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Frost patterns expressing plant signatures

I have observed varying frost patterns on frozen surfaces most of my life, but I don’t recall many instances where frost patterns reflected the living organisms in the local environment so well.

The first photo is an outside view of a glass window in a homestead greenhouse on a cold winter morning.

The second photo is a selection of the greens that were harvested inside that greenhouse that morning.

Which of the plants vascular systems matches with which window pane?

What do these observations tells about information and energy being shared and perceived?

What frost patterns or other energy patterns have you observed?

Thanks to Nigel Palmer for sharing the photos.

2022-02-02T13:47:32-05:00February 7th, 2022|Tags: |

Farming from the soil up, or from the sun down?

Ecosystems are regenerated through the agency of plants, capturing energy from the sun and transferring it down into the soil.

Plants are the primary collectors of energy. They are the only way we have of bringing new energy into an ecosystem.

All other organisms simply convert the energy captured from photosynthesis.

Livestock are not the foundational organism to regenerating soil and ecosystems.

Fungi are not the foundational organism to regenerating soil. Neither are bacteria. Or actinomycetes, protozoa, or any other organism. 

These other organisms can be managed to develop an environment where plant energy collection jumps dramatically. Or they can be mismanaged in such a manner that photosynthesis declines in the landscape.

Optimizing sunlight capture increases yields and unavoidably results in regenerating landscapes.

Optimizing soil fertility to increase yields may or may not regenerate agricultural landscapes. With the approach being used in contemporary agriculture, the effect on landscapes has been negative, not positive.

Are you managing for most efficient sunlight capture?

Are you managing to optimize soil function, or sunlight capture?

2022-02-02T05:59:06-05:00February 4th, 2022|

Grazing produces higher yields than mowing

Sunlight energy harvesters (farmers) managing grass and livestock who are keen observers frequently report higher forage yields and faster regrowth when forages are grazed instead of being mowed. In one case, a dairy farmer reported  40% higher forage yields over an eight month grazing season.

I attempted to track down an incomplete post I saw online that read:

Thiamine, vitamin B1, in cows saliva stimulates grass to grow 79% more quickly than if it were mown by a machine.

We’ve come to think of plants and animals as being separate, but it makes sense that their lives are intertwined. They evolved together after all. If grass is/was always grazed, then it makes sense to outsource this growth catalyst to the animals that graze it rather than the individual grasses. Nature is not only clever and a systems thinker, but also very efficient!

As humans, we like to think we have a reasonable understanding of how most things work, but my time on the farm has made me question that. There seems to be a lot we don’t know. I sometimes wonder whether we even know enough to ask the right questions…1

I was unable to track down a copy of this citation, but I did locate a few other references on this topic by the same authors. It seems probable there are other synergistic mechanisms in addition to thiamine that trigger faster grass regrowth. Livestock likely contribute some  growth enhancing microbes as well, which were not as well understood in this time period.

Whatever the various mechanisms may be, anecdotal evidence clearly indicates utilizing livestock as harvesters generates higher yields than using machines. And cost less to operate.

What other mechanisms does livestock grazing contribute to produce increased forage growth?

 

 1. Reardon, P. O., Merrill, L. B. & Leinweber, C. L. Proceedings International Rangeland Congress 1; 396-397.

Reardon, P. O., Leinweber, C. L. & Merrill, L. B. effect of bovine saliva on grasses. in Proc West Sect Am Soc Anim Sci (agris.fao.org, 1972).

Reardon, P. O., Leinweber, C. L. & Merrill, L. B. Response of sideoats Grama to animal saliva and thiamine. J. Range Manage. 27, 400 (1974).

Reardon, P. O., Merrill, L. B. & Leinweber, C. L. Effect of bovine saliva and thiamine on regrowth of grass. PR Tex Agric Exp Stn Coll Stn (1975).

2022-02-02T06:04:18-05:00February 3rd, 2022|Tags: , , |

A qualified opinion

“I’m not entitled to have an opinion unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who are in opposition. I think that I am qualified to speak only when I’ve reached that state.” ~ Charlie Munger

Propagating fear and division among family and friends does not serve us. It may serve someone, but it does not serve you, or I, or the good of community.

Perhaps we see this more clearly than before in this contemporary environment of  polarizing opinions, so strongly held they  divide families and communities.

