In our experience, when microbial inoculants are applied as part of a different nutrition management system, they have consistently been some of the most significant ROI applications, and produce dramatic changes in soil health. Yet, many growers buy ‘bugs in a jug’ and see little or no response. When this happens, it often because the applied inoculant was put into the wrong environment, was not supported with biostimulants, or fertilizer and pesticide applications were continued. Don’t expect to continue managing everything else the same, and a microbial inoculant will change soil biology. The biology became degraded in the first place because of management practices and product applications. If these remain the same, don’t expect biology to make a miraculous comeback.
From the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast with Michael McNeill:
John: When you have a degraded system like that—where there are suppressed yields and suppressed soil health, as you’re describing it—how do you go from depressed yields of 70 to 90 bushels per acre back up to 200, with aspirations of going back up to 250 bushels per acre? How do you achieve that?
Michael: Well, it’s a long, hard task. There aren’t any silver bullets. You have to figure out what was going wrong and stop doing that—that’s number one. Number two, you’re going to have to look at what it’s going to take to remediate the soil. Has the soil become really hard—hard like a road? I get penetrometer readings where it takes 500 pounds of downward pressure to penetrate the top two inches of the soil—that’s hard. That’s just like a gravel road. A crop will not grow in that.
When they tilling it, it’s breaking up into chunks. And then when it rains, it puddles and it just seals over. And so we get no oxygen into the soil. You have to incorporate some tillage, and then you have to start providing some food for the microbial life—which is almost non-existent. It’s not non-existent, because you can bring it back—that’s the good news. If you don’t let this thing go too long, you can bring it back.
Now whether we’re bringing all of it back or not, I don’t know. But once you get it started coming back, then you can look at inoculating with mycorrhizae and some of the things—the pseudomonads, the actinomycetes—that could be missing, and stimulate them. But first, you have to get oxygen into the soil, get the water working correctly, and get the food right. There’s no magic in inoculating the soil—if it’s loaded with poison, it will kill your inoculant. You have to fix that problem first before you try inoculating. You wouldn’t have to do an inoculation, but it does speed it up—you gain about a year, maybe two years, when you do that.
I see people thinking they’re buying a magic silver bullet by inoculating, but then they continue to do the things that caused their soil to die in the first place. And they’re not winning. They’re losing.