GMO Industry Is Motivated By Deception

Last month I attended the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa to learn about the direction of the GMO industry. Started by Norman E. Borlaug 101 years ago, the gathering is an international symposium of GMO chemical company CTO's like Dow, Dupont and Monsanto mingling with food companies like Cargill and Land O' Lakes. Big Ag suppliers and international banks like the Bank of Africa mixed with notables such as Chelsea Clinton, Google, Starbucks, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Warren Buffett's son Howard, Pamela Anderson of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, many foreign dignitaries, along with our tax-payer-dollar-supported USDA officials. 

 

The entire conference was a GMO commercial. The attendees should have been paid to be there.  Apparently GMO is "activist lingo" now, so instead they spoke of the latest "agriculture technology."  It sickened me to see them repeatedly lie about yield, nutrition and improved technology. They failed to tell the whole story, which is that the yield is not consistent, the nutrition is lacking, the chemicals destroy the soil, poison waterways and people, and the technology overall is failing. 

 

I asked a question about organic farming at a smaller panel with African farmers led by Julie Borlaug. I pointed out that the UN had recently released their own report titled "Wake Up Before It's Too Late" which stated that small organic farms are the only way to feed the world. She immediately dismissed this report as opinion when it was created by 60 international scientific experts from around the world.

 

As leaders of the agriculture industry, these attendees have a legal and moral obligation to inform the international community of the risks of GMOs and related chemicals like glyphosate. Unfortunately that is not what was discussed throughout the entire conference. 

 

I got to speak to Erostus Nsubuga, chairman of the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium, from Uganda. His main defense of GMOs was not that GMOs and related chemicals are safe, but that they have been trying for 20 years to grow bananas naturally and they have not been successful, implying that they need GMOs. He never indicated that Uganda might be a better place to grow other types of crops besides bananas. 

At the next event, Chelsea Clinton of the Clinton Foundation was joined by CTOs and CEOs from Monsanto, Google, Starbucks, and our Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. They only took questions via Twitter. I was not surprised that my questions were not chosen. 

 

Later on, to a different panel about small farmers, in the same room in front of 1,200 people, I was able to ask a question about organic farming, glyphosate and GMOs. It was uncomfortable but I was compelled to speak up for the children who are sick. 

 

The GMO industry's agenda to feed the world does not trump the reality that they are making people sick, leading to early death and miscarriages. Hundreds of scientific studies now link GMOs and related chemicals to the destruction of life and this health crisis in America can no longer be ignored. 

Throughout the two days I learned of several angles that the GMO industry is applying under the auspices of “a noble cause of feeding the world.”  

The primary target is Africa because they have the most arable land and are predicted to have a 6 fold population increase by 2050. The GMO industry is convincing Africans that they deserve the best technology and no one else should stop them from having a choice, literally stealing the phrase, "Freedom to Choose" from the clean food movement. They have a free curriculum "Bringing BioTech to Life" for middle schools, and other programs for high school and college. The college students that I spoke to parroted the industry’s talking points verbatim.

 

The industry is promoting fisheries in Africa which will likely give the fish GMO feed, just like in the United States. 

 

The Trans Pacific Partnership reduces the tariffs on U.S. soy and corn by 80 percent making it easier to sell their chemically farmed food all over the world.

 

The CEO of Cargill actually said to the dignitaries of foreign countries, "Resist the urge to go after domestic food security."  Statements like this show how the GMO industry wants the world to be dependent on U.S. exports. 

 

I am stunned by the audacity of any country to suggest to other countries that they should not try to be self-sufficient and feed themselves.  

We must be aware that the same chemical companies who make these chemicals that can make us sick also sell the pharmaceuticals that purportedly make us “better.” It is a perfect profit circle for them, one that we must opt out of. 

 

There are many effective non-GMO options. I hope to remind farmers that they are ingenious and that they have been farming for thousands of years without GMOs and toxic chemicals. 

 

Amish Farmer John Kempf, of Advancing Eco Agriculture, teaches farmers how to grow crops that completely resist pests and weeds without GMOs and toxic chemicals. Wisconsin farmer Will Allen grows 1 million pounds of food a year, including fish through aquaponics on three acres. 

