Professor Karin Jacobs. PHOTO: via Stellenbosch University Microbial Ecology and Mycology website
Professor Karin Jacobs. PHOTO: via Stellenbosch University Microbial Ecology and Mycology website

‘Smart farming’ set to revolutionise SA agriculture - researchers

By ANA Reporter Time of article published Feb 26, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - A team of researchers are set to uncover the secrets in microbiomes that inhabit soil, with a view to enabling farmers to reduce input costs and raising yields.

There is an increasing recognition that soil microbiomes play crucial roles in nutrient cycling, soil formation, plant growth and ultimately in the production of food, project leader Professor Karin Jacobs from Stellenbosch University’s Microbial Ecology and Mycology Lab said.

The project is funded by South Africa's department of science and innovation through the Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme which is jointly managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the National Research Foundation.

Jacobs said the data generated would inform the identification of microbial profiles conducive to plant health and farmers would be able to evaluate and adapt their practices to steer their soils towards harbouring more diverse and resilient microbial populations.

The results from the project will allow agriculturalists to understand how the natural microbiome can be harnessed to reduce and even replace chemical inputs for optimal yield and disease management.

The overall aim of the project is to characterise the rhizosphere microbiomes associated with wheat and maize under conventional and conservation agriculture in South Africa.

“This study has a direct impact on the bio-economy as it informs management in terms of inputs and practices and optimising yields – working towards sustainable agriculture will alleviate the effect of global environmental change,” Jacobs said.

Agriculture significantly contributes to the South African economy, but less than 12 percent of the country’s land mass is suitable for use as arable land.

Jacobs said substantial proportions of soils were subject to increased desertification, reducing the proportion of productive lands.

Over the last few years, there had been a significant demand on the farming sector to alter agricultural practices while simultaneously improving yield, she said.

Developments in analytical approaches such as high throughput sequencing and culture methods had helped reduce the knowledge deficit around microbial diversity and their specific roles.

“The power of this approach has been evident in the study of the human microbiome, which revolutionized our perception, diagnosis and treatment of diseases,” said Jacobs.

The project, which runs until 2021, will involve experts and students from several South African institutions including Stellenbosch University, Elsenburg College, the University of Pretoria, Free State University, Rhodes University, North-West University, ARC-Plant Health and Protection Unit and the University of the Western Cape.

- African News Agency (ANA) 

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