Wishing you Health, Happiness and Fulfillment.
Another year has flown by, and I am sitting in an English airport about to begin the arduous journey home for Christmas.
It has been a frantic, but hugely gratifying conclusion to 2018, with a 4-week seminar tour of Canada and the UK. There have been large, excited crowds of farmers and consultants at every venue. In Canada, the Four-Day Certificate course attracted growers farming almost 2 million acres. In that country, there are several broadacre crops where organic crops fetch premiums 300% higher than conventional commodities. This has prompted several growers, who have attended previous courses, to commit thousands of acres to organic production. Thankfully, that gamble paid off last season, and there were some smiling faces returning to this course for an update and refresher.
It is a common misconception that a conversion to organics automatically spells lower yields. In that old-school understanding, it is reasoned that you will fall in a heap for a few years but hopefully catch up when the higher premiums kick in. This is absolute nonsense! Organics is just a different road to Rome. You are allowed to use all trace minerals, calcium, magnesium, potassium sulphate and sulphur. Your phosphorus is limited to less soluble forms, but liquid injection with micronised guano (Phos-Life Organic™) can provide all the kick start you will require. You can further ensure sufficient P by inoculating mycorrhizal fungi and Trichoderma sp on the seed (Nutri-Life Platform®). Both of these organisms are well-researched phosphate solubilisers. There are also several other regenerative practices that can release phosphate from your massive frozen reserves. I always encourage farmers to pay a few dollars extra and measure their total phosphorus in their soil test. You will often discover that you have thousands of ppm of this mineral to draw upon in a soil with a history of phosphate fertilisation.
The major yield limiter in organics, however, is nitrogen (N). It is the most abundant mineral in the plant but there are limited options within certified organic farming systems. N deficiency will usually be the major reason for reduced yield in this system, but N can be much better managed and maximised by adopting some key strategies
In the latter half of this Christmas message, I will share some key strategies to maximise yields in organics by optimising your supply of N.
Reviewing The Past Year
Many hundreds of my readers have attended NTS one-day, two-day, and four-day events across the globe during the past year. In each instance, I have poured out my passion and I trust that you have now applied some of the principles and recognised the potential of working with Nature, rather than against her. It is a wonderful realisation that can truly amplify the fun factor in the most important of all professions, the production of the food that sustains us.
In my most recent UK presentation, I implored a room full of cereal producers to reconsider their practice of applying glyphosate to wheat crops, immediately before harvest. Lacing our daily bread with a proven carcinogen is surely not the best way forward for our children.
I must admit that a highlight of my last year was the huge lawsuit payment to the unfortunate American worker, who had contracted cancer from Roundup. It was assumed that the army of QC lawyers would reverse the finding, but it was upheld, and now the cat is out of the bag. There are already 13 billion dollars in similar lawsuits in the wings and many more to come. Bayer, the new owners of Monsanto, may be rueing their greed to become Number One. In the honeymoon phase of the new partnership it has already come back to bite, if not maul them. In fact, it is wonderfully ironic that Bayer paid a relatively low sum of 11.4 billion for the Monsanto Corporation, and then lost that exact amount in one day following the loss of that appeal. They have since announced the sacking of 12,000 workers and the sale of their Animal Health Division. It may be unsporting, but I am delighted. Let the fate of the German giant be an example to the councils, government bodies (like Landcare) farmers and contractors. You may all soon be liable for workers who contract cancer from glyphosate, while in your employ. Sorry, that’s hardly the Christmas message I was intending, but sometimes a wake up call is needed.
UK farmers, along with many others, have recognised the benefits of minimum soil disturbance, with no-till farming. However, they are conflicted with their belief that glyphosate is an inescapable component of no-till, and they do not relish a life without the herbicide. I believe that human initiative will always deliver a viable alternative, but it will only happen when glyphosate is scheduled to be rescheduled, so bring on the global ban! Hopefully this happens sooner rather than later, considering the toxicity of this, our largest chemical input in agriculture. It is now called “the new DDT”, but it may yet prove to be more damaging than that disgraced insecticide.