This is a crucial time in history. The global community has to choose between deceptive corporate marketing or protecting our families and prosperity for generations to come.

 

Honeycutt is the founder of Moms Across America.

 

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Marietta Pickett, Broad Acre Farmer

...She is a rare breed: a female American farmer with her roots firmly in the heartland and her curiosity in the cosmos. In 1901 her grandfather, Lawrence Beck, purchased the 80 acre farm in Hamilton County, Indiana which is the current location of Beck’s Hybrids facilities. In 1937 her Grandfather and her Dad, Francis each planted a three-acre allotment of hybrid parent seed corn offered by the Purdue Botany Department. They planted the crop with a two row, horse drawn planter and harvested it by hand. Marietta recalled riding on her Dad’s shoulders that first year while they pulled tassels. This six acre plot became the first crop of Beck’s Superior Hybrids, and the farm and business are still in the family.

 

Marietta Pickett grew up on that farm as daughter and granddaughter of two farmers who consistently sought a better way. Pickett and her husband, Robert moved to the farm next door to her childhood home in 1958. “We actually planted our first crops in 1957.” A life of farming informs her search for sustainable agricultural methods. Pickett’s Bio-Energetic Harmonics farm has been certified organic since 2001. Spending a lifetime on the same soil gives her the unique perspective of observing changes over time.

 

Though firmly committed to her farm life in Indiana, Pickett’s curious mind led her on an ever branching career path. She taught music at Ball State and Anderson University in Indiana. While on sabbatical to finish her doctorate at Arizona State in 1975-76, she and her husband, Robert met many people in the emerging field of meta-physical awareness.

 

She was invited to become a charter founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association and served on the board there for 12 years and as President of the Foundation. As a professional member of the National Speakers Association for more than 20 years, she helped to found the “Health and Wellness Division” as a way to teach the teachers and train the trainers of corporate America.

 

Her 95 acres, with 85 tillable, are devoted to organic blue corn, spelt, wheat, and tofu soybeans, “Food for people,” she said. With her background in both farming and in natural health and wellness, Bio-Energetic Harmonics is a natural for Pickett. “My husband Robert (now deceased) was a master with radionics,” she explained. “He could measure the energy of anything—how much calcium or magnesium--how to enhance what you have. It is a wonderful tool for agriculture.”

 

Pickett’s search for answers to regenerative agriculture and better food have spanned a lifetime and shows no sign of slowing down. “I have been going to ACRES conferences since they began 40 years ago. I have been told that it is time to bring the cosmic energy into the physical—the same as proposed by Rudolph Steiner on bio-dynamic agriculture.” This is not a new idea. The development of bio-dynamic agriculture began in 1924 with a series of lectures on agriculture given by philosopher, Rudolf Steiner in Silesia, Germany. Steiner emphasized the holistic development and interrelationships of the soil, plants and animals as a self-sustaining system.

A voracious reader and researcher, Pickett perceived a certain lack of continuity as she struggled to assimilate knowledge from so many sources. She felt the all too familiar emotions any farmer feels looking over her fields and wondering if she was on the right path, while feeling very alone. ”I knew I needed to do this,” she recalled, “after all, the vision for our farm is to be a demonstration, education, research farm where people can learn about regenerative agriculture and sustainable living."

 

“Beginning our transition to organic three years before, in 2001, we planted wheat that first fall we were eligible to be certified and that was an easy transition to hay. We had alfalfa for seven years; we kept it because the market was good.” Though Pickett’s husband became ill and made his transition in 2007, she continues to feel a strong connection with his knowledge and energy. “We held Robert’s Celebration of Life on a Sunday night and Monday morning I was in Louisville for the ACRES Pre-Conference Seminar where I had enrolled in Arden Anderson’s three day course on Sustainable Agriculture."

 

Pickett described the evolution of her farm, "Hay was easier as it did not require tilling. Row crops are more of a challenge. We foliar feed and this is our first year on the AEA program. We are keeping good records of nutrition, doing tissue tests before and after each foliar to track the changes."

