Eliminating the need for fertilizers with a larger root zone

A common theme from many pioneers in the regenerative ag space is that you can develop soil biology to the point where you can eliminate fertilizer applications and maintain or even increase yields. Here is Michael McNeill’s perspective on the possibilities.

From the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast with Michael McNeill:

John: We’ve been talking about a number of different things that you seem to have a very different framework on. What are some things you believe to be true that many other people don’t believe to be true?

Michael: I believe that the soil can grow an extremely healthy, high-yielding plant with minimal additions of inputs. There are plenty of minerals in the soil if you treat it properly. I think most people would disagree with me on that. They have “proven” that you have to put on fertilizers to get good yields.

John: Wow.

Michael: I’m going to stick with that, because I’ve proven it to myself—that you can do that.

John: So you’re saying that you can actually grow healthy, high-yielding crops without adding fertilizers?

Michael: Yes.

John: How do you do that? How does that work?

Michael: That’s a complex question with a very complex answer. But the key is creating healthy soil that allows plant roots to go deep into the soil, to extract the minerals they need. There’s a vast sea of minerals that are available. If you’re starting to see suppression of crop yield, and then you add fertilizer, and the yield comes back—that’s because you’re only using the top few inches of the soil. The roots are not healthy enough to penetrate deeper—to actually mine the minerals that are there. Our soil is nothing but minerals.

John: This is something that I’ve talked about as well. And the question that I often get is, “Aren’t you going to deplete the soil of minerals if you’re not adding fertilizers?”

Michael: Well, my quick reply to that is, “Try and take all the salt out of the ocean.” You can deplete minerals in a rooting zone—I’ll grant you that. But what you need to do is expand your ability to search in a bigger rooting zone. And you need to add mycorrhizae into that equation, because you want a really big rooting zone. Let the mycorrhizae work for you.