03 Dec 2021

Healthy soils, healthy crops

Soil diversity is of tremendous importance for healthy food production. Did you know that there are vegetable varieties that use water and nutrients in the soil in a more efficient and sustainable manner, helping to preserve soil biodiversity and soil health? Rita Hautier shares how plants interact with microorganisms in the soil and how vegetable breeding explores opportunities for optimising those beneficial interactions.

Soil is no longer merely regarded as providing physical support and nutrients to plants. Additionally, it is a source of living organisms which actually account for a quarter of all biodiversity on the planet. Primarily at the root level, there is close interdependence between plants and many microorganisms found in the soil, such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes.

Soil biodiversity and plant health

A healthy soil comprising diverse microbial communities is key to sustaining plant productivity and is hence important for food production. “Beneficial soil microbes assist the plant with relevant functions such as water and nutrient uptake,” says Rita Hautier, phytopathology specialist at Rijk Zwaan. But these so-called ‘beneficials’ actually have a broader role too: “Microorganisms also improve the plant’s environmental stress tolerance and provide natural protection against pathogens,” she states.

Soil-focused innovation

This means that soil degradation due to climate change also results in the loss of valuable beneficials for plants. As a vegetable breeding company, we are keenly aware of the importance of soil microbial diversity and its relevance for the open-field cultivation of vegetables. Through external collaborative partnerships and research, we are trying to gain a better understanding of the role of soil microbiota and how beneficial interactions with plants can be optimised. “We’re exploring pathways for reintroducing relevant plant-beneficial soil microorganisms, notably via seeds, in growing environments where these might be depleted or absent,” explains Rita.

Sustainable food systems

Vegetable breeding is essential for sustainable food systems and therefore key to food security. Research and breeding enable the introduction of new vegetable varieties that are more resilient to climate change whilst improving crop yields, food quality and food safety – thus benefiting everyone in the value chain, from growers to consumers. Vegetable breeding also includes conducting research into soil health and developing new vegetable varieties that are more resilient to abiotic stress, such as drought and soil salinisation.

Are you interested in more stories? Have a look at www.rijkzwaan.com/csr. Do you want to know more about the evolution of vegetable breeding? Have a look at the website of the International Seed Federation