Across Regions, Cultivation/Production, News March 2024, North America, Research, Smart Farming, Studies/Reports, Sustainability

Rethinking soil fumigation: A new study explores its impact on agricultural sustainability

In a groundbreaking study conducted by a research team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the long-debated effects of soil fumigation on agricultural sustainability have been brought to light. Published in a recent issue of the journal Field Crops Research, the research uncovers how soil fumigation, a common practice aimed at controlling soil-borne diseases and boosting crop yields, influences soil health across different soil types, with a particular focus on potato fields in Wisconsin, USA.

The Study

The research team, Shan Shan, Richard A. Lankau and Matthew D. Ruark, embarked on an extensive study, collecting soil and potato samples from seven commercial potato fields across two distinct growing regions in Wisconsin. These fields were either subjected to fumigation with metam sodium or left unfumigated, allowing for a comparative analysis of the impact on soil health. The team meticulously measured various indicators, including tuber yield, prevalence of soil-borne diseases, soil chemistry, microbial activities, and community structure.


The findings present a nuanced view of soil fumigation’s effects. In central Wisconsin’s sandy soils, fumigated plots not only yielded higher potato outputs but also showcased increased bacterial diversity and microbial-mediated carbon retention compared to their unfumigated counterparts. Conversely, in the northern loamy soils, the results were flipped, with unfumigated plots outperforming the fumigated ones on these fronts.

A particularly intriguing discovery was the close association between soil bacterial community diversity and yield responses to fumigation. This suggests that the benefits or drawbacks of fumigation are intricately linked to the microbial life within the soil, highlighting the importance of microbial diversity in agricultural sustainability.


This study sheds light on the complex relationship between soil fumigation practices and soil health, underlining the fact that the effects of such interventions can vary significantly depending on the soil type. The research emphasizes the critical role of the soil microbiome in sustaining soil health and, by extension, agricultural productivity.

Given the variability observed, the study calls for a more nuanced approach to soil management practices. It suggests that to truly achieve sustainable agriculture, practices must be tailored to the specific conditions of each soil type, taking into consideration the delicate balance of microbial communities within the soil.


The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s research offers valuable insights into the pursuit of sustainable agriculture, challenging the agricultural community to rethink soil management practices. By highlighting the variable impacts of soil fumigation on different soil types, the study paves the way for more informed, sustainable, and productive agricultural practices that harmonize with the intricate ecosystems below our feet.

Source: Field Crops Research | ScienceDirect
Contact for further information:
Shan Shan would be delighted to respond to anyone who might have an interest in this study, or wish to enquire about further information or collaboration – feel free to get in touch with Shan Shan on
For further reading: 
The full research paper, detailing the methodology, results, and further discussions, can be accessed in the journal Field Crops Research on ScienceDirect.
Cover image: Credit Ishan Udaya from Pixabay

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