Eliminating the Need for Synthetic Fertilizers — Dr. Kris Nichols
Gabe was putting the tools into place that were stimulating the biological activity, but he still wasn’t fully optimizing the efficiencies of the organisms that were in the soil—especially the mycorrhizal fungi. That was because he was outsourcing the job of the mycorrhizal fungi.
Soluble fertilizer is going to do the most damage as far as outsourcing the jobs of the microbial community. So, as much as possible, if you can, avoid those soluble inorganic types of fertilizers.
Imagine that you fulfilled the nutrient requirements for the plant early on in the growing season, and the plant didn’t require the presence of the mycorrhizal fungi—so you didn’t get the growth of this hyphal network. Then later in the growing season this hyphal network starts to develop, but now it isn’t very extensive because it hasn’t been growing for very long. Then the plant has a nutrient demand, and the soil is very dry. Now you need to utilize more water in order to be able to try and get those nutrients flowing.
It’s become a very efficient process: phosphate-solubilizing bacteria get carbon from the plant, and the fungus shares some of the carbon that it got from the plant. That’s how it pays the bacteria for the job the bacteria did.
I believe that we have the capacity to feed at least fourteen billion people with nutrient-dense food. This is way beyond our current population. At the same time, we can have a high quality of life and maintain and enhance our ecosystem services.
Developing Disease Resistance and Regenerating Soil Health — Michael McNiell
I’ve had the fortune to see that old kind of farming, and I see, perhaps, a need to return to a portion of what my grandfather was doing back in those days. I don’t necessarily mean that we’ve got to sell our tractors and buy horses, but some of the things he did to improve soil health, and to maintain soil fertility, are things that we really need to be thinking about today.
Some tillage is not as bad as the herbicides, not as bad as anhydrous ammonia, and not as bad as the high-salt fertilizers. They tend to be more of an issue. When you put them all together, it overwhelms the soil-life system.
Micronutrients are extremely important to plant growth. They are readily and easily chelated by the pesticides that we use. And once you tie them up, you start shutting down significant pathways.
Disease and insects are Mother Nature’s garbage collectors—getting rid of the bad stuff, the weak plants.
I believe that the soil can grow an extremely healthy, high-yielding plant with minimal additions of inputs. There are plenty of minerals in the soil if you treat it properly.
Stop poisoning the soil.
The Value of Regenerative Agriculture Management — Jerry Hatfield
Regenerative agriculture focuses on the fact that we have to improve our soil resources. It shows how we can do that, how changing the soil benefits that plant, and how, in terms of productivity, it benefits the ecosystem—in terms of improving not only production but also environmental quality.
In regenerative agriculture we’re admitting that there are a lot of interactions, and we aren’t afraid to say that changing something in the soil is going to have some impact on the plant, and it’s going to have a different reaction depending on the weather.
I always tell producers that biology wants four things. It wants food, water, air, and shelter. These are the basic necessities of life that you and I want. We should start thinking about biology from that perspective.
We use a concept called “genetics by environment by management.” I always explain to producers that management is what they oversee and the decisions they make. Environment is what they’re trying to overcome—the soil environment, the weather, etc. And genetics is what they’re trying to optimize.
Ecosystem Diversity Prevents Insect Pressure — Dr. Jonathan Lundgren
The question that I always ask farmers who come visit is, “How often can you lose a crop and make more money than the neighbors do?” And the answer is, “Every single time when you’re farming regeneratively.”
Entomologists always focus on a couple of key natural enemies; we’d never really looked at the actual community in all of its glory. In looking at the data, the patterns became so clear: that when we had more insect species within a cornfield, there just weren’t pests. We did not have “pest” problems anymore.
Look at how we produce our crops right now—if diversity is what we’re after, then our production practices are just absolutely perfect for creating pest outbreaks.
If you have a pest outbreak in your field, that means that you’re doing something wrong. That’s a very, very different philosophy than you get from just about every extension agent or from the current scientific infrastructure. This infrastructure is bent on making a broken system work.
Some of the best naturalists I’ve ever met are farmers and beekeepers—observers of the natural world.
Concepts in Biological Farming — Gary Zimmer
I didn’t create or develop too much—I just paid a lot of attention.
