Insights and Lessons Learned – Robert Craig Interviews Graeme Sait (Part 2)

The second part of this interview features some key tips for the management of calcium, boron and silica. It includes some things to avoid for a successful farming operation, and there is also some fascinating information relative to much needed improved stress management for farmers.

Graeme Sait and Robert Craig

Graeme Sait and Robert Craig

Rob: Recently you shared an article with me about something called “success bias”. The premise related to our tendency to deify the success stories, while the failures are forgotten. The author pointed out that those successes often came after a long chain of failures. They were often a result of persistence, and being in the right place at the right time, for that critical breakthrough. He argued quite persuasively that we often have more to learn from the failures, but those stories are not shared. In this context, I wondered if you could share your suggestions of what not to do, if we are seeking longevity in the farming business.

Graeme: Yes, that could be helpful. Let me think. OK, here is my list of some failure factors.

  1. Near enough is never good enough – always strive to deliver the highest quality to your clients. The memory of one substandard shipment lingers longer than a dozen superior offerings. On one of my farms, an employee shipped out several cases of tomatoes to a wholesaler. She never checked the cases she selected from the cold room, and inadvertently supplied some seconds that were destined for chook food. It took months to reclaim the confidence of that buyer.

  2. Don’t splash out too much in the good seasons – many growers celebrate a bumper season by updating farm machinery and buying a new ute. While that may be a fun reward, it is rarely a good idea to increase debt, unless it is absolutely necessary. It is inevitable that we are destined for a major financial crash at some point and when that happens the banks will come under considerable pressure. They will transfer that pressure very rapidly, and you would be best advised to minimise your vulnerability to the hatchet men. You must also be prepared to weather some storms in the face of increasing climate extremes. I know it might seem boring, but we may need to return to the squirreling mentality of our forefathers to ensure resilience. I will share an example. I travel each year to Saskatchewan, where we work with a number of large scale farmers. Here, the open landscape is flat and featureless. In fact, they say you can watch your dog run away from home for three days. The farms are large, averaging 10,000 to 20,000 acres, and the farm debt is similarly expansive. In fact, I am informed that average debt here is $12 million! It is a long, cold winter, where temperatures can drop below -40°C. The growing season is just 100 days so you can imagine the hours in the planter trying to accommodate that timeframe. Three seasons ago, these growers experienced a blast-furnace summer, where there were only five days in the 100-day season when the searing wind was not devastating crops. The losses were devastating and the stress set in soon after. There were growers who rarely drank alcohol pouring back a six pack or two each evening. Apparently, the last time something similar happened a couple of decades earlier, it happened two years in a row. Most of these heavily indebted farmers feared they would not survive a second crop failure. Thankfully, the following season was a good one, but that level of concern reflected a lack of resilience that may well come back to bite. Australian dryland farmers must have the capacity to withstand several years of drought, because that is the grim reality in our burnt, brown land.

  3. Don’t let emotions override common sense – in the brave new world of climate change, we need to recognise changes and adapt rapidly. Flexibility becomes a primary survival tool. If your region is shaping up to be a victim of changing precipitation patterns, get out while the going is good! Don’t wait until the value has gone from your property. This may involve overcoming your emotional link to your land. There is no point in glorifying the past blood, sweat and tears of your father and grandfather on your farm, when contemplating hard decisions for the future. In reality, they may well be looking down, screaming “Get out now boy!”, in stark recognition of the obvious.

  4. Ignorance is not bliss – see life as a continuum, where you are constantly moving forward and improving. YouTube, TED talks and internet research have provided an unparalleled opportunity for each of us to expand our vision and understanding. Podcasts can make our hours in the tractor or ute so much more productive and entertaining. In a world where the only certain thing is change, you need to be abreast of all that makes you more adaptable.

I could continue about failure to plan ahead with crop choices, planting schedules and marketing, but I will stop now. Let’s chat about something else.

Rob: OK, let’s talk about one of your passions. You have often stated that a truly healthy farm requires a truly healthy farmer. What do you see as the major health issues amongst farmers, and what corrections are required?

