Home » Why Purchase Soil Inoculants? The Benefits of Off-farm Biology

Why Purchase Soil Inoculants? The Benefits of Off-farm Biology

By Jason Stoll, Regenerative Agriculture Consultant, Advancing Eco Agriculture

As a regenerative agriculture consultant, I was delighted to see a return to in-person events in 2021. Being able to connect with growers face-to-face, whether at a conference or in the field, was something I can say we all missed dearly. As I continue to share and interact with others in the agricultural industry, one idea seems to be gaining traction at an accelerated pace. This idea, while nestled in good intentions, falls short on the promise of regenerative practices for large scale operations.

The idea is this: We do not need off-farm biology because it will bring in non-native biomes, causing an unnatural balance in the soil. Proponents of this idea may point you in the direction of a more “natural” inoculant source like compost teas.

This approach perplexes me for several reasons. If American growers were to return to a full native biome model, many would have to abandon corn and soybean crops and allow native hardwood successions to rise to prominence in their fields to promote a “natural return” of the soil. However, this process would take a century or more to take hold. The same goes for biology – we can wait patiently for it to return, but the reality is we have been killing microbial populations for the last 40 to 50 years. Growers need to be actively replacing beneficial organisms instead of waiting for the organisms to come back on their own. 

plants growing in soil

Let me be clear—I am in no way bashing compost teas. I have worked in agriculture my whole life and I have seen good results from small growers and market farmers who have utilized this method. It takes time and energy to create adequately effective compost teas and this may not be economically viable for most. All the same, we don’t want to leave the process of biological restoration to chance.

Bulk compost applications bring their own volley of problems, one of the biggest of which is weed pressure, something compost is known for triggering in large swaths. Even organic compost has its gray areas. Organic compost can come from conventional farms, where cows could be eating GMO corn. Currently, there is no certainty that your organic compost doesn’t have concentrated amounts of glyphosate, which would be detrimental to any grower’s attempt at fostering soil biology. 

Many soils in the U.S. are deficient in bacterial biology. Even if management practices on your farm didn’t kill it, your neighbor, environmental impacts, and decades of the conventional ag approach have eviscerated microbiome populations throughout the country. The desire to restore our soils to their natural state is a lofty goal, but that goal gets even tougher when you expect a monoculture of soybeans to have the biological diversity of a thriving forest. This is where bringing in off-farm inoculation really shines. For example, Spectrum™️ from Tainio Biologicals contains about twenty different species of microorganisms. When was the last time you planted twenty species of crops into your soil?

The goal of regenerative agriculture can be boiled down to this: to grow healthier soils that lead to ever increasing results with fewer inputs, at less cost from the farmer’s pocket. Everyone starts this journey at a different point. While you might have to dump on a ton of biology in the first year to get your numbers up, during the next season you’ll begin to see a compounding result on your investment as these biological populations begin to sustain themselves over time. If you find that you need to re-inoculate in increasing amounts for 15 years in a row, something has gone awry. Somewhere along the way biology is lost and we need to discover why.

Sponsor Message

Our approach at AEA focuses on obtaining more response from less material. With the inclusion of off-farm biology and other regenerative practices, growers can take the next steps in their journey towards healthier, more profitable growing. For more information on the Regenerative Soil Primer or other practices that can improve crop quality, visit advancingecoag.com.