Worms of­fer in­sights into soil health

The Chatham Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID GOUGH

Like ca­naries in a coal mine, earth­worms are a good in­di­ca­tion of soil health.

Earth­worms pro­vide a unique in­sight into soil con­di­tions, a lead­ing agri­cul­tural soil sci­en­tist told the re­cent South­west Agri­cul­tural Con­fer­ence in Ridgetown.

Dr. Jackie Stroud is from Eng­land, where she re­cently com­pleted a national six-week earth­worm sur­vey as part of re­search fo­cused on un­lock­ing soils’ po­ten­tial.

Stroud said there is a need to bet­ter mea­sure the im­pact of changes farm­ers make to boost soil health.

Ab­sence of cer­tain earth­worms is an early warn­ing of over­worked soil, she said.

“Earth­worms are use­ful. They pro­vide key ben­e­fits in terms of help­ing wa­ter fil­tra­tion, cy­cling of nu­tri­ents and also help­ing sup­port­ing wildlife,” said Stroud, who added de­ci­sions made above ground will in­flu­ence the mil­lions of earth­worms un­der­ground.

There are three types of earth­worms: sur­face, top­soil and deep­bur­row­ing. Each has a pur­pose, in­clud­ing car­bon cy­cling, im­prov­ing plant growth and soil ag­gre­ga­tion, prey for birds, and form­ing deep ver­ti­cal bur­rows for wa­ter in­fil­tra­tion and plant root­ing, she said.

If sur­face worms and/or deep bur­row­ing worms are ab­sent in arable fields, the soil may have been over­worked and its nat­u­ral func­tions com­pro­mised, said Stroud.

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