Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation

Anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD) also known as ‘biological soil disinfestation’ or ‘reductive soil disinfestation’ is a pre-plant non-chemical soil disinfestation technique increasingly proposed as an alternative to chemical soil fumigation (CSF) for the control of several soil-borne diseases, plant-parasitic nematodes, and weeds in different vegetables and fruit crops (Shennan et al. 2014; Rosskopf et al. 2015).

Developed independently in Japan (Momma et al., 2013) and The Netherlands (Blok et al., 2000), for both open field and protected crops, the technique is gaining interest in the USA, China and other countries (Shennan et al., 2014).

The principle of the technique is to create a temporary anaerobic soil environment to stimulates the growth of facultative and obligate anaerobic microorganisms, that under anaerobic conditions, decompose the available carbon (C) source, producing organic acids, aldehydes, alcohols, ammonia, metal ions, and volatile organic compounds, that are suppressive or toxic for several soil-borne pests and diseases (Momma 2008; Huang et al. 2015; van Agtmaal et al. 2015).

The ASD treatment is applied in three steps: 1) amending the soil with a readily decomposable C source to initiate rapid soil microbial growth and respiration, 2) covering the bed with oxygen impermeable polyethylene mulch to prevent the diffusion of oxygen from the soil surface, 3) irrigating the soil to saturate the pore space and further reduce the presence of oxygen (Butler et al., 2014; Shennan et al., 2014).  

The approach currently proposed in Florida, developed by researcher of the USDA-ARS, in collaboration with researchers of the University of California and of the University of Florida, consists in incorporating in the soil composted poultry litter (organic matter) and molasses (main C source) right before bed formation. Then, totally impermeable film (TIF) is used to mulch the bed and 2” of water are applied to saturate the soil. Three weeks after treatment application it is possible to punch the plastic and transplant the crop.

While ASD has proved to be effective against several soil-borne fungal and bacterial plant diseases, plant-parasitic nematodes and weeds, across a wide range of crops and environments (Butler et al., 2012a; 2012b; Lamers et al., 2010; Momma, 2008; Rosskopf et al., 2015; Shennan et al., 2014), its mechanism of control is still not fully understood, and a number of researchers around the world are working to explain the changes occurring in the soil during the ASD treatment and what is behind it.

At the same time, to facilitate the application of this technique at commercial level, researchers are evaluating i) different alternative low-cost and locally available C-sources, ii) the optimal application rate for each C source, iii) large scale application methods, iv) the effect of ASD on different crops and its impact on yield and product quality, v) the short and long term effect of ASD on the soil fertility, as well as vi) the potential impact of ASD on the environment.


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Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation