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In this episode of Backyard Bounty podcast, we explore the incredible world of the food soil web with Nicole and her guest Dr. Elaine Ingham.
What You’ll Learn
- How and why Dr. Elaine became fascinated with the soil food web.
- What is the Soil Food Web
- Why the Soil Food Web is vital
- How to turn dead dirt into healthy living soil
- How healthy, living soil can lower our carbon footprint and increase the quality of produce, which in turn improves human health
Dr. Ingham uncovered the Soil Food Web nearly four decades ago and has been pioneering research about Soil Food Web ever since.
Widely recognized as the world’s foremost soil biologist, she’s passionate about empowering ordinary people to bring the soils in their communities back to life.
Dr Elaine’s™ Soil Food Web Approach has been used to successfully restore the ecological functions of soils on more than five million acres of farmland all over the world. The courses offered by Dr Elaine’s™ Soil Food Web School have been designed for people with, or without, a science background – making them accessible to individuals who wish to learn and to begin a meaningful and impactful career in an area that will help to secure the survival of humans and other species.
Dr elaine has B.A., Biology and Chemistry, St. Olaf College M.S., Microbiology, Texas A&M University Ph.D., Microbiology, and is the Colorado State University Founder and President, Soil Food Web Inc. Director, Soil Food Web School.
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Resources & Links Mentioned
- *Soil Food website / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube
- FREE- Click here to learn more about how the Soil Food Web works
*Denotes affiliate links
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Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com, where each week you'll be hearing inspiring stories and educational interviews with extra guests to help your hobby farm thrive. And now, here's your host, Nicole.
Hello everyone, and thank you so much for joining me for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host Nicole, and today I'm joined by Dr. Elaine Ingham with the Soil Food Web. And today we are going to talk obviously, about the soil food web and learn all about that. Dr. Ingham uncovered the soil food web nearly four decades ago and has been pioneering research about soil food web ever since. She's widely recognized as the world's foremost soil biologist. And she's passionate about empowering ordinary people to bring the soils and their communities back to life. So obviously that that's amazing. And I'm excited to have her on the show and to learn more about that. So Dr. Ingram, thank you so much for joining me today.
Glad to be here, Nicole, I look forward to a good chat.
Yes, me too. I'm excited to have you on the show. I stumbled upon your website actually about a year ago or so. You know, I I'm embarrassed to admit that before I got into kind of gardening and hobby farming I I wasn't aware of soil health and things like that. And so I'm still learning and I'm excited to learn from you today. So just diving right in, can you tell us what is the soil food web?
Well, it's the set of microorganisms in the soil and micro organisms, the simplest definition of that is to say anything that it takes a microscope for you to be able to see. And so people don't really realize that everything on this planet is covered with micro organisms. If all the organic matter everything else disappeared, somehow, suddenly, you would be able to see the outline of absolutely everything from the micro organisms that were left behind. So bacteria and fungi and protozoa, nematodes, micro arthropods, macro, arthropods, earthworms, and archae, it's all the different things that live in the soil. And the definition of soil requires that you have these micro organisms in that soil. If you don't have the micro organisms, you're not playing with soil, you're playing with dirt. Sure, and you can't get the nutrients out of that dirt that you can get when there's biology, the appropriate sets of micro organisms working together with the plants to pull those total nutrients out of that condition that those nutrients are not available to the plant nutrients in the sand and the silt and the clays and the rocks and the pebbles are immobilized in those crystalline forms, and your plant can't get at them, your plant doesn't make the enzymes it doesn't make the organic acids to be able to pull those nutrients into the plant, turn them into a plant available form. That's why you have to have microorganisms in the soil, they do that work. And, you know, we have to go back in time a little bit when I was a graduate student. Well, when I started my graduate work at Colorado State University back in 1978, my major professor talked to me about what he wanted to have me work on for my PhD work. And then he wanted me to go around to all the other professors in the university that had anything to do with soil. And I was kind of like, "Well, this should be interesting", and started going to each person and