Divisive opinions grew with Trump, transferred to a virus, and became ever more entrenched.

Collectively, we are tiring of the division, and ready to put it behind us. “Lets move on” is the prevailing sentiment.

It seems to me we should learn from this experience, particularly in the regenerative agriculture space.

We have the benefit of having a lot of facts and science in support of regenerative agriculture. There are also many facts and science that can be marshaled by advocates of contemporary agriculture.

Frequently, those with different perspectives are not even describing the same things, or discussing the same ideas, since they approach the discussion from very different world views.

What are the beliefs you have very strong opinions about? These might be beliefs about the usefulness of GMO’s, the benefits of anhydrous ammonia, the effectiveness of glyphosate,  the value of cover crops, the use of phosphorus fertilizers, etc. etc. etc.

How well can you articulate the opposing point of view?

Your ability to articulate the opposing point of view is likely to correspond to your level of empathy for those who hold a different view.  You now understand their perspective, even though you may not agree with it.

Developing empathy with those who hold a different point of view is a foundational requirement if we wish to intervene and facilitate a shift in perspective.

If you think glyphosate is great, or glyphosate is damaging, is your opinion a qualified one? Or are you depending on the opinions of others?

Asking ourselves and our colleagues to develop qualified opinions or acknowledge when our opinion is not yet qualified, can bring about a deeper understanding and openness with each other.

What are you qualified to have an opinion about?

2022-02-01T13:20:14-05:00February 2nd, 2022|Tags: |

Photosynthesis is not a ‘constant’

Photosynthesis does not occur at a constant rate of speed. It varies from moment to moment dependent on the availability of light, carbon dioxide, water, temperature, chlorophyll concentrations, plant nutrition and genetics. This seems obvious on the surface, yet is almost always missed during research.

We understand that limitations on water, or nitrogen, or temperature extremes can have a pronounced impact on photosynthesis and consequently on plant growth and yield.

In contrast to this ‘downside potential’ of photosynthesis limitations, there is also an ‘upside potential’.

When environment and nutrition is optimized, plants can photosynthesize much more rapidly than what is ‘common’ or ‘normal’ (depending on how you define normal).

An extreme example is tomato production in greenhouses in the Netherlands, where yields are reaching up to 100 kg per square meter, equal to 890,000 lbs per acre. (No, that is not a typo, and it does not include an accidental additional zero.) Field grown fresh market tomato yields in the US range from 30,000 to 50,000 lb per acre, or about 6% of the yields in the greenhouses. To produce those results, lighting, CO2, and nutrition are all being managed very tightly.

This perspective on managing photosynthesis is very valuable when we think about how to increase yields and crop performance, and is often overlooked.

Very importantly, photosynthetic variability is completely overlooked in carbon sequestration research.

Research reports that this or that ecosystem can sequester xx amount of carbon. Grasslands at a certain level, forests at a certain level, farmland at a certain level.

The research, and the predictions coming from that research, contain the flawed assumption that the rate of photosynthesis is a constant from season to season.

Some fields/regions will photosynthesize less and sequester less carbon than the research indicates, because of a challenged environment.

Some fields and regions have the capacity to photosynthesize and sequester carbon at rates multiples higher than the research indicates.

As photosynthesis varies, so does root exudation, carbohydrate partitioning, disease resistance, insect resistance, crop response to microbial inoculants, fertilizers, and sprays.

All research evaluating the performance of products or practices on crops should contain the parameter, “what was the rate of photosynthesis in the plants contained in the study?” When this highly variable parameter is ignored, research does not translate consistently to other fields and farms.

Early potato tuber set

This root system developed in 14 days after planting.

How many tubers do you suppose this potato plant can set in the first two sets and bring to full size at maturity?

The answer is: 20-30+, depending on the variety.

The first tuber set occurs much earlier than many expect, and can occur as early as 10-14 days after planting.

If a goal is to produce large numbers of tubers in a condensed early set, it is important to use products that drive reproduction rather than vegetative growth at planting.

These potatoes had a complete planter solution in the furrow that included Rejuvenate and Accelerate, and a foliar with Accelerate soon after emergence.

How much calcium do you think this root system can move into the tubers?

2021-07-30T10:39:52-05:00August 2nd, 2021|Tags: , , , , , |

Do farmers not care about their soil?