Graeme: In a recent Rural Press publication in Australia, we were provided statistics on farmers’ health, relative to other professions. Farming proved to be the unhealthiest of all professions, with double the rates of most degenerative diseases and three times the rate of depression and suicide (compared to the next closest profession). Stress is obviously a huge issue, however, there are other players involved, like chemical toxicity, poor diet and the need for informed supplementation.

Rob: Perhaps we should deal with each of these separately. What are the key drivers of this pervasive stress and anxiety amongst our fellow farmers, and how can we counter this pressure?

Graeme: It is interesting, because the meaning of life involves maximising peace and happiness, during our short lifetimes. That is the measure of a successful life, and some may only recognise this during their last days, when a profound analytical clarity often arrives. Stress and anxiety is the opposite of peace and happiness, and the vast majority of us suffer this malaise. Just like the soil, it is always best to begin by addressing root causes. There are some key nutrition issues that must be understood in relation to reclaiming peace. We can learn to meditate or manage our stress with other strategies, but if we do not address this nutrition link, our success may be limited.

Here’s how it works – we are equipped with a flight or fight response, where stress induces a multitude of physical changes that serve to increase our likelihood of survival. This was pretty handy when you stepped out of your cave and were confronted with a sabre-toothed tiger. You ran the fastest you have ever run, or fought the hardest you have ever fought, fuelled by these physical changes. Thankfully, this was a rare occurrence because you usually lost that particular battle.

Our bodies have not changed through the millennia. When we are anxious, we are effectively in a form of flight or fight response much of the time. In this manner, the sabre-tooth has become our everyday reality.

The 27 changes that occur in our bodies during flight or fight, including the production of adrenalin, are driven by magnesium. Basically, stress sucks magnesium. Magnesium is the ‘chill’ mineral that enhances relaxation. When we draw down on magnesium reserves, due to our pervasive anxiety, we are less able to counter stress. It becomes a vicious downward journey. We become more stressed because of deficient magnesium, which further depletes our supply of this mineral, driving more anxiety, which sucks more magnesium. The end result is often a stroke or a heart attack, if depression does not strike first. The National Institute of Health recently listed magnesium deficiency as a primary root cause of depression.

The problem with the chronic (long term) magnesium deficiency, which many of us suffer, is that it actually reduces our likelihood of fixing the problem with oral supplementation. Ironically, a prolonged deficiency results in a significantly reduced capacity to absorb magnesium through our gut lining. In this context, oral supplementation becomes much less effective.

Alternative options include painful intra-muscular injections, usually in the bottom, or intravenous magnesium (which can provide the quickest top up). However, there is a less invasive option, and that involves absorbing this mineral directly through the skin. Transdermal magnesium is considered ten times more efficient than oral supplementation, as it does not involve the gut interface. It goes straight through the skin and into the blood, where it is delivered around the body. The highly successful NTS Health product, MagSorb™, involves a very pure magnesium concentrate, which can rapidly address shortages through application to the skin. However, there is nothing wrong with the old school concept of Epsom salts baths. The best response here involves dissolving two cups of Epsom salts in a bath of hot water and relaxing in that bath for 40 minutes. You will need to do take your bath directly before bed, because you will be way too cruisy to head out to work on the farm after your bath. This deep sense of relaxation you so rarely feel, should drive home the importance of maintaining good magnesium levels as a physical strategy to reduce stress and live a longer and happier life.

MagSorb from NTS Health

Transdermal magnesium (MagSorb™) is absorbed much more efficiently than oral supplementation, particularly when sprayed under the arm or on the soles of the feet.

Rob: That bedtime bath is a great option and I can confirm the chill-down effect. I sleep like a baby after an Epsom salts bath. Are there any other minerals or nutrients that can reduce our stress levels?

Graeme: Yes, there are other casualties of our stress-filled lives. The vitamin most depleted by anxiety is vitamin B6. Most of us should be supplementing with at least 100 mg of B6 per day*. This supplement should always be taken with a B-complex, as the B vitamins bounce off each other, i.e., they must all be present to ensure the best response of any single player. This requirement to always supplement with the compete B package actually works in our favor, because other B vitamins are involved in the relaxation response and nutrients like B12 and B3 are missing in many of us.

Rob: Returning to the concerning health statistics you discussed, most farmers have had chemicals on their skin at some point and this is how our contamination accumulates. How does our body deal with this toxicity?