saying, here's what I want to do, I want to understand what fungi do in soil, I want to come up with a way to measure these organisms that we can tell if they're active, or if they're just hanging around being lazy and waiting for the right conditions to come along, you know. So, you know, this seemed really important to me, because every time you till you kill 50% of those organisms in the soil, and so you're losing your ability to make nutrients available to your plant. Every time you put on an inorganic fertilizer, you are killing a whole bunch of the organisms in the soil because those organisms can't tolerate very high concentrations of inorganic fertilizers. If you're putting more than 100 pounds of nitrogen of most any soluble inorganic nutrient, you're killing almost everything in the soil. And so everything we seem to do in the Green Revolution is to destroy more and more and more of those organisms that are going to make the nutrients that are in your soil available to your plant. So I wanted to figure it out. You go into an old growth forest, you go into native grassland, you go into all these different places that have never ever gotten one of the even a tiny bit of inorganic fertilizer of any kind, and yet, they're growing much, much better than any of our agricultural fields are, how come? What's the secret? So, "Well, I better start finding that out" was kind of my mind. I didn't think it through exactly like that I wasn't old enough to be able to do that. So talking to all these professors, and the first thing, any one of them said, crop science people, the agronomy, people, the natural resources, people, the you name at hydroponics, horticulture people, their first reaction was "Oh, you
shouldn't do that for your research". Because these organisms are just in the soil, they're just there, they don't do anything for your plant. They're just kind of hanging out. And it's not... come on, understand Mother Nature. Mother Nature doesn't put up with anything, that's not doing something for the good of the whole system. Human beings don't like weeds, and we don't like diseases. And we don't like pests, but they're performing their ecological function. They're doing what nature has told them to do. Just because we as human beings don't like it doesn't mean that we have the right to go out and kill them all. We need to learn how to work with nature. And that was my thought is, if she's got all of these organisms out there, and all these different soils all over the world, they must be important. We need to figure this one out. And so all of the professors said, "Don't do this for your PhD, because you're not going to be able to find a job". Once you get out, you're going to finish your PhD and you're going to go be the attendant at a gas station or something equally, is now going to spend eight to 12 years of my life in order to go be a librarian. Sure. So I forged ahead anyway. And you know, here we are 45 years later, and I've had a good career, I have caused all kinds of trouble.
That's great. Everyone should.
That's right, you should turn your world a little bit upside down for at least some portion of the population. Because human beings we do foolish things, we do things that we don't really understand the consequences of what we do. And yet we forge ahead and do them anyway. And then it catches up with us 40 years later, that okay, we're screwing up bad time. And what do we do to fix it. So that's what Soil Food Web, Incorporated and Soil Food Webs School do is to give people an understanding of how to fix the damage that we've caused, without losing yield from your crop plants, with being able to reduce the amount of water that it takes to raise the crop, be able to get rid of weeds without ever putting out an herbicide, make certain that your plants getting every single nutrient needs every day every second. So that is never stressed. And diseases and pests will not attack your plant. If your plants fully healthy. It's got all the nutrients that it needs. All these benefits. There's seven different overarching principles that work, that in every place around the world, no matter where you go. If you've got sand, silt, Clay, rocks, pebbles, organic matter, you can quickly turn that back into a soil. And you can see a huge improvement in yields, and healthiness. Well, and if you're eating healthy food, then you're a healthy human being. Your animals are healthy. And it just ramifies throughout the system that human beings live in. How come we're we've been destroying that. And you know, turn the fickle finger to the people who are greedy, and all they want is more money. What good does that do them?
Sure. Well, yeah, short term, not so much long term. I imagine.
You can't take it with you, unfortunately.
So obviously, the the soil food web is incredibly important and offers some significant benefits to plants. And I would assume us in return, I imagine, you know, better soil than better quality vegetables and so healthier humans as well. You mentioned that we have made mistakes as humans either intentionally or otherwise. What are some of those mistakes that you've seen?
