ZZ2’s experience with effective micro-organisms

Soil-borne diseases were increasing and long-term yield declining, a syndrome that was connected to exhausted soils and consumer pressure. This was according to Stephanus Malherbe, research agronomist at ZZ2.

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Speaking at the recent effective micro-organism (EM) world conference, Malherbe said that ZZ2 had made an appreciable impact on socio-economic activity, especially in Limpopo. ZZ2 produced a diversity of crops and had been following the practice of ‘Natuurboerdery’ (nature farming) since 2000 and using EM technology since 2001.

“The challenge is to farm in an environmentally friendly way when the environment proves to be unfriendly; we want to do the right thing but every farming business has to make money.”

“For sustainable production we need to optimise plant nutrition and soil organic matter for healthy, living soil. Organic material in the soil means you can start to think about biological nutrient cycling.”

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Malherbe said not all soil organisms were beneficial and that many soil parasites were destructive to crops, making chemicals a necessary part of control programmes.

“We cause many of our own problems by not irrigating properly or managing our water resource efficiently. Climate smart agriculture is becoming dominant in determining total yields,” he said.

“EM fits into this complicated picture when the principles of conventional and organic farming are combined and better yields obtained.”

These principles, said Malherbe, hinged around soil health in the EM process which involved stimulating biology that was already present.

He has collected 14 years’ worth of data and matched variables such as soil quality and climate to yields in an effort to understand what could explain the difference between high and low yields.

“My first finding was that climate exerts a dominant effect on crop production. So instead of trying to farm at the wrong time we should stay in the optimum planting windows,” said Malherbe.

With the removal of climate from the set and focus of management, Nemalan (a biological EM/Lantana nematicide) was the second most important factor to correlate with high yields, given that the disease may already have been in the crop.

Malherbe said that the use of activated EM was next on the list, followed by lime application.

The operating procedures of extending EM should not present too many problems, he said, as there were three basic ingredients, lactic acid bacteria, yeasts and phototrophic bacteria. “Random sample tests of activated EM have shown that there can be variation in quality as there are some outliers involved.”