21st Century Grower’s Guide to Sustainable Farming
Part 1 — Overview
For the past 75 years, most growers have been limited to using expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Unfortunately, this has destroyed soil fertility, and reduced the flavor and nutrient density of crops.
It has been well documented that these chemical fertilizers are harming the environment and are likely contributors to rising cancer rates and other health hazards. Public awareness is driving demand for organic foods and textiles. Not only are agrichemicals toxic to human health and microorganisms in the soil, they also harm pollinators and wildlife, running off into water bodies, polluting rivers, land and wetlands.
Most of the public is less aware of the damage that these products have brought to farmers. Crop yields are declining, while more money is spent each year on chemicals that are needed each year to grow comparable amounts, even as the “comparable amounts” drift downward in most years.
Farmers, the stewards of the land, want fertility of the soil to remain for future generations. Their search for soil health has created a movement called biological farming based on a relatively new, scientific understanding of the biology with which nature feeds plants. A century ago, our insights into how plants are fed in nature was rudimentary and focused on the chemistry.
Today, scientist know the chemistry was an outgrowth of the soil biology, a complex ecosystem involving thousands of species which, together, cycle nutrients — making them available to plants.
Chemical fertilizers disrupt this ecosystem. Using chemical fertilizers exclusively is akin to feeding children only sugar — initially, they have a burst of energy. But when children eat only sugar, they become hyperactive. Longer-term, without proteins, fats, vitamins and complex carbohydrates, children have poor health.
Plants also need complexity in their nutrition. Chemical fertilizers give plants a quick boost, while starving the microbes which provide the full pallet of nutrients vegetation needs. Most fertilizers are salt-based, so they leave behind residues (or it runs off into waterways). Additionally, other agrichemicals (pesticides) are designed to kill parts of the ecosystem.
Humans — despite their artistic pretensions, their sophistication, and their many accomplishments — owe their existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. — Unknown
Healthy soil has a complete ecosystem, which includes thousands of species across 7 types of life. The below ground biology in one acre of healthy soil weighs in excess of 10,000 pounds, or about the same as 2 full-grown elephants.
Plants use photosynthesis to create sugars and carbohydrates, which are used to grow. In addition to leaves, branches and roots, some of the sugars and carbohydrates are extruded through the roots to encourage the growth of bacteria and fungi.
Bacteria and fungi, in the process of living and reproducing, bind minerals which are essential for plant growth. These bacteria and fungi are consumed by the next level of the food web. As the bacteria and fungi are consumed by the higher trophic levels, the minerals are released as enzymes and other chemicals in a plant available form. This is known as nutrient cycling.
Species that comprise the soil microbe biome produce complex chemistry (many enzymes, amino acids, and other nutrients) that the plants absorb, which creates crop flavor, nutrient density and compound intensity. Feeding the plants, the way nature intended, results in plant health.
Components of the Soil Food Web are in turn consumed by the insects and other arthropods. These insects crawl through the soil creating pockets of air and increasing water retention in the soil.
Like any ecosystem, an outside observer will see good guys (beneficial microbes) and bad guys (pathogens) among the soil microbes, but even the bad guys have a role in the complex community interactions. The bad guys come to dominate and do damage to a farmer’s crop when the entire system is out of balance.
There is a continuum from conventional farming to using organic products and methods to sustainable cultivation to regenerative farming.
SymSoil’s products can be used to improve growers’ profitability at any of these stages, as they are based on deep knowledge of soil biology and an understanding of how different components influence the entire system. As a Benefit Corporation (B-Corp), SymSoil has products which reseed the complete soil microbe biome, provide additional foods for soil microbes, consulting and laboratory testing to assess the soil biology. The components of the soil ecosystem are levers which we use, on behalf of clients, to reduce pathogens, increase plant nutrient cycling, and condition soil.
All farmers have the same goal: To have financially sustainable farming. SymSoil believes this is based upon healthy soil, that improves over time resulting in more valuable crops.
Farming, in the 21st century, is the return to the harmonious and mindful application of natural systems to farming. This approach has proven its ability to dramatically increase the nutritional value of crops, increasing yields, while reducing inputs and associated costs of highly intrusive techniques, healing the damage done by conventional approaches to farming.
The benefits of biological farming include:
Healthier Plants: Greater biological diversity of the soil microbe biome means less pathogens and healthier plants. Most plants will develop a larger and healthier root system, which results in a more vitality in the parts of the plant we see above the soil.
Better Flavors: More diverse soil biology, means more complexity in soil chemistry and more complex flavors, terpenes, compound intensity and nutrient density in food. The plants do more of what they naturally want to do.
Greater Drought Tolerance: Most farmers find more resilience and lower irrigation needs in their crops. This is a function of greater water holding capacity from the biology and the elimination of salt-based agrichemicals.
Carbon Sequestration: Studies by the Rodale Institute found land reseeded with a biological active robust compost was able to sequester 2.5 tons of carbon per acre. Other studies, involving fungal infused biochar (like SymSoil® FIB, a soil conditioner), demonstrated an even higher amounts of sequestered carbon, about 10 tons per acre, per year.
It cannot be overstated: The key to these benefits is the amount and biodiversity of the soil microbe biome.
More on the 21st Century Grower’s Guide to Sustainable Farming
For more information, please visit our website SymSoil.com or https://symsoil.com/soil-food-web-soil-cities/
SymSoil Inc. is an evidence-based, soil health company with products and services for regenerative agriculture. Our flagship products are Robust Compost, Fungal Infused Biochar and Grow Cubes for the cannabis and hemp cultivators.
Our science team has 35 years of experience developing solutions to growers’ problems based upon a deep understanding of the complete soil microbe biome. Inspired by Dr Elaine Ingham, who first described the complete soil microbe biome (Soil Food Web) in the academic literature, SymSoil has developed a number of proprietary techniques to find, cultivate and restore regionally indigenous soil microbes to improve grower profitability. Our patents and processes are based on insights from Korean Natural Farming (KNF) and other composting traditions, academic researchers and microbial cultivation techniques from other industries. A core belief is regional soil microbes can be restored to regenerate the soil, which will significantly increase plant health, crop yields, flavor profile and nutrient density as the plants access nutrients the way nature intended.