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Thread: Evidence-based biological farming

  1. #1
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Evidence-based biological farming

    To stop myself sidetracking my own thread completely I thought I'd start a new one on biological farming and the evidence for it. Once again I'll say this isn't my firm and incontrovertible view, it is however the view I'm most tempted to take at the present time.

    As I said in the other thread I haven't seen that much hard evidence presented by the proponents of biological farming or satisfactory referencing to peer-reviewed papers. The explanations given as to how the various organisms work in helping the cash crop function are, to me at least, pretty plausible but I'm accustomed to seeing footnotes backing up pretty much every non-trivial claim in the studies and papers I normally read.

    I'm not trying to have a go at anyone in particular and I'm certainly not a sceptic. I actually really would like to opt for this type of approach but I'm not prepared to commit a whole load of money just because someone says, "Trust me, I've spent a long time doing this. If you're sceptical it's just because it's difficult to understand". Actually, no, it doesn't seem that difficult to understand it's just that we need the evidence - showing a picture of a nice green field with added bio-stimulants and another field without which looks less healthy doesn't count!

    Our local vicar can say something similar: "Look, I've been a vicar all my life, I've studied the teachings of Jesus and I believe in God and so you should too. However, religion is pretty complex so I don't really need to give you a proper explanation because you're a dunderhead". Does this mean I immediately believe in God? Again, no, because that type of statement doesn't cut it and it shouldn't carry any sway for anyone with a vaguely scientific background. Biological farming shouldn't be presented in a quasi-religious manner which requires leaps of faith into the arms of the self-proclaimed cognoscenti. Why? Because it doesn't need to be presented in this way. Religion does (arguably) because, well, it's religion and proving that God doesn't exist is a little tricky. The claims contained within the biological farming approach, on the other hand, are testable, refutable and, to an acceptable degree, verifiable so why not present them as such and then present the evidence? I'm being a little harsh here but only to accentuate a flaw.

    So this thread is an attempt to try and collate quality evidence, both for and against, that has been subject to the scrutiny of those who are in position to scrutinise - that is, scientific research that has been undertaken which uses controls, randomised sampling, statistical error analysis, experimental repetition and peer-review. From the reading I've done so far, and that isn't much, there does seem a fair amount out there, even freely available, that backs up the claims of the aforementioned proponents. If anyone has any such research please post a link and I'll enjoy reading even if no-one else does - the more the merrier.

    My first contribution has not appeared in a stellar journal with a huge number of citations saying how wonderful the work was; it is, however, better than what we've been given so far and it's a start:

    Abou-Aly, H.E. & Mady, M.A. (2009), 'Complemented Effect of Humic Acid and Biofertilizers on Wheat Productivity', Annals of Agic. Sc., Moshtohor, Vol. 47(1): pp. 1-12.

    Link (should be the first link on the page):

    http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?...=en&as_sdt=0,5

  2. #2
    FarmerDan
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by Feldspar View Post
    So this thread is an attempt to try and collate quality evidence, both for and against, that has been subject to the scrutiny of those who are in position to scrutinise - that is, scientific research that has been undertaken that uses controls, randomised sampling, statistical error analysis, experimental repetition and peer-review. From the reading I've done so far, and that isn't much, there does seem a fair amount out there, even freely available, that backs up the claims of the aforementioned proponents.
    It's certainly a very interesting topic and I'm looking at finding answers to these questions myself.

    I do wonder if PROVING that these products work can be done and indeed whether it's possible to get the definitive answers you're looking for. Biological systems are so very complex that studying only one variable at a time may be almost meaningless when everything is so interconnected.

    My own view is that it is valid to adopt some aspects of the biological approach to farming on the basis that it tries to imitate / restore natural processes and these natural processes have evolved over millenia to create a stable and sustainable system. That system works regardless of whether we understand it and regardless of whether a boffin in a lab has proved it works.

    As the philosopher said to the aeronautics professor, "Bumblebees fly. Deal with it."

    What I am sure of is that using up finite resources (oil, mined minerals, soil etc) at the rate we are will have to end, and we'll have to do something else instead.