Anyway, enough of the negativity. There is an undeniable revolution underway. There is an awakening happening, where even the most unlikely chemical, extractive diehards are turning up to seminars to consider alternatives. Everyone involved in this field is noting a profound change. India will launch the World’s first fully organic university in Rajasthan midway next year. The son of the founder of Greenyard, the largest food producer on the planet, has attended three of my recent UK courses. I met with his father, Hein Duprez, in Belgium during my last European visit to discuss a way forward. Hein shared the fact that all of the upper echelons of his management team were committed to a necessary change. However, they were hampered by farm managers and agronomists who were soundly indoctrinated in the symptom treating, extractive model. He suggested that they needed a credible evangelist to get everyone on the same page. I have agreed to help when the time is right.
South Africa is surging forward. All of my seminars were sold out in that country this year. These proactive farmers will teach the world in the near future. I have had meetings with four UK supermarket chains in recent visits and they are observing the SA model and considering heading down the same path. I have trained agriculture departments in several countries and met with many Agriculture Ministers. Last week I spent 90 minutes with the Minister of Agriculture from the UK. It was a memorable meeting as it occurred just hours before the vote to decide the future of Theresa May. There were legions of press vultures elbowing for position outside the gates and large crowds chanting “In! In! In!” or “Out! Out! Out!” Gordon, the minister, was actually quite advanced in his understanding of regenerative agriculture. The post Brexit model will apparently involve agricultural subsidies that support “the common good”. That definition is still on the drawing boards and Gordon has agreed to consider our suggestions for inclusion. I promise you that carbon credits will be one of those suggestions.
My host for the first half of the UK tour was a dynamic, young agronomist called William Iliffe. He organised large crowds of highly influential farmers in Cornwall and was able to attract subsidisation from a group of universities involved in a research body called Agri-Tech. They are an impressive organization intent upon conducting research relevant to farmers’ requirements. It was hard not to yearn for a CSIRO with more empathy and farmer support, and less commercial imperative.
I was pleased to chat with a couple of “In” groups outside parliament and reverse their standing. I personally feel that the UK will eventually be better off going it alone. They, along with Germany, Belgium, Holland and others are shouldering a host of bankrupt economies. At some stage, quite soon, the entire Ponzi scheme will collapse and, before that happens, the UK will be much better off developing their own standalone future, I recently read an article discussing the problems surrounding Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest bank. There was a comment within that article suggesting that the net debt of this bank was actually more than the net worth of Germany. If this is the case, Germany may not be well positioned to maintain indefinite support for Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc, etc. I suspect that a domino effect will see the collapse of the EU in the quite near future, as the world moves into a time of intense recession. The only positive thing about the deflationary recession/depression that is almost upon us, is this. The only commodity that rises and rises in the face of a deflationary downturn is food. In this context, farmers will be in the right place at the right time. I told you I would try to be more positive!
Another highlight from many shining moments this year has been the rise and rise of the action group, “Kiss The Ground”. This group was formed after my first talk in LA, a few years back and I continue to mentor them whenever I am able. They have restored my confidence in a generation of exemplary young people intent upon stopping the rot. They have a global following, a book and a soon-to-be released movie covering the profound links between the soil and climate change. They are masters of digital media and they are educating a new breed of young farmers intent upon mastering regenerative agriculture. Yay!!
It is the season of love and I trust that you will savor the season, at one with your loved ones. For myself, it is time to feel gratitude for this changing paradigm. I thank every one of you for having the foresight, flexibility, courage and intelligence to remain open to new ideas, to further your understanding of farming, and to step up to the plate to make a difference. Those that can master the most important profession and produce food with forgotten flavors, less chemicals and greater nutrient density are my heroes. Thank you all for your fine efforts.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Nutrition Matters readers the most wonderful Christmas season. May you and your families enjoy a happy, healthy and fulfilling New Year and may your precious farms prosper.
I promised to tag on some guidelines for maximising yield in organics, by understanding the dynamics of the most abundant mineral in the plant, nitrogen. Here are some suggestions;
Maximizing Organic Yield with Optimum Nitrogen
1) Access the free gift
You must ensure that you have the essentials in place to allow access to the huge reserves of atmospheric nitrogen swirling above your farm. There are, in effect, 5000 truckloads of urea hovering above every hectare, and you were supposed to garner your share of this free gift.
There are five requirements to unlock this reserve. You must improve your calcium to magnesium ratio to enhance the breathing capacity of your soil. Nitrogen-fixers are highly aerobic and they will struggle in a tight, closed, high magnesium soil.
