Checking soil quality Peter Parks/Getty Images

Soil Science for a Hungry Planet

By 2050, the world’s population will approach ten billion. Feeding them all will require novel solutions to increasing agricultural productivity, and one of the most promising incipient technologies involves leveraging the naturally occurring microorganisms that are already in the ground.

AUBURN, ALABAMA – According to the United Nations, sometime around 2050, the planet’s human population will be close to ten billion, a threshold that will stress many of the world’s most important systems, especially agriculture. How will farmers – including poor growers in developing countries – increase crop productivity to meet growing food demand?

Feeding the world efficiently will not be easy, and intangibles such as climate change, violent conflict, and the availability of fresh water will complicate it further. New farming techniques that use data and drones to monitor crop health will help. But one of the most powerful methods for increasing yields sustainably will come from leveraging what is already in the ground.

Naturally occurring microbes in soils help foster crop health and improve plant output. But poor soil management can lead to a loss of microbial content. By replenishing depleted soils with these beneficial organisms, farm productivity can be increased, without reliance on costly inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, thereby helping to meet the daunting challenges of feeding a growing population while protecting the environment.

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