  3. #3
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by FarmerDan View Post
    It's certainly a very interesting topic and I'm looking at finding answers to these questions myself.

    I do wonder if PROVING that these products work can be done and indeed whether it's possible to get the definitive answers you're looking for. Biological systems are so very complex that studying only one variable at a time may be almost meaningless when everything is so interconnected.

    My own view is that it is valid to adopt some aspects of the biological approach to farming on the basis that it tries to imitate / restore natural processes and these natural processes have evolved over millenia to create a stable and sustainable system. That system works regardless of whether we understand it and regardless of whether a boffin in a lab has proved it works.

    As the philosopher said to the aeronautics professor, "Bumblebees fly. Deal with it."

    What I am sure of is that using up finite resources (oil, mined minerals, soil etc) at the rate we are will have to end, and we'll have to do something else instead.
    Good post and very thought provoking - I like the quote! In particular I think the degree of approximation to natural systems as a guide to action is a useful approach. Of course such an approach does require that natural systems are well understood in order to permit a measure of the likeness to nature.

    Is it reasonable to say that the challenge of proving the efficacy of biological methods is as difficult as proving the efficacy of artificial products?

    I suppose your post raises the question of the value of an uncertain conclusion based upon an uncertain method. The effort to investigate the effects of humans on the climate falls into the category you describe: many different variables, all of which are highly interconnected and, by and large, impossible to hold constant. More generally it's pretty likely that, with the pessimistic meta-induction in mind, our current scientific theories are false -- i.e. do not completely reflect the way the world actually is-- and those that will come along to replace them as well. Does this mean climate models are valueless? [No, I don't want a global warming debate.] Are they even worse than useless? Should we just not bother with science? Obviously we should; science has made my toaster work, helped me to get in a plane with the confidence that gravity is unlikely to suddenly display its capricious side half way across the Atlantic and it has provided an excuse to spend many years at university. Just because I'm not 100% sure of my understanding doesn't mean I'm going to stay under my bed covers all my life for fear of falling aircraft.

    There are topics -- try and prove the reduction of thermodynamics to kinetic gas theory with any current computer you care to use -- that science is not yet in a position to answer even though the questions are well within the normal realms of science and so obviously we shouldn't insist upon a scientific proof of everything that prima facie appears to be scientific.

    I don't, however, think that biological farming falls into that category; I believe that there is hope of an answer or at least some answers with less than 100% confidence. For a start the understanding of soil micro-organisms is not exactly scant, although there's still a long way to go it seems. Furthermore is the lack of control of the multitude of intertwined variables that much of a problem? If you could control them how would that help? Say you could control the weather, great (especially this year!!!) but what would you then do? Produce weather which reflects typical British weather? What is typical British weather?

    I think that simply being reasonably confident that these various variables take the same values over the duration of the experiment for both the control and experimental sites (easyish if you grow the plots side by side in a roughly spatially homogeneous field) allows you to go a fair way towards saying that, given the conditions experienced, the trial plot displayed a significant (in the technical sense) positive benefit (I've forgotten a lot my statistics so the last bit might be more tricky than I make out). Sure, "given the conditions experienced", is a bit limiting in that those particular conditions will never happen again but I think that with experimental repetition in conditions that are at least vaguely normal I'd pay some attention to the conclusions.

  4. #4

  5. #5
    Mayo
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    I don't believe any of this is myth or that new fangled and its certainly not something any of us should scorn as we might organic farming. Its obvious we have been using and working with wholly biological processes for years, only we did not (and still don't) understand them properly, so we had a best guess scenario backed up with a lot of active ingredients.

    Everyone farming who visits this forum is by default farming biologically, albeit with chemistry to fettle and manage it in a way they require. That is what farming in a nut shell is, making plants and animals do physically useful work for mankind that they would otherwise only do for themselves. That's the crux of it, plain and simple- I didn't go without protein today because I relied on someone's cow doing it for me three days ago.

    I also believe that the deeper you delve into biological processes, the better your understanding will be of the need for artificial inputs and the more effective you will be at using them, not the other way around.