If you go back in history, you can kind of pick them out there they get to be glaringly, "Yeah, this was a bad thing". Things start going downhill very rapidly after that. Mostly the thing that stopped the whole Green Revolution, all of that, you know, the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions. Let's hope everyone was doing it for the best of reasons. It just didn't look to the logical outcome. But what really started it off was the mechanical plow. Back in the late 1800s. When that tillage equipment was mechanized, that's where the first problem really starts to happen. So before that, when you have to stick a horse or a donkey, or a mule, or a pair of oxen into the driving shaft and be directing them while you're trying to push that plow into the soil, you're trying to stay in a straight line trying to keep the animals under control, and making sure you're pushing that plowshare down deep enough to break up the compaction that had formed from that last year. How many acres could you till in a day, and not very many I've, I've tried it and I think I might, if I'm lucky, be able to make a, you know, a 10th of an acre before I collapsed or the donkey had run away or something I just, there's so many things to keep track of it's a real art to be able to do tillage that way. So farms were quite small, unless you happen to have a whole brace of sons, you know, we're cousins and aunts and uncles and nephews and everything that would come over until your property and then you'd go till there's and it's still not the family network is really important when you're doing farming. So you can see why farms weren't very large, some of the world like your look at Europe still today. large farms are 40 acres, when I was young professor, going globe trotting and going and seen all these different kinds of places. Now, in Europe, 40 acres is large, 100 acres is you've got a big farm. Now that's a large, small holding. And they never have farms that are up in the, you know, 2000 10,000 acres that we have in the United States. So if you're trying to put into production, lots and lots of land, you can't do it. As a single person with a single plow share in a single animal, you've got to somehow expand the workforce. But one way to expand the workforce is to instead of having 400, horses pulling 400 different plows, you build a mechanical tractor that is 400 horsepower. And then in the course of a day, you can till now 400 acres, but now and every time you till you are slicing, dicing, and crushing the organisms in the soil, everything is harmed except bacteria. So you're converting your soil from something that has the whole food web functioning with all these benefits to something that's only growing bacteria, aerobic bacteria will grow and produce alkaline glues to glue themselves onto surface so they don't wash away when it rains or when you irrigate. So they stay in place. But they're not building the structure that your plants need. Bacteria can only make micro aggregates. But we've got to have macro aggregates, we've had, we have to have organisms that build the larger aggregate structure. So water will be retained in all of these small pockets of air 50% of that those pores should be filled with water. If you don't have that structure built by the use of microorganisms, now you're going to start losing water through your whole profile, it's going to get into the groundwater, it's going to go racing downhill, and it carries any soluble nutrient with it. So we're losing nutrients into our drinking water into all of our rivers and lakes and streams and it's destroying water quality of everything downstream. Once okay if there's just one farm on that stream, but when all of the land is now into farming, and there's no filter, there's nothing to hold all of this stuff in the soil. It goes out into the rivers, lakes and streams. And now we've got problems like that, in Australia, when the Great Barrier Reef is completely dead, and it's more than 60% dead at this point, what's Australia going to do? It's going to wash into the ocean. Australia is just a big sandbar. Really, sorry Aussies. You know the truth of this. So once you remove the protection, there it goes, and how do you stop that kind of, you know, the force of the water hitting the shore? It's taking things back out to sea. How do you prevent that? I don't think we've been successful at doing that as human beings. So one of the things we need to do is stop tilling, stop destroying that structure, stop crushing and slicing and dicing all of those things. Well, because we started telling, and all of a sudden, we're not holding on to the soil, we don't have any way to retain those soluble nutrients in the soil, because nothing has been held in those poor structures, then that means that we don't have the nutrients in the soil to grow the plants. So what are we gonna do, it was getting to be a big problem. But then World War One came along, and we all went off to fight the war, we came back from the war, and everything had managed to kind of catch up, the soils had been not tilled, not plowed for, you know, seven years, 10 years, something like that. And so the problem had kind of started to fix itself. Well, but then we started to destroy it all over again, World War Two, we went away, and we dropped the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and it stopped the war, a full two years before it was expected to end. Well, we had reserves of TNT and explosives and all kinds of gun powders were waiting to be sent to the troops overseas, and now we don't have troops overseas, what are we going to do with all this TNT, and somebody noticed that if you threw it out onto a field of weeds, the weeds grew better.
Really. And so they said, "Well, we can sell out all of this TNT to the farmers. And they took big ads out of like the Chicago Sun Times, big ag ads that said, "Now all our boys are coming back home, and we got to feed our boys coming back". So you know, we've got to be using all these fertilizers, we've got to use the chemicals better living through chemistry. And they convinced all of the farmers or most of the farmers, that it was their patriotic duty to apply these kinds of fertilizers so that they could increase production. And because they will have already destroyed the biology in the soil. Yeah, when you put the inorganic fertilizers out, wow, everything grew better. But it's because we had already destroyed that resource. So now what we've got to do is make certain that everybody understands that with the best of intentions, now that biology was destroyed. And we've got to stop doing that we have to keep all that soil in place, we got to keep the nutrients plate in place. And the only way you can do that is to have the bacteria and the fungi and the protozoa and nematodes and micro arthropods and earthworms, in the soil doing all of this work for you. Of course, when you get the microorganisms back then you don't have to work so hard. You don't have to be putting on inorganic fertilizers, you don't have to be putting out pesticides, you don't have to put out herbicides to kill the weeds. Because as soon as you get the source of nitrogen to be something other than nitrates, the weeds can't grow. They're going to be out competed by your crop plant, they're going to be out competed by other plants that might be present in your system. So you lose all the weeds, you encourage the right kind of surface growing plants, things that maybe only go grow two or three inches, no taller, but their roots go down 10,15, 20, 25 feet. And so you're retaining all that nutrient, you're getting oxygen to move into the soil, water is moving into the soil, it doesn't run off, it doesn't go right through your soil into your groundwater with all the nutrients. It's held up in all of this structure built by the bacteria and the fungi protozoa, nematodes. So we explain all of this in probably way more complete and way clearer. We explain that in our foundation courses, that you can sign up to get the foundation classes, and the first foundation class is all about these theoretical things. And then how do you bring your soil back to life? And so we go through making really good compost and making compost teas and compost extracts. And then how do you apply them? And how do you know that you've got the right biology back? So we teach you all of those things in those foundation courses. And then for people who want to start teaching other people, we have classes that you can learn to be a lab tech and do other people's soil samples for you. So they call you up and they say, "Okay, what did you find in my soil?" and you have to say, "I'm sorry, there's nothing but just a few bacteria in there. This is total dirt". And then of course, what they want to know right away is, "Well, how do you fix that?" And how fast can you get it fixed? So we have consultants out there who are, you know, testing the soil, telling the farmer, "Here's what needs to be done". And then we have to have composting operations as well. It's not the kind of compost that you find in municipal composting sites. That's, that's a landfill, call it what it is, it doesn't have anything to do with composting. So that is not going to retain the nutrients. Well, they allow those piles to go anaerobic. Because they're trying to get all that waste to reduce. What they want to see is most of that carbon dioxide blown off into the atmosphere as CO2. Where do you suppose the all of that CO2 came from? Well, yeah, cars and traffic and industrialization that contributes quite a bit. But probably a huge portion of that elevated CO2 in the atmosphere comes from municipal waste, because it's a waste reduction process. They want to get that big pile of glop down to almost nothing. So that little bit is what goes back into the landfill. And everything else is blown off is all kinds of greenhouse gases. So don't follow that paradigm. You know, most of the university systems, they don't make compost. They really downplay it "Oh, no, you know, compost is going to kill your plant". Well, it's not compost if it kills the plant. So it's got to be aerobic. That's one really important thing and your compost, you really need to keep it aerobic, because those are the beneficial microorganisms. As soon as you have reduced oxygen starting to happen. That's where the diseases and the problem organisms thrive. And so all of a sudden, you're growing bad things. So you see why you don't ever want your compost pile to go anaerobic. Unless you're controlling it very, very carefully. So like Korean natural farming, they make compost, but they make certain they're putting in a very specific inoculum. So despite the fact that goes anaerobic, it's still not going to grow the bad guys, it's going to grow lots and lots of lactobacillus, which isn't going to cause human disease or pathogenicity, it may harm your, your crop plants. So you wouldn't ever put that directly onto the root systems of your plants. But you certainly could get rid of some pretty bad diseases and pests with that kind of preparation. So you got to know what you're doing. When you when you're doing any of this all of the different steps and different problems and how you deal with them.
Before I asked my next question, can you tell me what your website is, and we'll put the link in the show notes as well?
Okay, it's, of course, "www.soilfoodweb.com".
That makes sense. Wonderful.
And I'll make a differentiation between Soil Food Web, Incorporated, which is my consulting company, and I really don't do much consulting anymore.
Because I've got Soil Food Web School. And that's quite a growing concern. We've got over 2000 students in the classes and they, you know, we get glowing responses back from most of the people in the school, all of the people who have graduated, they have filled up their time with more clients than they can deal with. So most of them are looking for more people to come on board for when their business and and take on the extra clients because they're showing that this is really the way to get back to real productivity. My favorite line is once we get that biology back into the soil, and you use your microscope to tell when that is so you know that you've reached that level that you need to have for the crop you're trying to grow. And so as soon as you've got that biology back into the soil, you don't have to keep adding it on, you don't have to keep putting more in, the biology will be promoted by the plants. So you just have to test and make sure that nothing has happened to your micro organism. So here you are, you plant your plant your seeds, or you plant your starts. And now what do you have left to do for the rest of the summer? It's just terrible. But you know, you have to go fishing.
