It feels like scientists are revealing to us on a daily basis something about the different ways the gut biome impacts human health. And thanks to Dr Elaine R. Ingham, my guest today on Inside Ideas, we already fully understand the nature of another critical life source, the soil biome: the many threats it faces, and the steps we can take to save it for the sake of all human health – and the environment.
Dr Ingham is best known for uncovering the Soil Food Web, which can be thought of as a soil biome, the natural system that has been ‘feeding plants for billions of years’. When in balance the major groups that make up the Soil Food Web, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes, support the growth of healthy plants but when humans intervene, by over tilling and spraying fertiliser everywhere, soils degrade and die and, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that means there are only about ’60 years left before all the world’s topsoil is depleted’.
Dr Ingham says that because we are “tilling too much” we are “slicing and dicing and crushing all the organisms except for the bacteria”.
“What are you growing when you just basically have bacteria in the soil? Well you’re setting the stage to grow weeds. That’s what Mother Nature does at that stage of succession when you have just bacteria, it’s gonna be growing weeds and that’s not something we’re going to eat.”
To have good crops all the time “you’ve got to take the scientific approach” adds Dr Ingham, who has spent the last four decades leading research into the microorganisms in the soil.
“It’s not that it can’t become good soil once again but right now it’s dirt because you’re tilling too much,” Dr Ingham says.
But the good news is that the Soil Food Web can be restored to most soils within just a few months, benefiting farmers and the environment, as fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides are then no longer needed, because nature’s operating system kicks in again, saving farmers huge amounts of money on chemicals.
Some farmers who have worked with Dr Ingham on this have seen their yields increase by over 200%. And Dr Elaine’s Soil Food Web School has a variety of courses, for ‘farmers and growers’ as well as ‘everyone else’ to guide anyone who wants to learn how to work in harmony with soil.
This is an immensely important topic, so I am delighted to welcome Dr Ingham on to the show to discover what we need to do to achieve the best outcomes for the soils that sustain us all.