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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Soil Health, Microbes, and Sustainability

Authors
item Kennedy, Ann
item Doran, John

Submitted to: Encyclopedia of Environmental Biology
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: January 1, 2001
Publication Date: January 1, 2002
Citation: Kennedy, A.C., and Doran, J.W. Sustainable Agriculture: Role of Microorganisms. pp: 3116-3126. In: Bitton, G. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Environmental Microbiology, Vol. 6. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. NY, NY. 2002.

Interpretive Summary: The natural processes that sustain life on earth are threatened by anthropogenic influences such as increasing human populations, increasing resource consumption, social instability, and environmental degradation. Global climate change, depletion of the protective ozone layer, reduction in species biodiversity, loss of productive agricultural lands, and degradation of soil, water, and air are among the most pressing concerns associated with our technological search for a higher standard of living for an ever growing human population. Our past management of agriculture and other ecosystems to meet population and development needs has taxed the resiliency of soil and natural processes to maintain global balances of energy and matter. As strategies are developed to attain sustainable systems, the dilemma is to balance the immediate goal of economic viability and survival of the land manager with the long-term efficient and wise use of resources for a safe and clean environment. To this end, strategies that include soil microorganisms to better use natural supplies of energy and nutrients and reduce reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels and petrochemicals can help achieve this balance.

Technical Abstract: Modern agriculture has developed into a high technology and high inputs industry that has met the increasing needs of an ever-growing human population. However, this "industrial" system of agriculture increasingly results in reduced net economic returns to farmers, taxes the resilience of soil, stresses our natural non-renewable resources, and increases the potential for environmental pollution. Soil health and quality indicators and the changes in those indicators, can be a major link between the strategies of conservation management practices and achievement of the major goals of sustainable agriculture. Microorganisms are key to the integrated functioning of nutrient cycles and decomposition, soil structure and plant growth in agricultural systems. Research is needed to increase our understanding of the ecology and functioning of microbial communities, their response to management practices, their impact on soil health and quality in agroecosystems, and their role in sustainability. Ultimately the indicators of soil health and strategies for sustainable management must be linked to the development of management systems that foster reduction in the inputs of non-renewable resources, maintain acceptable levels of productivity, and minimize impact on the environment.

Last Modified: 7/24/2014
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