Well, it's better than pulling weeds!
Absolutely. So we want to reduce the amount the workload on the average American farmer, they should all be down at the swimming pool or the fountain or, you know, sitting back with some iced tea and talking about politics, and what it would be the right things for our government to be doing. See it's even going to affect the political system. When farmers have the time to do the discussing, then it goes back to the Yeoman classification in English history that forced King John to sign the declaration that said, "All Englishman had the rights of free speech" And you know, that started our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence. So far reaching effects when farmers can sit around and talk instead of having to work their tails off all the time.
Absolutely. So I know that there's more information in your class, but how much I guess like time and energy and cost is involved in fixing our soil? Is it something that is really labor intensive, or cost intensive for somebody on a larger scale more so than somebody in the backyard?
If you put out things on a per acre basis, it gets less and less expensive, the larger and larger your acreage is, because per acre, you're doing everything and larger scale. Well, if you look at how much it costs to buy all of the starting materials to start enough compost to go on 1000 acres. Yeah, that looks like "Oh, boy, this is really expensive". So you know, you've always got to remember that per tonne, or per acre, it's less expensive to be big than it is to be small. But it's a lot easier to goof up on large acreage. Whereas when you're dealing with smaller acreage, your lawn, your backyard, your you know, small garden plot, you know, a community garden area, you're, it's easier for you to see problems as they start to happen, and move to deal with that right away. And when you take the foundation courses, and then the consultant training, we make certain that you understand, when you're seeing these kinds of problems, here's what you do to fix them. You go and take a look at your soil and your leaf surfaces. And why is this damage happening? And if you discover that it's a bunch of mites, okay, what do you do to select against those mites. And so we've already done those kinds of processes. And there it is, on the table of troubleshooting, what I'm seeing are all these little mites and they look like this, okay, then you're going to be making this kind of compost, you make this kind of tea, you're going to spray that out. And there you are. So, you know, making the compost is the most difficult part of this. And that's why we really like to encourage people to make good compost. So everybody in your area can come to you and buy from you and not have everybody has to make good compost, that means everyone is much more productive, and, you know, makes life more enjoyable for most people. And we have a number of places around the world that have already started on all of this. So, for example, there's a company in California called Catalyst Compost. And when they first started out learning the soil food web methods, they know their first pile that they made was a horrible failure. Shh... don't tell them, don't tell them I said that. But they learned, by the second pile it was doing better. And by the third pile was really pretty good. And so they're starting to use it and friends come by and they go, what are you doing to your tomatoes? Those are the most gorgeous tomatoes I've ever tasted. And, you know, well take a bite, take some home with you. And it's "Aww, man, these are just to die for tomatoes. So what are you doing?" How come is his work and they started explaining so they wanted to buy some of their compost. The first thing they knew they were now instead of five tonnes of compost for themselves, they were making five tonnes for themselves plus 50 tonnes for other people and selling it and right at first, they just went with the going rate for $25 for a yard of compost, because nobody would pay more because it really wasn't compost. But people would pay the $25 and go, "Wow!", and come back for more. And they go "I'm sorry, we're all sold out. We'll we'll put you on a waiting list. And we'll call you." But then they learned that they could up the price. And so now the price was going to be $100 per cubic centimeter not cubic centimeter cubic meter, or square foot, whatever. And so they started making more money so they could eventually buy a big turner. And so now they were making, you know, way more tons and they increase the price. So over the course of the last three years, they've gone from getting, I think they started at $25 per cubic foot. And today they sell for $750 per cubic foot. So we're talking some real money.
All of this. And the people who come and by at that level, they don't complain because their name was on a waiting list, there are other people would buy it that if they didn't buy it, sure, because it improves the production of their plant system that much that it's well worth it to them, they're not going to put a ton of that really expensive compost with all these good organisms out on every square foot, they're going to mix that really good compost with perhaps they something that they made and wasn't quite so good. But you put the mix together, and now the organisms you got from the really good compost is also going to grow in your not so wonderful, and they're to learning how to make compost for themselves. So sooner or later, they won't have to go buy the compost from another source, all their own indigenous microorganisms that have been selected by Mother Nature for the last, Oh 4 billion years to exist in this place at this time. And you know, the best possible growth, your plant can express the genetic material to the fullest of its potential. And then that means when you take a bite out of any of that food, and you get all those really good organisms around the surface of the apples, or the carrots, or the lettuce, or whatever that means inside view, you're inoculating your system with the best micro organisms, and you fix the problems with your own digestive system, your own microbiome, is converted back to what it's supposed to have been.