When farmers truly care about their soil, will they continue to use soil management practices that lose 2 pounds of topsoil for each pound of corn that is produced, as is currently the case in the state of Iowa?

When farmers truly care about their soil (and their neighbors), will they continue to apply excessive nitrogen fertilizer that pollutes groundwater and drinking water sources?

Many farmers do care, deeply.

Many more profess to care, but their actions testify the hollowness of their words.

We can only begin to make progress when we stop lying to ourselves.

We do ourselves and everyone else a disservice by insisting “This is the way it needs to be to grow your cheap food. We got this.”, and continuing to engage in the same behavior that got us here.

How have your management practices changed to improve soil health?

 

 

2021-07-25T19:36:08-05:00July 28th, 2021|Tags: |

How insects sense unhealthy plants

Plants constantly communicate with electromagnetic signals, and insects are tuned in to some of those signals. In the excerpt of our podcast interview, Tom Dykstra describes how insects are attracted to some plants and not to others. If you want to learn more about this fascinating topic, or have any questions,  Tom is presenting a webinar on Leaf Brix and Insect Herbivory tomorrow at 1 PM EDT. Please join us.

John: This is a fascinating piece, Tom. I know that this is something that many growers are very interested in and want to understand much better. Would you be willing and able to dig a little bit deeper into describing how the olfactory senses work and why some insects are attracted to certain regions where others are not?

Tom: Generally, the insects are smelling with their antenna and with their palps, which are some of the mouth parts. So when they’re flying through the air, they pick up various odorants in the air. And these odorants are vibrating and giving off energy. They’re absorbing and emitting energy constantly. As long as they are above zero degrees Kelvin, which is absolute zero, they are vibrating.

And these electromagnetic vibrations can be easily detected by various equipment in the laboratory, as well as the equipment on an insect. They have various sensilla. I would call them tiny antenna on the actual antenna-proper of the insect. And it’s these antenna—whether it be the antenna-proper or whether it be the smaller sensilla on the insect—that are tuned into very particular frequencies. And these particular frequencies are all important for the particular insect.

Some insects would not be tuned into CO2. They would have no reason to be. Whereas other insects, like mosquitoes, would be tuned into CO2. There are certain floral compounds given off by plants that some insects are going to be attracted to—honeybees being prominent among them. And then you have certain scents that are not attractive at all because some insects don’t go after flowers. There are some plants that advertise themselves as unhealthy. And when they do so, they are picked up by other insects.

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. Unhealthy plants are. Because they can’t digest a healthy plant, there’s no interest in even attacking it. It either has to be injured or it has to be unhealthy. And then, by doing so, it is now digestible, and this is what an insect is going to attack.

At the beginning of our conversation, I mentioned how 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. They’ll have to pull out and move on to a different source.

So all insects are flying above, looking for crop plants that are digestible to them. Plants advertise themselves as being unhealthy, essentially saying, “I’m unhealthy. Please come eat me.” And so the insect will come in and it will start eating the plant, because that’s their job.

Our job is to eat healthy plants. We have a much more elaborate enzyme system. Our digestive systems are designed to eat healthy food. We don’t do well eating Doritos all the time. We do well when we eat healthy plants, and this leads us to be healthy.

For the insect, it’s different. Insects do not do well on healthy plants. They can starve. You can take a Colorado potato beetle and put it on a healthy potato plant and it will not be able to eat it. But you can take an unhealthy potato plant and the Colorado potato beetle will go to town, because this is what it is meant to do. And so because insects are only attracted to unhealthy plants, the unhealthy plants will advertise themselves. They’ve got certain visible frequencies that insects can detect, especially from a distance. And they’ve got certain odors. And these odors can be picked up by the antenna and by the sensilla, and the insect will move in for the kill, so to speak.

John: When we look at plant health, we’re talking about healthy plants versus unhealthy plants. What are some of the compounds that serve as insect attractants that we could manage and monitor?

Tom: You can’t. It would really have to be a general thing. Generally speaking, ethanol is a universal odorant that advertises itself as being unhealthy. So a lot of the plants will release not just ethanol, but also various alcohol components. Not all alcohols, but many alcohols advertise a plant as being unhealthy; it’s a hallmark of fermentation. Fermentation produces the alcohol.

