|Effective Microorganisms: Using Bacteria and Yeast to Create Sustainable Agriculture|
|Tuesday, 22 January 2013 00:00 | Written by Aaron Lada, Ph.D. | Article|
An intimate understanding of the local ecology is necessary for successful agriculture—and it may be important to extend this knowledge to the smallest of lifeforms. According to Dr. Teruo Higa, a proponent of natural, sustainable, chemical-free farming, soil treated with beneficial microorganisms can produce healthier, more productive plants. To this end, he has created a proprietary mixture of beneficial bacteria and yeast called Effective Microorganisms (EM). Although the scientific jury is still out on its effectiveness, its potential is great for vastly increasing food yields while reducing chemical pollutants in the environment.
In typical soil, there are many different types of microorganisms using many different methods of obtaining and metabolizing food. Most of these microbes are responsible for breaking down organic material in a way that naturally recycles essential components back into the soil. Normally, among the dominate organisms present is putrefactive bacteria that decompose dead matter—producing foul-smelling waste products. According to Dr. Higa, when putrefactive bacteria are the primary microorganism in the soil, there is an increase of disease in plants and a proliferation of insect pests. His strategy is to replace putrefactive bacteria with a special cocktail of EM that will perform the decomposition duties, produce nutrients for the plants and prevent the invasion of harmful pathogens.
Components of EM
Benefits of EM
EM are claimed to be safe for plants, humans and animals, and are certified for use in organic farming. In fact, a few of the products are designed to be taken internally for health benefits. While some may balk at the prospect of using bacteria and yeast in this fashion, none of the organisms are pathogenic, and humans have long had beneficial relationships with a variety of microorganisms both internally and externally.
A publication from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that there are promising claims regarding EM, however it goes on to warn that “many scientists have expressed their reservations about the product due to bio-safety concerns and lack of scientific evidence.” Critics of EM claim that it is difficult to change the microbial population of the soil with these products because there are simply not enough organisms to outcompete the normal inhabitants. Some of the success with EM may be due to low populations of native soil microbes in the study location, suggesting that EM could be effective if enough could be added. More independent research is needed to provide a conclusive answer.
Developing environmentally friendly agricultural practices for an ever-increasing human population will require innovative approaches such as Dr. Higa’s use of EM. While definitive evidence is lacking, EM products are an elegant combination of synergistic organisms that benefit not only each other, but the plants as well. Despite any uncertainty regarding EM, few can argue with Dr. Higa’s philosophy of using natural products to create an abundant food supply without harming the ecology.
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