 

Marietta Pickett generously gave a lot of the credit to Jason Hobson, AEA Staff Consultant. Hobson is the man in the field—just the sort of 'hands on guy' who is a Godsend to a farmer. Hobson has his own dairy farm in Bloomington, Indiana, yet still manages to make the rounds of conferences and farms for the ever increasing consultations on the AEA system. 

 

Hobson is an affable man, and laughed as he recalled meeting Pickett at the December 2011 ACRES Conference in Columbus, Ohio, “She waited patiently while I finished a very long discussion with someone about their 10 by 10 garden.” Apparently the meeting was well worth the wait. Pickett’s soil is on a path to being highly biologically active, and her beans and corn are already looking better than many neighboring farms using conventional methods.“We have had a drought this summer almost as bad as the one in 1988—and record high temperatures. Still my corn looks better than most farms around here,” said Pickett. “I am encouraged I have Jason here as a partner to help me figure out what is needed.”

 

Like Pickett, Hobson too is a farmer’s farmer--he brings a decade of experience and education and is imbued with a sixth sense of the state of the soil. “When people call us for help and say, ‘This is not working,’ we assess where they are, then help them along. We meet everybody where they are. Too much information too soon can be counterproductive,” he said. The notion that conventional methods are falling apart is nothing new—Rudolph Steiner’s lectures on bio-dynamic agriculture were developed at the request of farmers frustrated by conventional methods—and the year was 1924.

 

Farmers today, as well, are beginning to look for systems of agriculture that both work in harmony with nature and make a sustainable profit. “I know of many farmers, even very large farmers, that by all the outer metrics are very successful, and they still feel like they could be doing something differently,” Hobson said.

 

For Marietta Pickett and Jason Hobson, what fuels the search for biological, sustainable agriculture is pretty basic: consumer demand for nutritious, high quality food. Consumers can provide the incentive for farmers to use more biologically friendly methods by demanding it in the grocery stores and farmers’ markets.The reluctance Pickett and Hobson notice in some farmers to embrace biological methods is an understandable emotion: fear of the unknown. “I understand our thinking is different,” said Hobson. “We say ‘here’s how you can do it. This works.' No farmer wants to take a risk--they naturally fear a financial loss. Even with corn prices driven up over the last few years, thanks to ethanol, their margins are still very tight.”

 

Pickett has not yet completed her first year on the AEA program, yet she is already seeing changes on her established all organic farm over the preceding years. “I can already see the health of my plants is improving. My blue corn, compared to my neighbors’ is healthier despite droughty conditions—I have not had curled leaves up to this point. When we had a half inch of rain there was standing water in the field next door and on ours it had all soaked in. We have humus and good bacteria, along with the right ratio of calcium and magnesium. Our soil is charged so the particles of soil stay separate and leave space for air and water," said Pickett.We foliar feed and test after each feeding and we feed through the season. The plant decides how many ears of corn, as well as the length of the ear and how many rows around fairly early in its life. By feeding at these growth or stress points for the plant, we have the potential to increase our yields,” explained Pickett. “Not all AEA farmers are organic, but if you can increase your yield from feed grade to food grade you get more for it.”

 

Although this is the first year the Bio-Energetic Harmonics farm has been on the AEA program, and the weather is breaking drought and temperature records, Marietta Pickett is confident in her results and eager to share her methods. One of her next projects is to create a Web University that is not a degree program but practical information for anyone who is choosing to learn more about how to make the transition to regenerative, sustainable and more profitable ways of growing crops.

 

In the past, one of her challenges was having to go to four or five different companies to get all the nutritional needs for the soil and plants and then not knowing if they were compatible. Finding Advancing Eco-Agriculture has solved that problem. “With AEA not only do we have quality products, we know they are all compatible—a total systems approach—and in addition we have a company that provides well-trained plant and soil consultants to partner with us.”

 

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John Kempf, Founder of AEA

...This is a tricky story to report. It's about a man who "Sees the Possible." But we can't see him.It is a small company with a big mission -- To change the food we eat because the food we eat has changed over the years, and not for the good.The USDA has data on a number of different crops and whether you're looking at copper, iron or Vitamin C, and whether it's cabbage or broccoli or tomatoes, we're down between 30 and 500 percent in just about every mineral and compound that are being tested.