  6. #6
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by Mayo View Post
    I also believe that the deeper you delve into biological processes, the better your understanding will be of the need for artificial inputs and the more effective you will be at using them, not the other way around.
    Do you have an example of a biological process which shows why artificial inputs are needed? Would boron be an example?

    Also why do you say "... not the other way around" and what exactly do you mean by that?

  7. #7
    Mayo
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Feldspar, sorry, I didn't write that very well. I just don't think that by gaining a total grasp of what is going on biologically in any farming system you are going to be able to suddenly turn your back on all chemical or artificial inputs. Rather the reason they work will become clear and your use of them will become more effective.

    However good your biology in a plant, an animal or a soil, there will be perfectly normal and natural barriers to progress which will limit you or your output/efficiency/yield etc. An example of this is the fact that pigs fed purely on a diet like barley suffer lysine deficiency- doesn't matter what we do to the pig or how we grow the barley, it just doesn't contain lysine, an essential component for that pig.

    Likewise, if an are has soil which is missing boron or iron totally, or it is full of antagonists like aluminium, a man made solution will have to be found- the same reason nature does not choose to grow anything on the spoil from lead mines.

    If we understand the biology involved, the better we will be able to get all the factors working for us.

  8. #8
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by Mayo View Post
    Feldspar, sorry, I didn't write that very well. I just don't think that by gaining a total grasp of what is going on biologically in any farming system you are going to be able to suddenly turn your back on all chemical or artificial inputs. Rather the reason they work will become clear and your use of them will become more effective.

    However good your biology in a plant, an animal or a soil, there will be perfectly normal and natural barriers to progress which will limit you or your output/efficiency/yield etc. An example of this is the fact that pigs fed purely on a diet like barley suffer lysine deficiency- doesn't matter what we do to the pig or how we grow the barley, it just doesn't contain lysine, an essential component for that pig.

    Likewise, if an are has soil which is missing boron or iron totally, or it is full of antagonists like aluminium, a man made solution will have to be found- the same reason nature does not choose to grow anything on the spoil from lead mines.

    If we understand the biology involved, the better we will be able to get all the factors working for us.
    I agree with you but I also think that the more one understands the biological aspect the greater the realisation that perhaps the modern method of crop production is undervaluing various naturally occurring substances. Just reading about fulvic acids at the moment which are fascinating and definitely not something we've ever heard mentioned by the salesmen that sell us our artificial phosphate fertilisers (well why would they because it might well mean we'd need to put less on).

  9. #9
    Barleycorn
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    I think that you hit the nail on the head with your last sentence.

    The agrochemical firms are not going to fund research to prove that their products are not needed, and there is little independently funded research going on, especially this side of the Atlantic.

    I believe that modern farming is putting the cart before the horse. Ie you work out your spray / fertiliser programme a year ahead, and carry on regardless. A more sensible approach would be to see what the soil can provide, and then help it in the most damage limiting way possible. I don't think that biological farming is compatable with insecticide and high fungicide use.

    This is what farming used to be all about. Like knowing to feed your pigs triticale instead of barley if your worried about lysine deficiency!

    We went organic to get a better price for the milk, as our system was never that spray intensive. In the years that I have been farming organically I have learn't an awfull lot about getting on without relying on agrochemicals to get me out of trouble. We do study the soil, and use Albrect testing where we have a problem, but try to find away of releasing a deficient element, by increasing soil OM, or crop rotation etc, rather than going straight for a soluble plant food. Having said that this year we have had problems with potash on a couple of Lucerne fields, and have had to use sulphate of potash as a stopgap, but we will try to find a strategy to cure this long term.

  10. #10
    Mayo
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    I agree in part, the problem with chemical/synthetic approach is that we can bash our way into or out of any situation and ably encouraged by latitude seed dressings, magic bullets like SDHIs and Atlantis etc. I think that pony is on its last legs myself, this wheat/rape thing is going to die a death, you need only compare the dirt on a pure out and out margin per acre farm with one where rotations are used to see how alive the soil is under each system. The land is inherently more fertile and up to the job, yields and quality are maintained more readily, we have to move back to a more balanced approach, continually beating the heck out of the chemical tool box is only going to tilt the biological playing field against us in terms of disease, weeds and pests I think.