Graeme: You nailed it when you mentioned toxicity. Google the active ingredient in any farm chemical and you will understand that all of them are dangerous poisons. There is no debate about the links to endocrine disruption and cancer. Most growers would be a little shocked if they made the effort to research what they are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

Humans are equipped with a two phase detoxification system. The liver is actually our most important organ, as it orchestrates this clean-up process, while also driving digestion and other key processes. The liver is equipped to deal with all natural contaminants. These might involve natural toxins like arsenic, mercury or a snakebite, for example. In each case, the liver has the means to minimise the damage. Some of our farm chemicals are copied from natural substances and, hence, there is a potential detox pathway. However, there are others that are purely man-made constructs. The liver has no capacity to counter these toxins, but it recognises that they are not desirable. They are often shunted off to the fat cells to keep them out of circulation and to reduce their likelihood of creating organ damage. Here they accumulate. This is called bio-accumulation. The toxins are stored in our fat and become something of a time bomb, particularly if we lose weight rapidly.

There is a very effective technique to reduce this liability. It involves a Japanese invention called the far infra-red sauna. These saunas invoke a much more powerful sweating response than conventional saunas, at less oppressive temperatures. They generate a light wavelength that penetrates deep into fat tissue and they can pump out the stored toxins with the sweat. You will often smell chemicals with a memorable stench, like 2-4-D, on your towel after a 30 minute sauna session. These saunas can be sourced online, in two or three person format, for a little over $2500, but you may prefer to take your first few saunas alone. The initial detox outpouring can be an unpleasant experience for those sharing your sauna.

Rob: That sounds like a worthwhile investment. It’s annoying that no one is made aware of this major safety concern. I still see householders spraying their glyphosate in shorts and thongs on a windy day.

Graeme: There is something else we were not told in relation to the dangers of chemical farming or gardening. This applies to both the growers using the chemicals, and the hapless consumers. This involves something called “the cocktail effect”. If you understand chemistry, you will know that when we combine three or four chemicals, we inevitably create a fifth or sixth. There has been absolutely no research on the safety of these new creations. A tomato contains 9 chemical residues on average, and a snow pea harbors the residues of 13 protective inputs. No one has looked at what happens when we combine these residues. A rare, independently-funded, US study involved research into ten commonly used farm chemicals and 100 of their combinations. There are actually many thousands of potential combinations, when we look at ten chemicals in combinations ranging from 1% to100%. In this tip-of-the-iceberg 3-year study, three of the 100 combinations studied proved to be class three carcinogens. That means that they generated cancer in animals. It is a little less ethical to prove the same thing in humans within this timeframe, but we can assume there are problems.

Rob: My goodness, that sounds like a good reason to source clean food. How can farmers reduce their chemical footprint without jeopardising their profitability? I do know some of the answers of course, but in the spirit of sharing, let’s list the ways. Most growers do not like drenching their crop in chemicals, but they believe they have no choice. The public demands perfect produce and the farmer must deliver. Sadly, most consumers do not realise that perfection comes at a price.

Graeme: That’s for sure. It’s a huge price when we poison our soils, our food, our children and our planet. The whole essence of Nutrition Farming® involves a return to addressing root causes rather than treating symptoms. There is more money in the ongoing treatment of symptoms, but those funds do not go into the farmer’s pocket. A fungal disease is not a deficiency of a fungicide, just as cancer is not a shortage of chemotherapy. There is always a reason for pests and diseases and that typically comes back to nutrition. Nutrition involves minerals, microbes and humus, and the interplay between this trio. Real science involves adherence to natural laws and principles. It is not scientific to treat symptoms with more and more chemicals each year, with less and less response. In fact, this is stupidity, it is the definition of “unsustainable”.

Rob: Can we profitably deliver “perfection” without the chemical helpers?

Graeme: Yes we can, but I think consumers will need to learn to adjust their perfection expectations, for the sake of both food producers and themselves. I produced some of the nicest apples I have ever tasted at my Stanthorpe farm last season. Some of them had slight russeting from an early foliar spray containing copper. These were unsaleable to wholesalers.
I visited a large scale capsicum grower recently and he showed me the tremendous waste associated with this “perfection” model. Countless, slightly misshapen fruit were discarded. There was zero market acceptance of fruit midway between green and red. It is ridiculous and absurdly wasteful in a starving world. I produced a large crop of tomatoes last season. We grew them on the ground rather than on wires. The flavor was beautiful, but towards the end of the season there were occasional tiny spots on some fruit from the strong winds in that region. There was no market for these flavorsome treats, other than for paste. It’s time to wake up, and savor the slight imperfections when you are eating nutrient dense, chemical-free food.

