Understanding and Improving Soil Health with Jill Clapperton


I had hoped to get this interview out on Friday, as a celebration (as you’ll hear) of Earth Day and National Soil Conservation Week in our country. As unfortunate circumstances would have it, work piled up, and eventually the weekend (whatever that is) knocked on the office door.

My original intent behind interviewing Jill Clapperton, principal scientist and co-founder of Rhizoterra, was to touch on a few phrases she used when speaking at the Canadian Forage and Grasslands Association conference late last year.

Clapperton emphasized the importance of soil by discussing the complex interactions that occur within. The mycorrhizal network is one of science’s most recent discoveries in plant communication. Plants can use the network, made up of fungal mycelia, to exchange nutrients and chemical signals. In other words, plants are using an underground network of fungi to help (or hinder) their counterparts, and in some cases, even communicate changes to their environment. And all of this is supported by healthy soil.

It’s actually pretty unbelievable.

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Clapperton spoke of the soil as a living system, which relies on organisms like bacteria, the aforementioned fungi, microfauna, earthworms and mites to maintain health.

“You need to have a living soil in order to have the structure that gives you aeration that works with climate change and carbon sequestration,” she said. “You need the soil organisms to recycle everything.”

In this interview Jill Clapperton answers questions around: our ever-growing knowledge of the soil, exudates leaking from roots, and improving soil health. 

In order to promote complex relationships in the soil, Clapperton suggests adding diversity to crop rotations, like: adding forages to the mix, planting companion crops, and cover crops. She also largely emphasized the use of legumes in crop rotations, explaining that they contribute nitrogen and also help drive carbon conversion.

And, she said, we need to do more research into integrated livestock grazing, which brings farmers and ranchers together so that even in a system of cash crops, there is an annual grazing cycle included as part of the rotation.

The main factor holding us back from improving soil health right now?

Our mindsets.

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