And I know that there's a lot of problems with those systemically in a lot of disease and stuff. So that would be nice if we could get more healthy soil.
Yep, we we need to stop the use of all those toxic chemicals. It's crazy that we put toxic chemicals on the food that we're going to eat, and we get sick getting such high concentrations of those chemicals in the soil that the plant has no choice but to bring those things systemically. And what does your plant going to do with systemically pulled it had to get the the iron, the zinc, the whatever had to pull these compounds in but it's tied on to these horribly toxic materials. And that means we're eating some of that, when we're consuming plants that are grown just with toxic chemicals.
So your your process, you mentioned that you can change the soil pretty quickly. How long is quickly? Is it a couple months or a couple of years?
It depends on how much damage. So we'll take a look, immediately you hire hire the consultant, first thing that's going to happen is we're going to come out and do a walkthrough your property and take a lot of soil samples and look at what is in your soil. Or maybe it's dirt. And if you know if people have been using a lot of toxic chemicals and inorganic fertilizers and tilling a lot. It's dirt. And there's no hope you're starting from dirt. Now how fast can we get that back in? Well, what's the closest source of really good biologically complete compost? Where is that source? And so they now you buy some of that compost and you put that out and you start to build, there are times when things aren't so bad in the dirt. And within two weeks, we can get the biology back up to what it should be. and off you go. Yeah, within a month. Well, you know, there's other places where there's compaction layers, and you've got layers of toxic chemicals layered in your soil. And, yeah, the root systems of your plants won't go down very deep. All those signs have huge problems. And then we may have to till the compost into the soil for one last time, you won't ever tell again. But sometimes it's the fastest way to deal with compaction layers, or materials that are hiding out in certain bands or places within the soil. And so we want to get that all mixed up, if nothing else to dilute it a little bit and get the biology started. So we'll come back in two weeks then and take a look. Oh, everything is dead. Everything got wiped out. Okay, so now we'll put in some more of those organisms, come back in two weeks and check. Well, okay, half of the things that we need are up and going, they're starting to do their job. So let's put in the third application. And all right, you're there. So it can be as short as a month. It can be as short as one growing season. In some places, especially where people don't follow directions very well. No, it's like, you know, I was working with a group in Pennsylvania. And, you know, they said, "Oh, all we do is 'no till'. We don't till it all. And I got out to the farm one morning and went, "Oh, my gods, one of their neighbors must be out in their field, because they're killing that field. Look, they went this way across the field. And then they went down way across the field with the plow, no!". And I ran into the office, and I said, "Somebody's tilling your no till field, they looked at me like, 'Elaine. That's what we do all the time. It's only no till for six weeks.'" I don't think that's no till then, sweetie. Quit lying to the public about what you're doing. If you're tilling it all, anytime in the last 10 years, that's not exactly no till. Okay, well, maybe what we should say, is low till. I don't think going like this, and going like that, and then they did it on the diagonal.
There was no life left in that material, there was absolutely nothing. So yeah, you have to follow directions, you get a consultant, and you do with that consultant says, the biology is telling us that what you plant is growing is telling us things, we try to teach you exactly what all of that means. So that you, when you see it, then you know what to do.
So it depends on your grower, it also depends on where you live. Now we have grass farmers that have started to convert over up here in Oregon. And they're growing grass without any of the toxic chemicals, no herbicides, no nothing. When they reach the point where they want all of the grass seed to mature at the same time, they put out a hormone, that's not a toxic chemical. So you know, it's not like a lot of them will put out glyphosate to try to get everything to ripen at the same time. Well, that destroys the biology in the soil that ties up most of your nutrients in the soil. Good luck growing something in there in the near future. So okay, we were we have our grass field, no toxic chemicals, what happens when the neighbor over on this side, starts applying the glyphosate and the wind is blowing in our direction, took out all of our organisms on all of the surfaces of all of the grass plants that we're growing. What do you do? Well, you get out there tomorrow morning, and you put on another application of the organisms, you better make certain that you've got those organisms that will decompose the glyphosate.
