Written by HFUU Member Hank Kline
Regenerative agriculture is an advanced method of agriculture that follows the example of nature to grow healthy nutrient dense crops profitably without chemical fertilizers or poisons. It increases plant health and nutrient density, which increases the health of the people that eat these plants. It is also a major solution to global warming and climate change and beneficial for our environment.
Earth’s cultivated soils have lost over 50% of their carbon because of excessive tilling and the use of chemical fertilizers and poisons. This carbon is currently floating in our atmosphere and is a major cause of global warming and climate change. Regenerative agriculture regenerates the soil using photosynthesis (solar energy) to replace organic matter (carbon) back into our soil.
REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE EXPLAINED
First it is important to understand the important role microbes play in feeding plants. Regenerative agriculture is based on the scientific knowledge that plants have evolved over 450 million years in a symbiotic relationship with microbes. Microbes are microorganisms, like bacteria, that can only be seen with a microscope. There are more microbes in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on earth. Healthy soil is literally alive.
Plants have evolved to depend on microbes for most of their food. Microbes break down, digest, and excrete nutrients from organic matter (decomposed plants) and minerals (from rocks and soil particles) into water soluble nutrients, which plants can absorb as they absorb water.
MICROBES FEED PLANTS
NATURE’S WAY TO FERTILIZE
Many different species of microbes break down, digest and excrete many different nutrients to provide plants the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy. Billions of bacteria around plant roots provide FREE FERTILIZER as their nutrient filled bodies die and decompose, or when they are eaten and excreted by larger microbes. Fungal microbes act as root extensions. They live closely with the plant roots and extend their long thin root-like strands of fungal cells far out from the roots. They absorb water and use enzymes to dissolve minerals and organic matter to bring to the roots. This multiplies the roots ability to absorb nutrient rich water. Microbes that evolved, along with the plants, have become experts at feeding and protecting plants and keeping them healthy. Healthy plants develop larger root systems. Larger root systems are very important to microbes because…
PLANTS FEED MICROBES
Plants exude a nutrient rich sap from their roots. Bacteria and fungi are attracted to the sap because it has photosynthesis-derived nutrients, only available from plants they need for energy, growth, and reproduction. Microbes have evolved to depend on plant sap for most of their food. Microbes primary goal is to feed the plant and keep it healthy. Healthy plants develop larger root systems that exudes more sap so they have abundant food to flourish and multiply.
Plants make this sap by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere through microscopic holes in their leaves. They separate out the carbon, (the C portion of the CO2), which is the basic building block of life. Plants combine this carbon with water their roots have absorbed, which carries minerals and nutrients microbes have broken down. They organize the carbon, minerals and nutrient-rich water to create a nutrient-dense sap. The sap is used to nourish and build their bodies. This process is called PHOTOSYNTHESIS and is the foundation of life on earth. Plants use PHOTO (light) energy from the sun to SYN(mix) the carbon with the nutrient-rich water and organize (THESIS) it into nutrient -rich sap. Leaves also act as bio-photovoltaic panels to absorb photonic (light) energy from the sun. They use this energy to move the nutrient rich sap through their vascular system, which is similar to our blood system. Most of the sap goes to nourish and build the plant. About 30% is exuded through the roots to attract and feed microbes. Plants release the O2 (oxygen) portion of CO2 back into the atmosphere where it is fundamental to life on earth. This is the source of the oxygen that people and animals breathe.
The relationship is super symbiotic and based on love. Microbes love and feed the plants and plants love and feed the microbes.
REGENERATIVE ORGANIC AGRICULTURE
HEALTHY SOIL = HEALTHY MICROBES= HEALTHY PLANTS = HEALTHY PEOPLE
Regenerative + organic is the gold standard for growing healthy food. Regenerative Organic Agriculture builds organic matter in the soil, which feeds microbes that have fed plants optimally forever…and saves the cost of chemical inputs. Microbes provide a complete supply of secondary nutrients, micro-nutrients and trace elements for optimal plant growth and health. These nutrients and minerals increase the health of the people that eat the crops. Regenerative Organic Agriculture creates a healthy environment for microbes and soil life. It incorporates all the fundamentals of Organic Agriculture including no GMO’s, chemical fertilizers or chemical poisons like pesticides or herbicides which kill microbes and soil life. Regenerative Organic Agriculture also minimizes or eliminates tilling which kills soil life, especially worms and fungi.
WORK WITH NATURE
It’s simple…just do what nature has done FOREVER. Keep soil covered with plants or plant residue like compost, mulch, crop residue or cover crops. Cover crops are crops grown between cash crops to be returned to the soil to replenish organic matter. Organic matter feeds microbes and other soil creatures. When fertilizer is needed, it is derived from natural sources like animals (manure or animal by products), natural mineral sources like kelp or ground rock powders, or plants (compost, mulch or cover crops).
CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS PRODUCE LARGER PLANTS
FASTER AND EASIER
We brilliant humans have figured out how to grow our plants faster, easier and cheaper. Conventional chemical agriculture focuses on higher yields, money and short-term profit…NOT NUTRITION OR HEALTH.
Partially feeding crops with the primary growth nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – (NPK) and sometimes other water soluble nutrients produces large plants fast…but these chemical fertilizers do not provide the full spectrum of secondary nutrients, essential micronutrients, trace elements, organic ions, enzymes, antioxidants, hormones and more that microbes provide. Plants need all these elements to produce natural plant compounds (phytochemicals) which are necessary for optimal plant health, growth, disease resistance, UV resistance and pest deterrence. Phytochemicals in healthy plants increase the health of the people that eat them.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Undernourished, unhealthy plants are very susceptible to disease and pests. It is a scientific fact that insect pests and diseases attack nutrient-poor, unhealthy plants to eliminate them from reproduction (survival of the fittest). Unhealthy plants require pesticides which further kill the life in the soil.
Most agriculture today is degenerative. Conventional chemical agriculture ignores the life in the soil that has evolved symbiotically with plants. It kills microbes and soil life with tilling, chemical fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides (poisons). Each crop mines out organic matter and minerals that nature has accumulated. It does not replenish the organic matter like nature has done forever to feed the microbes. The soil becomes more and more depleted. People and animals eating nutrient-poor, chemically fertilized foods with pesticide residue become less healthy.
USDA studies show today’s food is much lower in most minerals and nutrients than it was before chemical farming. (Google: soil nutrient depletion). Nutrient-poor processed food with highly refined oils, sugars, starches, additives, preservatives plus pesticide residue is causing an epidemic of weight gain, immune system decline and chronic health problems.
More importantly, chemical agriculture harms the microbes, that recent science shows, are fundamental to plant and human immune systems.
OVERFED BUT UNDERNOURISHED
We’re getting plenty of fatty, sugary calories, but we’re hungry for nutrients.
Chemical industrial agriculture provides quantity (calories) that keep us working, but not quality (nutrients) that keep us healthy. The way our food is grown and merchandised has been changed by corporations that put profit before nutrition and health. Today’s food has a longer shelf life, and is faster, easier and cheaper to produce, but not nutritious. It is highly processed and high in calories because it contains cheap, refined carbohydrates, and industrially processed oils and sugars.
Chemical agriculture works great for the profits of the giant government subsidized industrial agriculture, chemical (fertilizer and pesticide) and pharmaceutical corporations, but bad for peoples health, finances and happiness.
These corporations strongly influence our politicians and government agencies (FDA, USDA, EPA) and college agricultural curriculum to promote chemical agriculture. The corporations are getting richer, but people are getting sicker, fatter and poorer.
MICROBES TO THE RESCUE
Remember the goal of microbes is to optimally nourish the plant with macro, secondary and micro-nutrients, trace elements and everything the plant needs when it needs it. Microbes want the plant to be optimally healthy so it produces a larger root system and exudes more nutrient- rich sap so they can flourish and reproduce .
This natural way has worked FOREVER and is the healthiest way for plants, animals and people. All we have to do is stop killing the microbes and soil life with tilling and chemical poisons and start feeding them naturally.
The best we can do now is buy or grow organic (preferably local) and eliminate processed foods.
Organic is evolving. A new symbol is just entering the marketplace. The new Regenerative Organic symbol designates organic products grown with regenerative methods.
This evolutionary step gives consumers the option to purchase food that is not only grown without chemicals (organic); but is also produced to be nutrient dense and SUPPORT OUR PLANETS HEALTH.
Another important benefit…
Regenerative agriculture can reverse global warming!
Two major elements make up the atmospheric blanket that holds heat in and
causes global warming.
CARBON AND WATER VAPOR
Water vapor is responsible for over half of the atmospheric blanket causing global warming. ( Google: water vapor global warming.) The carbon and water (vapor) in our atmosphere that’s causing global warming was IN the soil helping plants grow and photosynthesize carbon OUT of the atmosphere before chemical industrial agriculture. Conventional chemically farmed land has lost over 50% of its carbon into the atmosphere. (Google: Yale carbon storehouse.)
Carbon and water have always circulated naturally, back and forth, between the atmosphere and our soil and plants. Scientists call these the planetary hydrological cycle and carbon cycles. The hydrological cycle is simple. Water evaporates into the atmosphere, condenses and returns as rain.
