Russia to be outdone by Earthworms in grain production

A new study, published in Nature Communications, reveals that the humble earthworm contributes around 6.5% of the world’s grain output. To put things into perspective, the worldwide production of corn is just over 1.2 billion metric tons; the output of wheat is over 778 million. Earthworms aid in the production of grains such as maize, […]

Matthew Barratt
25th October 2023
Image Credit: Pixabay @Chesna
A new study, published in Nature Communications, reveals that the humble earthworm contributes around 6.5% of the world’s grain output.

To put things into perspective, the worldwide production of corn is just over 1.2 billion metric tons; the output of wheat is over 778 million. Earthworms aid in the production of grains such as maize, wheat, barley, rice etc. Additionally, they are also responsible for 2.3% of the world’s legume production. Combined, earthworms produce over 140 million metric tons annually.  This is 20 million more tons than Russia, which is expected to produce 120 million tons of grains this year.

The pure existence and subsequent migration of worms throughout the soil is enough of a catalyst to enable the growth of crops

Earthworms themselves are known to have many benefits to the prosperity of soil. For example, the casts left behind by earthworms post-digestion include nutrient dense compounds full of nitrogen, thus enriching the soil that it manifests within. Regarding the production of grain, the pure existence and subsequent migration of worms throughout the soil is enough of a catalyst to enable the growth of crops. The simple act of an earthworm burrowing into the soil they inhabit will create a small channel of air, promoting circulation.

This is another addition to a growing catalogue of studies focusing on soil composition, shedding light on an unresearched but vastly significant sub-section of the earth’s biodiversity. Discussion has arisen regarding the enhancement of soil biology, as it may result in a reduction of the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other agrochemicals used in mass crop-production.

However, this would only be applicable to geographies that already have a large population of earthworms that already help promote crop output. Places like Latin America, according to the study, rely on earthworms which reproduce using manure or waste food to aid in the production of 8% of its grain yield. The global south in general seems to adhere to this pattern as earthworms contribute to 10% grain output in Saharan Africa.

The study of the small but mighty earthworm and its essential role in the biodiversity of our environment is another small leap towards the broadening of our knowledge with regards to the undervalued sector of soil-based research.

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