Our ancestors were well aware that this “dust” of the soil is what determines vigour and health. Well before metabolism and enzymatic functions were known about, our forebears looked at what they saw around them, and declared that “the animal is a product of the soil”.Scientific discovery now allows us to put this belief in more modern terms which are, however, no more than a copy of the olden words – “The living organism (animal or human) is the biochemical photograph of the environment in which it lives, particularly of the soil which manufactured the nutrients for it.”
While our increasingly globalised world blurs this “biochemical photograph” for humans (it’s now more an album of many pictures of very different environments), the grass continues to maintain a close connection between soil and animals for most of the year.And this relationship reveals the profound influence of the soil on the cell metabolism of animals (which, incidentally, is very similar to that of humans). Between the grass and the grazing animal, we get an excellent “biochemical photograph” of the soil, which demonstrates how the elements of the soil control the functioning of the cells of living organisms.
All of the mineral elements in soil impact on the quality of the plants and animals that depend on the soil for life and survival. The mineral matter of the soil is a profound force in modifying the organic matter and metabolism of cells, vegetables and animals.
The traditional NPK – nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium – mix has long been the staple of the fertiliser industry. These elements are important and necessary in the soil to increase the level of organic matter in grass. But so, too, are the minor and trace elements – so named because they appear in very small quantities (parts per million or less). They play crucial roles in the manufacture of living matter. Some of them are names we know; others are less familiar. We’re talking of minor nutrients such as calcium, chloride, iron, magnesium, sodium and sulphur, and trace elements such as boron, cobalt, copper, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc.
These trace elements are needed to activate the enzymes which, in turn, are the catalysts in the synthesis of living matter. In other words, the trace element is the catalyst that unleashes the catalyst.There are numerous examples to illustrate the beneficial influence of the correct use of mineral fertilisers – and, in particular, the strategic use of trace elements – on plant quality. Mineral fertilisers not only have the capacity to increase the yield of crops, but clearly also to improve the quality.
But it is crucial that they are used correctly and in the correct proportions. If fertilisers are used incorrectly, the quality of the produce is likely to be lowered.
These elements provide essential nutrients in the soil. The mineral matter of the soil obviously has a profound effect on the organic matter and the metabolism of cells, plants and animals.They also help the constituents of the soil to do their job. Take the amino-acids, for example. They’re the bricks from which proteins are constructed. Calcium, phosphorus, boron and nitrogen enhance the level of tryptophan, one of the essential amino-acids; sulphur helps raise the levels of two other amino-acids, methionine and cysteine.
Then there is catalase, an enzyme that comes to the aid of and plays a decisive role in helping cells that are struggling for life. A complete dressing of fertiliser enriches the soil’s carotene content; so does iron. And thiamine, one of the most important vitamins, thrives through the addition of phosphorus and potassium.But, be cautioned. The application of nutrients is all about balance. Balance is achieved by thorough analysis to establish what is lacking in the soil in question. The nutrients, or fertiliser, should be formulated specifically to remedy these identified shortfalls. It should be formulated with precision to achieve balance and health in the soil, rather than merely piled on quantity in the hope something will stick in the right place.