Regenerative Agriculture Podcast

Jerry Hatfield on Why Should We Care About Soil Health

Jerry Hatfield on Why Should We Care About Soil Health

May 30, 2018


Dr. Hatfield is the laboratory director for the USDA’s National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment. He has also served on the faculty of the University of California-Davis and is a Past President of the American Society of Agronomy.

In this short but very powerful episode, Jerry and I discuss the mechanics of improving plant efficiency in capturing water, nutrients, and light and put that into productivity. We talk about the role that the soil-plant continuum plays in not only developing the productivity but also the quality of the products that plant is harvested for. Jerry and I discuss the fundamental functions of the soil aggregate structure and the value of gas exchange and water infiltration.



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Episode 10 - Jerry Hatfield - Highlights

3:10 - What have been some of the highlights that have lead Jerry to where he is today?

  • What drives Jerry:  Finding out how can we improve the efficiency of plants to capture water and light, and put that into productivity
  • What is the role of all this in increasing productivity and quality of what is harvested


5:30 - Why should we care about soil health?

  • What does the surface of the soil look like? (Aggregation structure)
  • Getting air and water into the soil helps drive the biological processes under the soil
  • This determines what the plants are doing (how well they can take up nutrients)
  • We need to care because this makes the whole plant system much more efficient - the soil health is the unifying factor


11:10 - How does soil quality improve so many various characteristics of plants 

  • Creating a more balanced soil - creating a condition for the plant to store more carbohydrates more efficiently, for example
  • Allowing the plant to optimize itself


13:00 - How do we regenerate and improve soil health?

  • Restoring biological activity - Biology has four needs: food, water, air, and shelter
  • Putting a cover over soil
  • Allowing the biology to express itself when it’s not being cooked at high temperatures
  • Supplying food to the biological system the entire year
  • Diversity of plants increase diversity of biological system


18:30 - How fast can we regenerate and improve soil health?

  • We can begin seeing changes within one growing season


20:30 - What has Jerry observed regarding a diverse number of plants producing soil changes?

  • Comparing cover crops  - Cover crop cocktails changes are much more rapid
  • Crops begin behaving differently with crop rotation


27:45 - Are we just regenerating soil, or also the thought processes and models around agriculture?


29:00 - Increasing water use efficiency and nutrient efficiency

  • Water and nutrients are tied together - optimizing together leads to stability
  • The plant may be nutrient limited - leading us to expending water to little effect
  • How efficient is the plant at capturing solar radiation?


33:10 - What does Jerry believe to be true about modern agriculture that many others don’t believe to be true?

  • How important improving soils are to increasing productivity - allowing genetics to be optimized


35:20 - What is the opportunity for improved yield and quality? What does this mean for growers in terms of profitability?

  • If you improve soils in “bad” parts of field, immediately improve overall profitability
  • No tillage growers have been able to drop nitrogen by 50% without affecting yields because soil is providing nutrients
  • Producers need to think about what they are getting out of their inputs


38:10 - What action should farmers take right now?

  • Getting a cover crop on system
  • Increasing biology in soil
  • Crop rotation and diversity
  • Cover crop cocktails
  • Reduce tillage




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