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Soil Fertility, Biodiversity and the Gut Microbiome, Eco Farming Daily

By Spencer Smith. This article was also published in the October 2019 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Georgia farmer Will Harris is known to say that, “nature abhors a monoculture.” I heard him say this on my first visit to White Oak Pastures several years ago. It stuck with me. Since that time, I have been trying to better understand the connection between pasture health and biodiversity of forages in pastures. The more diverse the pasture, the more resilient that entire plant community is to adverse factors like drought and pestilence. Why is this? Why would a diverse pasture be better suited to adversity and have higher nutrition than a monoculture of alfalfa or orchard grass, for example?

BENEATH THE SURFACE

In complex communities of plants, there is a corresponding greater and more diverse population of soil biology feeding on root exudates and detritus from plant diversity above ground. It is similar to the community of the gut microbiome. Consider the elimination diets that are so popular today. If you go on a 30-day carrot cleanse (an extreme example, of course), the biology in your gut that corresponds with the metabolization of the proteins and carbohydrates in carrots will flourish.

This is very similar to a monoculture planting; we are only supporting the relatively small spectrum of biology in symbiosis with that crop. After 30 days of nothing but carrots, your gut will be simplified to the point that when you eat something new like steak or bread it will upset your stomach and likely ruin your evening.

Now if this was your situation and you were rooted in place, like a plant, and your capacity to metabolize carrots went away, or there was a disease that impacted carrots, you would not be very resilient and you would have a compromised immune system.

Eco Farming Daily

Spencer Smith ponders the diversity of his ranch’s forages. Acres U.S.A

Alternatively, if you are used to eating a great variety of fruits, veggies, fats and proteins, then your microbiome would be much more diverse and able to metabolize a greater variety of nutrients. It would allow you to withstand changes in diet without getting an upset stomach or being susceptible to sickness.

Similarly, in a diverse pasture, all of the different plants in that community are feeding different biological communities in the soil. The vast populations in the soil microbiome are fed a feast of diverse proteins, lipids and carbs from all of the plants in the community, resulting in a balanced diet for the soil biome…

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