Secondly, there should be a trickle feed of soluble phosphate happening, to ensure production of ATP. This is the battery that energizes the enzymatic reaction, which converts atmospheric nitrogen to ammonium nitrogen in the soil.
Next, and most importantly, you must have a minimum of 0.5 ppm of molybdenum in your soil, because the enzyme, nitrogenase, is molybdenum-dependent. 80% of the soils we test do not have this minimum requirement. If correction of molybdenum in the soil is not possible, then 50 grams of sodium molybdate (combined with humic acid) as a foliar spray, twice during the crop cycle, will usually supply sufficient molybdenum for that crop.
The fourth requirement is cobalt, as this mineral is now considered “mother’s milk” for nitrogen fixing organisms, and it is lacking in half the soils we test.
Finally, we need to make sure that iron is available, as this is the second component of the nitrogenase enzyme, which converts gas to soil N. Humic acid is a renowned iron solubiliser.
2) Grow your own N
This may well be the most critical requirement for high production organics. You can achieve this with either green manure crops or interplanting legumes. The potential N production of a green manure crop can be estimated by multiplying dry matter by percentage of ground cover by percentage of N. There is always more nitrogen in both legumes and grasses before flowering, so that should always be your turn-in time. Herbicide burn downs should always be avoided, as you will lose a significant percentage of N in the gaseous form. Carbon and sulphur will suffer a similar fate. It is always more productive to work a green manure into the A horizon (the top few inches) to achieve the soil contact to stabilise the three minerals that will otherwise depart to the skies. A 100% ground-cover at 6 inches high equates to 2.2 tonnes of dry matter per hectare. Each extra inch represents another 150 kg. For example, if we were to grow a pre-bloom annual legume (containing 4% N) with 100% cover, to 12 inches high, the equation would look like this;
2.2 tonnes + (6 x 150 kg) (for the six extra inches) x 100% ground cover x 4% N.
i.e., 3100 kg x 100% x 4%, which equals 124 kg of actual N, or the equivalent of 260 kg of urea. This is ample N to grow a good crop, if it is supplemented with a couple of amino acid foliar sprays (Amino-Max™) and supported with free nitrogen from the atmosphere.
The inclusion of a legume with your cereals, brassicas or grasses will always provide supplemental N for your host crop. This can involve the increasingly popular practice of interplanting a legume directly with another species. Peas and canola are a good example of this practice. Not only does this prove more productive and profitable in the end analysis, but it can also reduce the need for insecticides and fungicides in both crops.
The other N-enhancing strategy involves planting low growing clovers under all cereal crops. Here, you will provide supplemental N, P and Ca while also stimulating the beneficial fungi that create crumb structure and better infiltration of oxygen and water. It is a remarkable win/win strategy and you only need try it once to recognise the benefits.
3) Nitrogen from manure
Manure can prove a very cost-effective source of nitrogen and other key minerals. However, there are some limitations of which you should be aware. You will typically receive just one third of the N component of manure within a single crop cycle and this should be factored into your N budget. Let’s consider an application involving five tonnes per hectare of uncomposted chicken manure with a nitrogen component of 2% (20 kg of N per tonne). Here, you are actually applying 100 kg of nitrogen per hectare, but you will only receive 33 kg of N in that first crop cycle and this is not enough to grow a high yield.
You must also be aware of the accumulative effect of manure applications, with each crop cycle, to avoid oversupply. i.e., if you were to apply a further application of 5 tonnes of chicken manure per hectare, during a second crop cycle, you will also be receiving 33 kg, based upon ongoing release from that initial application. Now you will have 66 kg of N available for that crop and, following a similar application in a third crop, you will now have 100 kg of available N in your soil.
4) Nitrogen fixing inocula
This is another very productive strategy for organic growers seeking maximum yield. There are options involving blends of the prolific, free-living nitrogen-fixing organism, Azotobacter, (Nutri-Life Bio-N™), that can be applied to seed or seedlings, or fertigated, to provide a significant N supply for the season. There are also specialist azotobacter that will live on the leaf for a few weeks and fix nitrogen from the atmosphere directly into the plant (Nutri-Life Bio-Plex™). Both options are particularly cost-effective, but they have a critical requirement that determines their success. Molybdenum must be present as a building block for nitrogenase. 50 mg of sodium molybdate, included with the inoculum, along with humic or fulvic acid, will ensure that your nitrogen is delivered.