The carbon cycle is more complex. Plants absorb CO2 (carbon and oxygen) and use photosynthesis to separate out the carbon. They use the carbon to build their physical bodies and release some through their roots to feed microbes. This removes the carbon from the atmosphere where it causes global warming. Some carbon is sequestered in the soil by the roots and microbes. Some is exhaled by microbes and other soil life as carbon dioxide. Plants have evolved to have most of their microscopic pores that take in carbon dioxide on the bottom of their leaves. If there is not a plant above to capture the carbon dioxide it is released into the atmosphere to cause global warming.
Cover crops can double the time that agricultural crops absorb and photosynthesize carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it into plants and soil. The sequestered carbon holds 5 times its weight in water which keeps the water out of the atmosphere. Keeping carbon and water in the soil helps plants grow larger, faster, and healthier and photosynthesize more carbon out of the atmosphere. Increasing carbon in soil 1% allows an acre to hold 20,000 more gallons of water. This saves water and irrigation costs.
These carbon and hydrological cycles have been damaged by::
1. Burning fossil fuels.
2. Degenerative agriculture expediting the release of carbon from the soil
by excessive tilling on hundreds of millions of acres of crop land in the US alone and
3. Herbicides and pesticides that kill soil life that sequesters carbon in the soil.
These 2 cycles are interconnected:
1. Too much carbon in the atmosphere holds in heat and raises the temperature.
2. Higher temperatures cause more evaporation.
3. Evaporated water (vapor) more than doubles the heat-trapping blanket.
Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is priority #1, but does not REDUCE the carbon in the atmosphere. The only way to get carbon out of the atmosphere and return it to the soil is photosynthesis.
Recent scientific studies show that regenerative farming can:
- Slow the flow of carbon into the atmosphere
- Reduce and sequester (draw down) enough carbon into the soil to reverse global warming.
REGENERATIVE ORGANIC AGRICULTURE….
can restore these important planetary carbon and hydrological cycles.
NATURE NEVER TILLS
-Tilling damages the hydrological cycle by exposing more soil to the sun, causing excessive evaporation.
-Tilling exposes organic matter (carbon, (C) in the soil to the atmosphere which allows it to combine with oxygen, (O2) and form carbon dioxide (CO2). This allows it to return to the atmosphere to increase Global Warming. Carbon is important in the soil because it holds many times its weight in water which promotes the growth of plants and soil life.
– Eliminating tilling along with chemical fertilizers and pesticides allows worms, fungi and other soil life to thrive and create aggregates, tunnels and air spaces in the soil. This allows water to percolate and be absorbed by soil carbon instead of evaporating into the atmosphere and washing away top soil.
– Aggregates are small clumps of soil held together by a glue-like substance excreted by worms and fungi that binds soil particles into clumps. The clumps leave spaces in the soil that allow air (oxygen and nitrogen), water, and root penetration..
-Tilling leaves the soil bare ( fallow). Tilling, without planting a cover crop, is inviting natural plant life (weeds). Weeds are trying to fulfill their mission to cover and cool the soil and photosynthesize carbon out of the atmosphere into the soil. Conventional Degenerative agriculture kills this natural life with herbicides or more tilling This kills not only the weeds but also the microbes and soil life that are important to the carbon cycle.
Bare ground also increases Global Warming by reflecting more heat back into the atmosphere than ground covered with plants.
COVER CROPPING ~ NATURES WAY TO TILL
Cover cropping is the key to biological cultivation. It starts with the plants using photosynthesis to produce food and shelter for soil life. The worms, microbes and other soil life create aggregates, tunnels and air spaces that aerate and improve the texture and permeability of the soil. This saves the cost of tilling.
– When the cover crop dies, it’s roots decompose and leave air spaces for easier root, air, and water penetration.
– Cover crops absorb carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil. The carbon absorbs and stores water. This saves money on water and irrigation.
– Cover crops decompose and become free fertilizer.
-Cover crops shade and cool the soil, which reduces heat reflected back into the atmosphere.
– Weed control. Cover crops outgrow and smother weeds.
– Cover crop residue can be crushed and compacted to form a mat (organic mulch) that prevents weeds. A farm implement (crusher-crimper) is available to produce the mat. Another implement is available to make holes in the mat to plant a seed or seedling.
Hawaii needs Regenerative Organic Agriculture. Our prime agriculture land has been degenerated by short-sighted, profit-centric agriculture. County and State government could facilitate and support agriculture that is healthy for our people and aina by funding qualified consultants in the Dept. of Agriculture to educate farmers to transition. Transition (regenerating the soil) takes 2 or 3 years and could be subsidized and incentivized through carrot and stick ag taxes.
REGENERATIVE ORGANIC AGRICULTURE
- It sounds complex but it’s really simple.
- Replace excessive tilling and biocidal chemical farming with soil replenishing cover crops and natural fertilizers.
- Nurture the life in the soil, so that it nurtures the plants, so the plants nurture us, and we nurture our planetary home.
Hank Kline 2021