And there's there's not that many out there that will do that. But you can buy them from most nurseries from you know most, yeah, there they are available. And now okay, but you know, do you really want to, I always don't want them to go, I wouldn't have had to go out and buy this and put on so all my time, all my effort, all the bad things I had to buy, they should pay for that. Because they cause the damage. So I'm waiting for a coalition to get together to start being or, you know, one of the things you as a grower can do is to put in a set of plants that grow quite tall, very dense, so that all of that toxic chemical is gathered on the surface of that plant is kind of funny when you're driving through the farmland, and you look at this row of arborvidae or Italian Poplar, and they're doing just fine on this side. And on this side, all you have are dead branches. Now you know exactly what that means. This person is still putting on toxic chemicals. This person is not. And so you can protect yourself from it. It's just that you probably have to defend yourself on all sides. Because who knows which ways the wind is going to be blown the next time someone's going to be applying some toxic chemical.
Sure. Do you think for me a large scale farmers and growers at a commercial level, if they would take the time and effort to invest in improving the soil health that financially that they would have to come out ahead between yield and labor in the saving the cost of fertilizers and chemicals?
The way you can think of this, as a farmer is take a look at your chemical bill, what are you paying for those inorganic fertilizers, and you're going to delete that, as we get this biology back into the feet into the soil, the pesticides that you have to buy. And I know farmers in this part of the world who are out applying pesticides of some kind or another every week. And now you don't have to pay for that toxic chemical. But you don't have to pay to drive your tractor back and forth, how much wear and tear, what is the salary that you've got to pay somebody. Because if you're out every day killing, especially if you have large, not telling, you know, applying some toxic chemical, you've got to hire somebody else to do it, because you can spend your whole entire life on the tractor. And I know there are farmers who like to do that. But it's only if they've got the television camera. And all the different you know, radio and sports and everything they've there, you can even put the tractor or put the tractor on an automatic, yeah, and it drives itself, you just have to be there to make sure it actually does make the turn at the end of the field. So maybe life is a farmer and in a air conditioned cab isn't so terrible. But I still think fish fishing would be way more interesting. So yeah, we just go through all the list of things that you no longer have to do if you put these organisms into your soil to do your work for you. And everything you can delete. So like in 300 acre dairies, we've had analysis of how much the grower reduce their costs in the first growing season. And it was $200,000. So and it's only a 300 acre farm. So it's significant, the larger you get per capita, the more you save, sure, so it just have to monitor. And that's ultimately what you're going to end up with is somebody who goes out and takes the soil samples, look at them using a microscope and making the recommendation of what needs to be done to make certain that you've got the organisms that you need to make the nutrients available to your plant to protect your plant. So no disease or pest will even know it exists, they fly right on by, so that you're sequestering all the carbon you possibly could. And so maybe you could make money from selling your sequestered carbon you're holding on to all the water you possibly can. So you reduce the amount of water that you have to use to irrigate your land and leave in the summer, that can be a huge cost. In many parts of the of the world. You know, in in Arizona, what's the board the you know, the amount of you have to pay for the water. And it's just outrageous California, you can't afford to water your crops. And in some summers, there is no water to water your crops and you just lose it. So how would you like to not worry as much about that the amount of water present in your soil. So it can be quite a bit of money that you're going to be saving every year. But you do have to get that biology back into the soil and make sure it stays there.
Sure. So probably the last question I have for you today. All right, I have many more blessings, I'll ask you anyways, Is there ever a situation where the soil is just too far gone and can't be saved?
It you really have to pay attention to the situation with the water. If you're in a place where that soil is going to wet continuously for most of the growing season, you're not gonna grow any of your normal crops, maybe cranberries. So there's something you can do with it. You know, you can go all the time, you know, wild rice, things like that, but is some some times you're you're going to have to devote that part of your property to some other crop. And so that's, you know, you're not really not getting the soil back. But you may have to change the crop because it's more appropriate for something else. And as long as it's something else that is going to make you more money, that who's going to object to that.
Sure. Yeah, definitely.
Yep. So we haven't ever had in those situations where we've had that kind of give up on a grower because they just wouldn't follow directions, though we have had those kinds of failures, but where the farmer is really working with us and really making the effort, we have never not been able to fix the problem.
Well, that's, that's definitely good to know that there's there's hope for for all.
