In an interview in the Acres U.S.A. magazine, Michael Phillips, an organic orchardist practising holistic and biodynamic techniques to grow healthy fruit, vegetables and soil, explains the symbiotic relationship between feeder roots and mycorrhizal fungi.
Phillips is the co-founder of The Holistic Orchard Network, keynote speaker and author of several books, including “Mycorrhizal Planet: How Fungi and Plants Work Together to Create Dynamic Soils”.
In this blog post, we summarise some of Phillips’ key findings.
What are mycorrhizal fungi?
Mycorrhizal fungi constitute a group of root obligate biotrophs that form a close symbiotic relationship with plant roots.
The direct symbiosis between fungi and plant roots
Phillips says: “It’s the two together that make nature’s magic happen by bringing nutrients to plants on a very simple level.”
Mycorrhizal fungi are considered natural biofertilisers, providing the host plant with water, nutrients, and pathogen protection in exchange for photosynthetic products.
Here’s how it works:
- Plants generate carbon sugars through photosynthesis.
- In essence, they ‘trade’ with mycorrhizal fungi with these nutrients.
- The fungi benefit from the nutrients, and help protect plant roots from disease organisms.
- This relationship is the basis of resilient ecosystems.
Did you know? Over 95% of plants on the planet have this symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi.
How the fungal network becomes disrupted
Disturbing the natural ecology causes a loss of important biological connections such as the fungal network. Soil can be ‘injured’ and land degraded by tillage, fire, herbicides and pesticides. These inputs can break up the fungal network, and the soil starts to lose the basis of its aggregation and tilth.
The importance of plant diversity
“It’s when you have that plant diversity that you reach a point where there are enough mycorrhizal fungi and different soil bacteria finding niches to cooperate and work together in a support network. That is when this earth really hums.”
A healthy fungal network and a diversity of plants are closely linked. Phillips cites an example of triticale being grown in the Dakotas. When the plant was grown all by itself in the hot and dry summer, it was “going nowhere”. It was then grown with three different crop species; still nothing. Four, five and six species: still not flourishing. It was only when there were eight different species growing with the triticale that the plant began to look green and lush, and grain heads began to form. At this stage, there was no need for irrigation since there was enough diversity to form a common mycorrhizal network moving water through the systems and balancing different elements.
Phillips’ parting inspiration
Phillips concludes: “My message to fellow growers across the country, across the planet, is to stand strong, speak up and make this fungal revolution tangible. Everywhere. The plants and fungi have always sung what I think of as a soil redemption song – and they’ll continue to sing it – and that is what makes life possible on earth. Our job is to emulate all these good teachings and to make it part of our agriculture, part of our communities, part of our innate understanding of what it is to be a caring human on this blessed planet.”
All for fungus!
At Zylem, we agree with Phillips’ philosophies, and we sell and administer the biological base of problem-free agriculture, Nutri-Life Platform®, which contains huge numbers of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) (four species) and five strains of Trichoderma together in one breakthrough blend. Root health is plant health, and these organisms are the essence of healthy roots. Get in touch to find out more about the healthy way to promote soil health: https://www.zylemsa.co.za/contact-us/.
Interested in reading the full interview?
Visit Acres USA to purchase a back issue and read the original article along with other interesting content.