If you are struggling to return worn-out soil to healthy grassland, the missing fixit may be arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) of the right species for your soil and climate.
Although a few commercial inoculants are available, when you consider the hundreds or thousands of AMF strains that may exist across different soil and plant types, your odds of getting what you need from a bottle are thin, says Wendy Taheri, mycorrhizal ecologist. Further, many of these products do not have live fungi, and many are specific to pine trees and similar organisms.
Taheri was with USDA as a researcher in South Dakota for the past 10 years but now is heading a new company in Georgia called TerraNimbus, LLC. That company specializes in supplying the right AMF for the location, soil type, and crop or forage type.
Much of this is centered around Taheri's collection of more than 900 strains of AMF from across the Great Plains, including the upper Midwest.
Although the company's supply still is limited, Taheri says they have set up to create custom inoculants to help people move from worn-out soils and high-input agriculture to healthy soils and a low-input, soil-building agriculture. She says besides inoculant, which can be expensive on a per-acre basis, it will also be possible to buy individual plants pre-colonized with the right AMF and plant them, spread out across your landscape. This may be a cheaper way, although likely slower, to get where you want to go.
Here are 16 benefits of healthy AMF populations
Increased soil fertility
Improve soil structure and water-holding capacity
Produce more nutritious food for livestock and humans
Replace expensive agricultural chemicals
Eliminate nutrient runoff and leaching
Increase plant nutrient use efficiency, especially of phosphorus
More production of essential oils
Protection from nematodes
Protection from fungal and bacterial plant diseases
More biomass and increased yields
More flowers and fruit
More carbon held in the soil
Pollinators prefer mycorrhizal-connected plants