  11. #11
    shakerator
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    http://www.notill.org/leading_edge/Leading%20Edge.pdf


    read page 5; soil health and the limits of human knowledge

  12. #12
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by shakerator View Post
    http://www.notill.org/leading_edge/Leading%20Edge.pdf


    read page 5; soil health and the limits of human knowledge
    My as per usual not very firm response and written in 5 minutes:

    Interesting but I didn't find it very convincing. A couple of things in no particular order. Firstly the level of understanding of macro-phenomena is not coupled very strongly to the understanding of micro-phenomena. To use the example I gave before, the kinetic theory of gases was understood quite a long time ago but philosophers of physics are still struggling to explain the irreversibility of processes such as ice-cubes melting at the macro-scale. Physicists seem to have correctly predicted the existence of the Higgs boson (rather small) but still they can't predict exactly when an earthquake will happen (quite large). We're still not quite sure how fast ice-sheets will melt but we can make nuceli fission to give us energy. Need I go on? So in summary I think that's a rubbish part of the argument.

    Secondly giving examples of ideas that have since been discredited in an attempt to convert all and sundry towards agnostic inaction is a lame attempt. Would you like me to give a much longer list of things that science has got right? The list could be as long as you like. What's the point of throwing up your hands and saying all is hopeless when clearly there have been huge improvements, as indeed the author admits - trends rather than absolute levels (which are meaningless anyway) are more important. What's the rationale behind refusing to look below the soil's surface because things are smaller and more numerous? Sure there's a lot that is yet to be understood but since when was that a reason for rejecting an entire subject area?

    Lastly he seems to be committing the fallacy of clinging to the status quo in the hope that it is the most likely to be best course of action and refusing to move whilst there's still any degree of uncertainty. I think Farmer Dan's philosophy works well to combat this sort of viewpoint. If you identify something that is normally present in nature but seems to be deficient in the current case then put it back in again. It doesn't matter how big or small that thing is either. The advice of sticking to what we can easily observe, profit, is another red herring if one takes a longer term view (if you're a short term tenant with no scruples then you can disagree). It assumes that everything is correctly priced and that there are no externalities present. Further you get away from nature the more likely it is that externalities will exists because the process of evolution is slow and had a long time to make sure everything was considered.

  13. #13
    Willscale
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Well I just puts my direct drill in the ground and a seed comes up like...


    Not being funny I like a debate but we've had Jesus, the Higgs Bosun particle and Organic farming (three things without much scientific proof ) and I'm not sure what your trying to find out?

    Feldspar - have a look at Allan Savorys Holistic Management book if you like a bit of innovative thinking on natural systems. I love that book

  14. #14
    FarmerDan
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by Willscale View Post
    Well I just puts my direct drill in the ground and a seed comes up like...


    Don't know what I was worrying about!

  15. #15
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by Willscale View Post
    Well I just puts my direct drill in the ground and a seed comes up like...


    Not being funny I like a debate but we've had Jesus, the Higgs Bosun particle and Organic farming (three things without much scientific proof ) and I'm not sure what your trying to find out?

    Feldspar - have a look at Allan Savorys Holistic Management book if you like a bit of innovative thinking on natural systems. I love that book
    I'll try and get a hold of the book.

    Also it's a 'boson' -- a bosun resides on a ship -- and there's a 5 sigma confidence level, which is a one in a million chance that the result was due to random variations which is about as good as can be expected for any scientific result.

  16. #16
    FarmerDan
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by Feldspar View Post
    If you identify something that is normally present in nature but seems to be deficient in the current case then put it back in again.
    The main two things most arable farms are missing are plant diversity and animals.

    Both are easily returned. Neither will make you more money in the short term.

    Cover crops and companion cropping will give you a degree of plant diversity.

    Stop spending your winters shooting and get some sheep/cattle you lazy buggers

  17. #17
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by Willscale View Post
    Well I just puts my direct drill in the ground and a seed comes up like...
    Or not in the case of your spring rape.