Nutrition Farms capsicums

Nutrient-dense capsicums from Nutrition Farms in Stanthorpe. In the conventional market many of these delicious fruit would be discarded due to color and other slight imperfections.

Rob: So, let’s list the ways we can reduce the need for chemical intervention?

Graeme: OK. Cell strength is a good starting point. Both insects and disease organisms must breach the cell wall to get to the “yolk” on the inside of the cell. They are seeking the central contents of the cell, as a food source to sponsor their proliferation. This is an obvious opportunity. How do we strengthen that outer barrier, to buckle the invading fungal hyphae or to blunt the mandibles of sap-sucking insects? What determines cell wall strength? There are two minerals that boost the strength of that protective barrier, calcium and silica. We work in 57 countries and look at countless tissue tests around the globe. Most crops require more calcium and all crops need more silica.

Rob: It is interesting that soil levels of calcium can seem sufficient and yet the leaf test often reveals a different story. What is happening here?

Graeme: Yes, it’s more common than not. Minerals vary in their mobility, and calcium is the most immobile of all minerals. It is sluggish moving into and around the plant, and it can be difficult getting enough of this important mineral into the fruit. I feel that most crops benefit from a foliar or two of chelated calcium, to compensate for this immobility. That’s the first issue. The second issue relates to boron. Calcium will not strengthen cells efficiently without sufficient boron. Most crops also need a boron foliar. Then there is the silica link. Phloem and xylem, the pathways into and around the plant, are constructed with silica. Mono silicic acid, the plant-available form of silica, is lacking in the vast majority of soils we test. Silica is the most abundant mineral in the soil, but something has impacted its plant availability. It is probably a farm chemical, because organic growers invariably have higher readings of this plant-available form. The bottom line is that we often need to add calcium, silica and boron to our programs to ensure we generate the desired cell strength.

Rob: What are the most effective forms of these minerals?

Graeme: Actually, there is a clever trick, shared by Hugh Lovel, that can increase the soil solubility of silica in Spring. This will optimise the nutrient pathways into and around the plant and maximise calcium uptake. This strategy involves applying boron to the soil in late Winter. This triggers the release of silica, and primes the calcium delivery for the cell division required for the Spring flush. We have tried it and it works. In our case, we fertigate a few kilograms of solubor and humic acid in the last weeks of Winter. Highly leachable boron should always be combined with humic acid to create a stable boron humate.

Potassium silicate is the plant-available form of silica but, although it is effectIve, it is not particularly user-friendly. Farmers like to pack the tank to maximise a single pass, but potassium silicate is incompatible with acidic inputs. That includes the vast majority of fertilisers. We have developed a micronised form of diatomaceous earth (DE), that is held in a liquid suspension to provide a more user-friendly silica alternative. DE involves diatoms, tiny creatures that accumulated in trillions in waterways, and were entombed in geological upheavals. All that remains of these multitudes is their outer shells. These skeletal remains contain 85% silica, in a powder that looks a little like gypsum. Under a microscope, DE looks like broken razor blades and this explains its use as an insecticide and to control internal parasites in livestock. It cuts up these creatures and they die from dehydration.

Diatomaceous Earth microscopic

The silica-based exoskeletons of diatoms are like broken razor blades that form an abrasive barrier that can dissuade many insects.

We grind down this ancient silica to a tiny particle size of five microns, and deliver it in liquid form. It is plant-available and, unlike potassium silicate, it is compatible with all inputs. On my farms we use it at more concentrated rates on the leaf surface to create an abrasive barrier to dissuade insects, particularly caterpillars. Dia-Life Organic™, our liquid, micronised DE, is now one of the most successful NTS products globally. I try not to advertise too much during my sharings, but in this case, we dreamed up this concept, so I am taking the liberty.