And so when a plant is degrading and it’s in trouble and it’s fermenting, even in a small way—even in an imperceptible way—it will advertise itself. If these odorants are being released, they will be picked up by insects. It will change how the plants are perceived. You can take satellite images of two crop plants and they look different on various images. It can be a visible image. It can be an infrared image. But they both may be corn. They both may be soybean. They both may be anything you could think of, but they will not have the same look under an infrared camera or under a visible camera.

This is something which is very profound in grasshoppers. You don’t find them so much in the United States, but on other continents, locust swarms are a problem. These locust swarms are not just millions of individuals, but billions—sometimes trillions—of insects. They descend upon a very particular crop and take it all the way down to the roots and then pick up and fly away. And they will leave a farmer’s field right next to that exempt. These are the remarkable things that you realize when you see stuff like this— the grasshoppers made a decision. They made a decision to eat one plant over another. Why? Why didn’t they just come down and eat everything? We’ve always been told that grasshoppers will eat anything, and yet there is direct proof in some of the images that I have seen and testimonies of others that, no—they actually are very selective.

Now, I should tell you that grasshoppers are less selective than other insects. Some insects will disappear by a Brix of eight. Other insects will continue to chew on your plants right up through ten, eleven, or twelve Brix. But once they get to about twelve, they will lose interest. And the grasshoppers are among them. You can find the grasshoppers among slightly healthier plants for that reason, but you’re going to find that with the aphids, the leafhoppers, some of the other hemiptera insects, once the plant gets to eight, they lose interest in the plant. You just won’t find hemiptera insects on a plant above eight Brix. And those are the ones that have the beak that they stick into the phloem tissue and take a sip from the sugar water that is flowing around the phloem tissue.

So every insect has its own cutoff. You really have a lot of insects fall off by the time you get to eight. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this, most of the crops are between four and eight. So a lot of plants are really susceptible to every single insect that is out there. But if you can get above eight, you pretty much can take care of your aphids and your leafhoppers and psyllids. The Asian citrus psyllid is down here in Florida, and other psyllids, because it’s very rare to find a citrus tree that’s above eight. We’ve tested a lot of them.

Uniform and heavy plum tomatoes

When these indeterminate plum tomato varieties are grown in greenhouses, it is standard practice to prune back to three fruit per cluster to achieve uniform fruit size and larger fruit, with a target of six ounces per fruit.

The first year on an AEA nutrition management program, this grower observed that his plants had so much vigor and energy, he choose to skip cluster pruning, which greatly reduced labor requirements.

This resulted in a harvest of 6-7 fruit per cluster, all relatively uniform in size. The fruit uniformity and uniform ripening meant fewer hand harvest passes were required, further reducing labor costs.

The surprise was fruit weight. While the fruit was in the ideal size range, each fruit weighed an average of 8.3 ounces, instead of the 6 ounce target. As you know, this increase in fruit density correlates with improved flavor and aroma, lengthened shelf life and storability, and nutritional value.

Since the grower is paid by weight, the combination of more fruit per cluster, more weight per fruit, and reduced labor makes an immediate and dramatic difference in profitability.

2021-07-21T07:51:51-05:00July 22nd, 2021|Tags: , |

Soil and plant health in relation to dynamic sustainment of Eh and pH homeostasis: A review

We understand that organisms which are called ‘pathogens’ can be present in the soil, on the leaf surface, and even inside the plant without causing disease, without being virulent.

We know that there are a number of factors which can trigger virulence. The factors can be related to microbiome diversity, nutritional integrity or climactic stress. We can pool these factors together and term them ‘environment’.

This is the basis for the quote “Environment determines genetic expression”, in regards to potentially virulent organisms.

The question we should be asking is “What is the environment required for this specific organism to become pathogenic?”.

The question Olivier Husson has been asking is “What is the model that universally describes when plants and soil are the corect environment for organisms to become pathogenic?”

I am excited to introduce you to the MUST READ paper that answers this question. There is more valuable information contained in this paper than I can properly introduce in short post. Please read it. You will be delighted.

This paper is a longer read at 57 pages. Print it, spend some time with it. You will be glad you did.

Soil and plant health in relation to dynamic sustainment of Eh and pH homeostasis: A review

For more background information on Olivier’s extraordinary work on redox, click his name in the blog index to find his other articles, podcast episode, and his in-depth free course on Academy.Regen.Ag

2021-07-16T15:14:34-05:00July 21st, 2021|Tags: , , , , , , |

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