  In addition, biologically active soils hold more moisture.

What has happened is that chemically fed plants do not have the mycorrhizal presence and thus lack the ability to fight drought conditions.  The soil is much less biologically active and the roots are reliant on constant water and fertilizing.  We have been receiving more inquiries regarding row crops and now there are some farmers using mycorrhizae although it is still a small percentage.  The change has been occurring, however gradual, and we hope it can continue.

Good growing,

Graham Phillips

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