Mainstream agronomy is based on a series of fallacies. That plants only absorb nutrients in the form of soluble ions. That mites, nematodes, insects, fungi, bacteria, and viruses attack plants indiscriminately. That pesticides are effective long-term solutions. All of these commonly held ideas are false.
Present-day mainstream agronomy and plant nutrition is based on the disproven idea that soil chemistry balance is the only parameter worth measuring and managing. This has led to farmers buying fertilizers their crops don’t need, thereby supplying excessive and imbalanced nutrition. This results in increased pest susceptibility and increased need for pesticide applications to prevent diseases and insects from consuming the now-unhealthy crops.
Because of this chemistry-based approach to crop production—with little consideration for soil biology—farmers are led to purchase inputs they don’t need with money they often don’t have because their advisors claim they need them to remain competitive. Combined with a singular emphasis on high yields as the only meaningful metric of success, with little thought of crop quality, this approach often results in food and feed crops of questionable nutritional integrity. Due to this mindset, our soil’s natural fertility has been greatly reduced. Weeds have become more difficult to control. Pest pressure has increased. More pesticide applications are required, and the nutritional quality of many foods has dropped.
Many growers with a few decades of experience know this to be true because they have observed it on their own operations. They have observed how pest pressure and crop performance have changed. They are certain there has to be a different way—a better way—but they are unclear where to begin.
For many growers, the mainstream approach is all they have ever learned; it’s all they know. But they also know that now is the time to change. We now have the knowledge and information to make better choices.
This book is intended to showcase the in-depth knowledge and wisdom that is available to growers today—information that wasn’t as easily available even a decade ago. It is a collection of interviews that I conducted with some of the most knowledgeable and influential voices in regenerative agriculture today. As the host of the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast I have been privileged to ask the questions I’m personally curious about, knowing that many others share my desire to learn.
I have been asked many times to put together written resources from the work I’ve done over the years as a consultant. Providing the words of my mentors and colleagues in this field seemed like the best way to start doing this.
The voices in this book discuss the large and growing body of knowledge about agro-ecology. Many of them, including Tom Dykstra, Michael McNeill, and Jerry Hatfield, discuss how to manage nutrition to produce disease- and insect-resistant crops. Gabe Brown and Kris Nichols talk about the negative effects of chemical fertilizers and how biological diversity—both below the surface and above—are key for healthy farms. Gary Zimmer, Robert Kremer, and Jonathan Lundgren consider how to greatly reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides and how to increase crop yields while simultaneously increasing quality, regenerating soil health, and reducing fertilizer inputs. Gerald Pollack shares how structured water rapidly transports nutrients and molecules through plants. Chili grower Ed Curry discusses his passion for open-pollinated seed breeding. Matt Kleinhenz describes why nutritional integrity and density matters. And the legendary Don Huber delves deep into the important disease-suppressive effects of the crop prior to a cash crop.
The knowledge of each of these pioneers is invaluable. Their ideas will surely be adopted on a large scale around the globe as the economic benefits of regenerative agriculture become realized.
More than even its economic benefits, regenerative growing methods are vital because they return joy to our work. Farming becomes fun again when we work with natural systems instead of working against them. When we experience the benefits of working with biological systems and robustly healthy plants, it quickly becomes obvious that we need less fertilizer. Once we have the assurance of personal experience that our crops are not susceptible, we don’t need to worry about possible diseases or insects. And of course, when input costs are reduced while yield and quality are increased, the improved profitability provides a foundation to make all of farming fun again. Farming can only be a successful lifestyle if it is first a successful business. The subjects of this book reiterate these revelations over and again.
As an agronomy advisor working with the Advancing Eco Agriculture (AEA) team, I have been privileged to help develop regenerative management systems on hundreds of thousands of acres and to observe the large untapped potential that exists on many farms. I am passionate about developing regenerative agriculture systems that improve soil health, produce crops that are completely resistant to diseases and insects, and produce food of such an exceptional quality that we can have a legitimate conversation about growing food as medicine.
I have been blessed to have exceptional mentors. I’ve discovered that there are many people with incredible knowledge and information about soil and plant systems and how to develop regenerative agricultural systems. However, much of this knowledge is scattered and not widely known. It’s found all over the place. A little bit of it has been published in peer-reviewed publications, but there are many incredible stories and a lot of knowledge that has not been published or shared with many people.
I started AEA in 2006 to bring this knowledge together in a more coherent fashion, incorporating it into products and growing systems that growers can easily put into practice. It’s my personal mission to have these regenerative agricultural systems become adopted globally and become the mainstream—the status quo against which all other growing systems are compared. To help achieve this goal, I want to share the knowledge that we have learned in the last decade and make it available to everyone.
While AEA has developed products that embody the principles of regenerative agriculture systems and make them easier for growers to apply, this knowledge and these principles can be applied anywhere. When they are applied properly, they will always increase farm profitability and resilience to climate stress.
These interviews are inspirational to me, and I’m confident they will be to you as well. My hope is that this book will give you a very different perspective on how to think about agronomy and crop production. I’m confident it will provide many ideas that you can easily implement on your operation.
The views and content of my parts of these interviews—including any unintentional errors—are mine alone, and the same holds for the subjects. Each conversation has been edited for clarity and for length.