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The Ignored Parts of Soil

Over the years, I have managed to get on the mailing lists of several trade magazines that deal with commercial agriculture and horticulture. Nearly every issue of these magazines contains at least one article about soil management, but I rarely see any mentions of either trace elements or biological components.

If you knew nothing about soil except what you read in trade journals, you would have to believe that the only role of growers is to create the proper macro chemistry for their plants. There are thousands of astute words about getting the pH and the N and the P and the K just right, and the more sophisticated articles even discuss Iron and Zinc.

However, the common attitude about other minor and trace elements seems to be that they are either "probably already there" or "don't matter all that much", and (with a few exceptions) soil biology is never mentioned at all.

The authors of these advice articles seem to be intelligent and educated people, so I have to assume they have at some time been been exposed to two fundamental concepts: 1.) At least 16 chemical elements are equally important to the full health and performance of plants, although required in greatly differing amounts; and 2.) A substantial percentage of good crop soil consists of beneficial living organisms (tons per acre).

So, why do the ag/hort authors tend to consistently ignore these obvious soil issues? Is it a vast conspiracy by the big chemical fertilizer corporations? (And are there any non-vast conspiracies, perhaps only half-vast ones?)

No, I would instead speculate that discussions of lesser trace elements and/or soil biology have a tendency to get too complicated and confusing. Putting out information that is easily understood and giving advice that is easily followed does make far more sense from a simple-to-grasp standpoint (by editors as well as readers).

I do have to admit that relating to the living things in soil (many of them invisible) is not always easy, and that focusing on just three or four major chemical elements is more measurable-manageable than worrying about 16 or more. However, for those growers who really comprehend words like "sustainability" and who are getting tired of constantly battling pest and disease problems caused by unhealthy soils, some added depth to advisory articles might be a welcome resource.

Perhaps the trade magazines could put a caution on their covers - "Warning: Contains new ideas!"

Listen to the plants, folks.

Don Chapman
President, BioOrganics, Inc.

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