Rob: You don’t need to feel guilty about sharing NTS product information. Growers know how freely you share everything, so they will forgive the odd indiscretion, haha! In fact, I will give Dia-Life Organic™ a little plug for you. I use it regularly and I can attest to the benefits. My leaf levels of protective silica continue to grow, when I fertigate it in small amounts regularly. There also seems to be a fertiliser response.

Graeme: Thanks mate. That growth response relates to the recent discovery that silica is an immune elicitor. All immune elicitors boost yield, so it is a win/win scenario.

Dia-Life Organic

Dia-Life Organic™, the popular NTS silica source that is compatible with everything.

Rob: What are some strategies to get more calcium into the plant.

Graeme: There is a strong fungal link to the uptake of calcium. Elaine Ingham’s famous pot trial demonstrated that the pots where fungal dominated compost was added, retained 100% of applied calcium, whereas it freely leached out in non-treated pots. Beneficial fungi, including mycorrhizal fungi, are seriously lacking in most soils. Humic acid becomes invaluable in this context, as it is the most powerful stimulant of beneficial fungi. I always suggest the use of DIY humic acid, where you make your own inexpensive liquid humic acid from our NTS Soluble Humate Granules™. The recipe involves 1 kg of Soluble Humate Granules™ per 10 litres of water, i.e., add 20 kg to a 200 L drum of water. Stir or agitate the solution vigorously for several minutes, then let the small component of insoluble sludge settle out overnight on the bottom of the tank. Don’t throw out this sludge, as it features the mineral rich, insoluble, humin component of humates, and it is a wonderful home garden fertiliser. Apply your DIY humic acid at 20 to 30 litres per hectare on a regular basis and observe the many benefits, including visible fungal stimulation, enhanced crumb structure and increased calcium storage and availability.

Rob: What is the best foliar form of calcium?

Graeme: We have several chelated calcium options, including Calcium Fulvate (fertigation), Nutri-Key Calcium Shuttle™ (foliar spraying on crops after vegetative phase complete), Trio (CMB)™ (foliar with Ca, Mg and B), and Cal-Tech™, (amino acid chelated with boron).

Rob: I had better let you get some sleep now as you only just got home from your Indian seminar tour. How did you go over there?

Graeme: It was a bit of a battle as I was still trying to recover from the vicious flu that is still plaguing Australia. My goodness! I have never encountered anything like it. It flattened me completely. I was pleased that I made the effort despite my ill health. I coughed my way through a sold-out two day course in Pune and the crowd response was wonderful. My presentation to the table grape growers in Nashik attracted 2000 growers. We have had some wonderful results with my programs in that region, so the word has obviously got out. They live-streamed that presentation on Facebook and there were 10,000 likes. I have decided to head back in October for a three week Ayurvedic retreat. It is time I started to look after myself a little better, if I am to continue to make a difference.

Graeme Sait grape presentation Nashik India

Graeme presenting to a record crowd of 2000 table grape growers at Nashik in India.

I will make a series of YouTube clips on my return to India, with the help of my friend, Mangesh. He is a passionate and talented biological agronomist, and an accomplished translator. He is intent upon spreading the word far and wide amongst India’s 200 million farmers.

We will also launch the world’s very first Nutrition Farming® Certification scheme in India in October. This is intended to help gain better premiums for nutrient-dense, chemical-free food, grown with our system. I am working in the parameters of that proposed certification over coming weeks.

We are also looking at forming a not-for-profit in India called “The Nutrition Farming® Foundation”, that can serve as a vehicle to seek funding for a variety of regenerative projects in that region.

We will soon form a global foundation for the same purpose.

Micro-Bio Meter testing in India

Mangesh (right) and Sachiin are two of the leading biological agronomists in India. Here, they are field testing our latest soil life monitoring tool, the Micro-Bio Meter.

Graeme Sait vineyard India

Graeme in a table grape vineyard in Nashik, with leading Nutrition Farmers and agronomists.

Rob: Wow! It sounds like you have been busy. I see that the flu didn’t slow you down too much. You had better get some sleep now, as you are looking a little exhausted.

Graeme: It has been a couple of days since I slept so I will crash now.

*Disclaimer: This content is a personal view only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

To read Part 3 of this series, please click here.

To go back to Part 1 of this series, please click here.

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