  18. #18
    Willscale
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Ah yes the spring rape...I think it was generally roundup residue, poor ph in parts of the field, leathejackets and a cold spring. I won't be making the same mistake twice but hey ho. 75% emergence in the end.

    But seriously you can look at this various ways. I think science can prove almost anything, the problem is we science is still about testing a hypothesis and we judge our new ideas in light of the old ones, and whilst that is human nature, who says that is the best way to look at new ideas? In fact it is almost certainly not. Possibly

    As my old mate, farmers son Isaac Newton discovered only when we knew the earth was round and not flat could he develop the universal law of gravity.

  19. #19
    Willscale
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Also I think it is worth looking at videos by someone like Kris Nichols who explains what we (think we) know about soil biological process' so far and they tell us how nutrients move, become better availible, less available etc.


    http://vimeo.com/search?q=kris+nichols - 3 here

    Basically these can point you in the direction of finding out what the parameters of a healthy soil biology are and how you could potentially build it better again

  20. #20
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by Willscale View Post

    But seriously you can look at this various ways. I think science can prove almost anything, the problem is we science is still about testing a hypothesis and we judge our new ideas in light of the old ones, and whilst that is human nature, who says that is the best way to look at new ideas? In fact it is almost certainly not. Possibly
    In the interest of digression and because I spent last year doing this:

    Karl Popper (celebrated philosopher of science in the 20th century) argued that science cannot actually positively prove anything. Hypotheses can only be falsified and can never be verified (e.g. one black swan falsifies the hypothesis that all swans are white whereas 1000 white swans do not verify it). [Of course you don't have to agree with him.]

    Also Thomas Kuhn (another celebrated 20th century philosopher of science) would argue that we do not, and cannot, judge new ideas in the light of old ones if a paradigm shift has occurred. In such a case the two ideas are called 'incommensurable'.

    There, I'm finished. Even I've forgotten what my original question was.

  21. #21
    martian
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by FarmerDan View Post
    The main two things most arable farms are missing are plant diversity and animals.

    Both are easily returned. Neither will make you more money in the short term.

    Cover crops and companion cropping will give you a degree of plant diversity.

    Stop spending your winters shooting and get some sheep/cattle you lazy buggers
    Couldn't agree more. Dug out Grandad's copy of Friend Sykes' 'Humus and the farmer' whilst waiting for the rape to dry. He turned a chalky hill into the most fertile farm around during the war, using no artificials, only deep rooting herb leys mob stocked and lots of home made compost. Top yields - there's your evidence. (He also liked to plough the ground three or four times before drilling, as well as subsoil every 8 years, but he didn't have roundup in his arsenal...)

  22. #22
    Barleycorn
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Very true, we farm about ten miles from Sykes' farm on similar chalky soil. His old farm is currently being farmed by Velcourt, so a bit of a change there now.

    When I started farming on the family farm with my sisters in the seventies every field was fenced and watered. Of course being a clever college educated young buck I took little persuasion to concentrate grazing around the dairies, and farm the outlying fields with an intensive arable and silage rotation. As trailers / dungspreaders got bigger we did concentrate the muck on these fields. Now, helped a lot by cheap and efficient electric fencing, most of these fields are fenced again and we are extending the dairy grazing fields as far a practable. There is a lot of fertility in urine.
    We have a couple of blocks too far from the dairies to cart our own compost / slurry, but while we do get reasonable crops using council produced compost, there is something magical in cow muck!
    I think the basic difference between this sort of farming and the way we used to farm is that you always plan to leave the soil better every year, perhaps by using a green manure and a spring crop whereas in the past winter wheat would have been the order of the day. A great quotation from A G Street, a contemporary of Sykes, "Farm as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die tomorrow"

  23. #23
    JD_Kid
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    The main two things most arable farms are missing are plant diversity and animals.