Soil health is about having a biological balance, a mineral balance, and a beautiful structure—loose, crumbly, chocolate cake structure. How do you achieve that? You have to have a variety of crops. You can’t have a crust. You can’t have packed ground. You can’t over-till it.
I would probably say that the thing that’s the hardest is getting biology to work. If biology is working, it provides structure.
I find it offensive when people say, “How are we going to feed all these people?” I say, “Forty percent of our corn goes into making ethanol, and we have the capability to double our yields. And we can do it with a cleaner method of farming.”
If you truly want to sequester carbon, you have to back off of nitrogen, because you’re burning carbon up with nitrogen. If you don’t back down on nitrogen, you’re never going to build carbon.
Passionately Breeding for Health and Quality — Ed Curry
When we were trying to increase yield, the limiting factor was the xylem and the phloem—nutrient transport. I call it the school bus. If you don’t have a school bus, you can’t get the kids to school. That transport system is everything.
Back before we understood anything about regenerative agriculture, by accident, we proved that if we could raise boron levels, we could raise calcium levels. If we could raise calcium levels, we could solve—or certainly minimize—blossom end rot.
The cell structure in a vegetable improves the shelf life. When we get the soil health right, the fruit density is way better.
Fertility is everything. Peppers are one of the most difficult crops to grow. You just name a disease and they get it. They get blossom end rot. Peppers are a struggle from day one. If you grow a good crop of chili in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, California, you’ve done something. We’ve always tried to encourage our growers to improve fertility.
Meeting the Demand for Nutrient-dense Food — Matt Kleinhenz
Will there be a time when more people are paying more attention to nutrient density? I think so, but we’re not there yet. I think that interest already is strong within a small community of eaters, or a community of buyers. Where there are these so-called beachheads, there can be growth.
I’ve been fortunate to have had conversations with growers in which I’ve learned so much. I’ve also been dismayed by some of the lack of understanding that folks sometimes exhibit about basic biology and the crops that they grow.
In my perspective, quality is the platform for repeat sales. One might be able to make the initial sale based on some other factor. But the repeat sale comes from quality; it’s one enormously influential component of the overall value that the buyer sees in the product.
The single most common source of struggle I’ve seen over the years is the grower looking at their product only as a farmer—being unable to see it in a more comprehensive way—most especially as the buyer sees it.
Learn something new. Challenge yourself. If you’ve been hearing or watching or reading information coming from one primary source, check a second one. Get an alternate point of view. Do not become too comfortable with what one knows to be “true.” Question healthily.
Suppressing Disease for Future Crops — Don Huber
Manganese has a very dynamic relationship with the soil, and also with many of the fungi. There are organisms—mycorrhizae—that increase the uptake of manganese, as well as zinc and phosphorus and some of the other nutrients. If they’re not functional, you miss that ability to absorb and to interact with a tremendous volume of the soil.
When we’re farming, we’re really managing an ecology. It’s not a matter of a silver bullet for this problem or a stinger missile for another. It’s really a matter of having ecology work for us and support the plant. If we don’t do that and we upset the system, then we compromise the overall quality and productivity potential we have in our soil.
Crop rotation probably has the most dynamic effect on the soil microbial population. We can do that primarily through crop sequencing. The crop that immediately precedes your target crop is going to provide about 85 percent of the overall disease-suppressing effect. We can accomplish that with cover cropping.
By learning what your soil is—what your biology is—you can control most diseases through management—unless you’re doing something that is very detrimental or has long-term effects on biology. If you increase carbon dioxide just a small amount, it’ll have an exponential increase in photosynthesis.
It’s critical that we recognize the stewardship we have when it comes to the soil—and our own survivability—rather than just accepting the changes and saying, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now.” There’s a tremendous amount we can do. It’s a matter of understanding that we’re managing an ecology.
Working with Life Rather than Death — Gabe Brown
When I was in my conventional mindset, I used to wake up every day trying to decide what I was going to kill that day. Was it going to be a weed? Was it going to be a fungus? Was it going to be a pest? I was going to kill something every day. Now I wake up thinking about how to get more life onto my operation, and it’s much more enjoyable working with life than with death.
We can’t feed the world with the industrial mindset. We can produce enough commodities, but we can produce enough nutrient-dense food. We can do that with the regenerative mindset because we stack so many more enterprises per acre.