Yeah, no, it's like when you we talk about carbon sequestration and reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, if everyone would compost all of their waste materials, and we can teach people how to do that, make your own compost, and put that compost on your own property. So you're not paying for that. And if we could get everybody doing a good job aerobic composting, we could take all of the elevated CO2 in the atmosphere and put it back into the soil from whence it came. Think about the fact that the descriptions of the pioneers as they took their covered wagons and drove across the Great Plains of the United States, they describe the color of that soil. And those descriptions make it sound like that material for three or four, five feet down into the soil deeper, and in some places, was 100% organic matter. And it grew absolutely the most amazing crops, there are people who said they never did anything but till and drop the seed in, they walked away and went fishing for the summer, right there in the Pioneer journals, or you know, they went and help their friends or they build the blacksmith's or something else. They had plenty of free time, the coast of California, this same kind of experience. They talk about these really dark brown rich, caramel colored soils, where if you try to build up that same kind of color, it was almost 100% organic matter, maybe a little bit of sand, silt, and clay and you know, but mostly organic material. So today, when you look at that soil, what's the percent organic material in those soils in the coast of California, or in the Great Plains of the United States, less than 1%.
So where does all the elevated CO2 in the atmosphere actually come from? Mostly from our agricultural fields. It's not like the United States is the only bad guy and doing this made every place where we have grown crops, and we've, we've fallen into the trap of people trying to do good, not knowing what the real consequence was, and now are kind of trying to hold on, as best they can. And poopoo, the idea that biology could be that important. But I think we're showing very clearly that we it's absolutely true, that we have to change our ways that we just can't continue not if we want human beings to last on this planet. So most of the beautiful animals that we're used to would, would be unable to survive either. So it's not going to be just humans that are going to be gone, it's going to be mammals in general, which would be a very bad thing. So we can do this, we can turn it around, we can make the Great Plains of the United States have soil, that's, you know, 10, 15, 20 feet deep, that's almost pure organic matter. And with all the right life in it, we have no worries, it's when you've got organic matter, and you kill all the biology, all of the structure collapses. And what you have is just a stinking smelling swamp. And how can you grow decent aerobic crops. All of our terrestrial plants are strict aerobes if you don't have good drainage, if you don't have some way to get rid of excess water, you're not going to be growing enough food to feed everybody on this planet. So we if we have the will, we can do it. We know how, we just have to make good compost and then convert all that dirt back into soil. And it wouldn't take us more than mean we play around with numbers. Sometimes when we're doing the numbers. It's like, well, if we really got everybody going on the whole planet six years. Oh, and we could put all of that elevated CO2 back into the soil. Okay, what if you can convince everybody on the planet? Do you think that'll happen? Yeah, there'll be some people who don't want to. So if we could get half the people, okay, then it will take us 12 years to put all the eggs elevated CO2 into the soil back and get the organic matter back up in those soils. So fungi are the most important thing in sequestering carbon in soil. So all of our tillage, all of our toxic chemicals, all the nasties that we put out there, really do a job on the fungi, we don't have a good fungi left in our dirt. If you've got any fungi at all, it's the disease causing fungi. So guess who's gonna win in competition? There is no competition. So we have to convince people that they that they need to be doing this. And so the more examples we have, the more likely we are to be able to convince everybody to give it a try.
Well, hopefully, at least a few people here this episode and be inspired. And hopefully we can make at least a small change here.
Yep. Great. So come and take our online courses. So the foundation courses are first. And then if you want to become a lab tech, the lab program, launch your own lab. And then if you'd like being a consultant, then take the consultant training program.
Wonderful. And then "SoilFoodWeb.com", correct?
And we'll put that of course in the description, as always.
If anybody wants to, like email us, it's "email@example.com".
Okay, wonderful. I'll put that in the show notes as well. Oh, my goodness, Dr. Ingham, thank you so much! I really appreciate your time and, and your knowledge and hopefully, your inspiration as well. I know you've inspired me, I definitely, definitely going to take your courses. This is this is something I definitely need. And I feel morally responsible to do as well. So, hopefully...
Come join the team. We do a lot of work with regenerative ag with organic people with just to everybody wanting to know why organic agriculture works or why biodynamic works or why regenerative, and we've got that explanation. So now, it's a lot easier to correct the problem when you know what the problem really is.
Definitely. Absolutely. Well, Doctor, thank you so much.
Thank you for inviting me,
Of course. And for those listening. Thank you so much for joining me for another episode and we'll see you again next week.
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