    Both are easily returned. Neither will make you more money in the short term.

    agree and disagree on that know a lot of guys under NZ farming doing alot better cropping and tradeing stock than just pure cropping diffrent set ups i know

    down side i see id live stock farmers will pay XXX for grains etc but yet under value grasses fodders grazeing etc

  24. #24
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    This is a really interesting paper appearing in a highly reputable journal:

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/...3/fulltext.pdf

    I think this paper may well not be available to most but if you wish to find out more you can PM me.

    10 different cultivars of winter wheat were inoculated with Azospirillum brasilense which increased the average yield to 7.361 t/ha compared to the control value of 6.411 t / ha by increasing the efficiency of N2 uptake. Alternatively to obtain the same yield of 7.5 t/ha a saving of 67 kg/ha or 87 kg/ha of mineral nitrogen fertiliser was possible (two values reflect different strains of bacteria) if the inoculant was used.

    These are 'highly significant' results as the paper says. The study was conducted in Belgian rainfed clay soils so not so dissimilar to here.

    They did, however, do a similar experiment for spring wheat which produced a null result.

  25. #25
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Here's another article from the same journal which finds no effect from inoculation with the same type of bacteria (different strain):

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/...l/fulltext.pdf

    Different place (Israel) and different planting date (mid December), different application program and so on.

    Really giving a couple of articles isn't really going to be enough but I suppose it gives a flavour or the range of responses.

  26. #26
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Actually both those papers were pretty old. This is a good review article which is pretty recent:

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/...7/fulltext.pdf

  27. #27
    York
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    I hope all the researchers you are quoting are still alive. ;-)
    York-Th.

  28. #28
    Mayo
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Trials are on going regarding inoculating seed of all kinds with bugs and other things. Of course the problem is the trials are unsuccessful are never brought to light.

    Personally I believe we are on the cusp of a very exciting time in agriculture, within my lifetime advances will be made and changes will be made that will be as revolutionary as the tractor replacing the horse.

  29. #29
    Willscale
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by York View Post
    I hope all the researchers you are quoting are still alive. ;-)
    York-Th.
    Do you think that what I was saying is because Mr Albrecht is dead his theories are not relavent?

    Feldspar - the problem with all those papers is they are all about adding an external biological influence in the hope that it may prove useful. That's quite a narrow approach in my view which will always be quite inconclusive.

  30. #30
    Feldspar
    Guest

    Re: Evidence-based biological farming

    Quote Originally Posted by Willscale View Post

    Feldspar - the problem with all those papers is they are all about adding an external biological influence in the hope that it may prove useful. That's quite a narrow approach in my view which will always be quite inconclusive.
    Well that's the way artificial fertiliser research works as well. Yes it's quite narrow in the sense that they are trying to isolate one or a few variables but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I don't think it will always be inconclusive, indeed narrow research efforts are actually the standard modus operandi in most experiments otherwise all you're doing is an experiment into everything. Of course you don't ignore the other possible variables, you just don't change them all at once. I think this is the way it has to be done to get major breakthroughs otherwise you'll only get vague relationships like no-tillage is often a good thing.

    If you read the review article you'll see that things like genome sequencing of bacteria could open the door for more efficient isolation of bacteria with the desired characteristics and which could allow the genetic modification to produce bacteria will multiple beneficial traits. This, after all, is what is done with crops and I don't see particularly why bacteria should be any different. Both species have to interact with the soil which of course is complex but that should be no barrier to progress. Imagine transporting yourself back a century to the world pre-electricity and Internet and imagine the world we now live in. Think of the world before aviation.

    The review article admits that whilst we know that some strains are more beneficial than others the mechanism by which they cause benefit is still not well understood. I really can't see any insurmountable barriers and I think, to echo Mayo, that this will be a big part of agriculture's future. I think that there just isn't a focus on this area at the moment. As FarmerDan writes we are currently farming in an unsustainable way and something will have to change.

    I should add that actually a lot of the studies I've read are not adding a foreign external influence that wasn't present beforehand. Many are simply replacing what ought to have been there if it wasn't for that thing being killed by whatever spray / tillage we humans happened to have used. Mycorrhizal fungi are already present in the soil it's just their chances of survival are massively reduced every time we till the soil.

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