Too many producers look at their soils as simply a medium to hold the plant upright. They don’t realize that soils are a living, dynamic, resilient ecosystem, and they don’t realize the power of soil life—the power of photosynthesis.
I’m not a proponent of the current production model. I think it leaves too many decisions in hands other than our own. Our farm is profitable every year because we set our own prices.
Cultural Management for Organic Weed Control — Klaas Martens
There’s a real reductionist way of looking at nature that I think prevents us from seeing the whole truth sometimes. I had to step beyond that. In fact, one of the things that bothered me when we farmed conventionally was that if you took the model that I had learned—and the assumptions that I was farming under—the observations contradicted them, and it was enough to drive me crazy.
In the bibliography of an old ag text I found a paper written by a German professor in the ’30s, who was the pioneer in using chemicals to control wheat. He wrote that cultural practices form the basis of all weed control, while the various chemical means should be regarded as auxiliary only. It was an interesting comment coming from the pioneer of spraying weeds.
I started to study what these different weeds and pests do in the soil. That grew into a system of how to read what the soil is saying and how to understand the language that the fields are using to try to teach us.
I feel more comfortable if I don’t put our rotation in stone. I let the weeds in the soil tell me which crop it wants to go to.
Modern agriculture has gone to being a series of materials—things that we can buy—that make us able to continue the bad behavior, the offending behavior. But we never deal with the actual underlying problem, which is why there’s damage to the long-term productivity of the soil.
Insects: Nature’s Garbage Collectors — Tom Dykstra
The more a plant photosynthesizes, the higher the Brix reading. The higher the Brix reading, the healthier the plant. And when you have a healthy plant, you don’t have to use, for example, all of the pesticides that are being used today—herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, nematicides, etc.
You can really prevent soil erosion from occurring by having good healthy soil—whereas if it’s not cohesive and it’s not bonded together through the glomalin or some other thing, yes, you can lose soil quickly.
Once you get above twelve Brix, insects really aren’t causing any more issues with your plants. And once you get above fourteen, they’re really not even landing on your plant, unless they just want to rest on it, because they won’t be able to take a bite. Or if they do take a bite, they won’t be able to get through the cuticle or into the phloem tissue—it’s not going to be digestible to them.
Insects are only tuned in to the unhealthy plant. No insect will ever attack a healthy plant. What they’re zooming in on is the unhealthy plant, because it’s digestible. Healthy plants are not digestible.
Nitrogenous fertilizers are salt-based. It’s a force-feeding operation—the plant is not really feeding itself. The salt-based fertilizer increases the conductivity and forces nutrients into the plant, causing a quick burst of growth. But all along, the plant is stressed, and the insects know that.
Water and Nutrient Movement in Plants and Cells — Dr. Gerald Pollack
“Life is water dancing to the tune of solids.”
— Albert Szent-Györgyi
“This amazing book has changed my understanding of all the processes going on in water which I was confident I knew about—the understanding that dictated my many years of teaching and organized my research. I must now come to terms with the demonstration that water is not just a medium in which physics and chemistry happen, but a machine that powers and manages physics and chemistry.”
— Martin Canny regarding The Fourth Phase of Water
We found that if you add infrared energy, that this flow through the capillaries—which keeps going even when the heart is not beating—amplifies enormously. We’re confident that the phenomenon of water flowing in a tube applies not only in our cardiovascular system but also in the vessels of plants and trees.
The concept that you must have an impermeable membrane around the cell is not correct. I think if one looks objectively at the evidence instead of merely accepting what textbooks like to say, one would come to that same conclusion. Substances can get absorbed by the cell because there is no impermeable barrier.
Indicators of Healthy Soil — Robert Kremer
We’re finding that some pesticides will be detrimental or toxic to just a group of microorganisms in the overall soil community. The same ones may stimulate other components of the microbial community. You end up with this imbalance of the various microorganisms that are in the soil.
There are several indicators that will suggest good soil health, but the two main ones are soil organic matter—or soil organic carbon—and microbial diversity.
Of course, a lot of it comes down to money. It comes down to the fertilizer companies trying to make money. If you tell them that some of their products are ruining some of the soil properties, that’s not going to make them very happy.
We’ve really gotten away from what an agro-ecosystem should be. I think that when the family farmer or the smaller-scale farmer had livestock integrated into the system, the profitability was there. It’s just that it’s been hijacked by industry.
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