 

But there is a 24-year-old man in Middlefield, Ohio who wants to change all that. He began Advancing Eco Agriculture four years ago and is revolutionizing the way we grow food.The problem is, I can't introduce you to him. He's Amish. This is Field Day at AEA, where farmers from Iowa to New Hampshire -- Amish -- and, as they call us, English, coming to hear about John Kempf's passion and products -- to produce food that not only tastes better, but is better for you.

 

And seeing is believing.

 

He tells us that the proof is obviously in the radishes, as you can very easily see. These were seeds planted at the same time in the same soil with different fertility programs.

 

In this AEA program, you can see these radishes have grown much more vigorously and rapidly because they had access to what they needed from the soil.

 

His plant manager says Kempf is to agriculture what Bill Gates is to computer software. His field consultants agree.

 

They say John picked up a book catalog out of his uncle's trashcan when he was 14 or 15 years old and just started ordering books and reading and reading and reading.

 

And he was able to come to an understanding of how plants function, how soil functions and use that to create a new line of products and a new way to feed plants.

 

And those products are being sold from Oregon to Brazil.

All this from a company of 15 people, the vision of an Amishman who, at such a young age, could see the possible.

 

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High Performance Agriculture Can Increase Your Garden Yield 8-Fold

High-performance agriculture is one of my new passions, and my goal is to provide you with information on how to maximize the time, effort, and energy you’re investing in growing your garden.

This new passion is turning into something of a second career—to learn and understand how to optimize plant growth and the environment. 

Most of you are aware that I’ve been a strong supporter of labeling genetically engineered (GE) foods, with the intention of eliminating GE crops altogether, if at all possible. 

 

The flip-side of this is the effort to replace GE crops with organic farming practices where crop yields are maximized to their utmost potential, to the point that genetic engineering becomes entirely superfluous. There are certainly ways to accomplish this, although the learning curve can feel a bit steep at times. 

 

This interview focuses primarily on how you can optimize your garden, but the principles are virtually identical for larger-scale agriculture. I’ve been applying what I’ve learned in my own garden for a few months now, and I’ve been able to personally witness the maximization of genetic potential that is possible. 

 

High-Performance Farming Can Increase Yield 6-8 Times

For example, the leaves on some of my plants, like my lime trees and oleanders, are literally 300 to 400 percent bigger than the typical leaf of these plants. It’s truly extraordinary! You wouldn’t even imagine that a leaf could grow this big. 

 

Part of the problem is that we’ve gotten used to less than mediocrity, when it comes to plant performance. As my guest in this interview states, farmers and food producers routinely harvest only about 10 to 15 percent of the inherent genetic capacity of any given crop. 

 

By optimizing soil composition and nutrient application, you can—for essentially the same amount of time, effort, and energy—increase your yield six to eight times.

 

John Kempf, an Amish farmer, is one of the leaders in the field of high-performance agriculture. He has taken a leadership role—somewhat similar to the way I have in natural medicine—in teaching people how to achieve these results. He’s the founder and CEO of Advancing Eco Agriculture,1 and runs an organic, high-performance farm in Ohio. 

 

The results you can achieve when you apply the principles he teaches are truly astounding. As Kempf says: “You have to have different expectations and you have to begin managing your crops differently. For example, when you are expecting to produce 60 to 70 pounds of tomatoes per plant, you no longer plant the plants 12 inches apart. 

 

That doesn’t work logistically. You have to begin spacing tomato plants two and a half to three feet apart. But all of a sudden, you only need three tomato plants instead of 36!”

 

How Food Becomes Medicine...

Kempf grew up on a family farm in northeast Ohio. The farm was originally conventionally agriculture-oriented, and used large amounts of pesticides. The turnabout occurred during a particularly difficult three-year period in the early 2000s, when a significant portion of each year’s crop was lost to various pests and plant diseases.

 

In 2004, they began working some land on a neighboring farm where pesticides were not used. The difference was dramatic. Cantaloupes grown on their side were infested with Downy and powdery mildew, while the cantaloupes grown on the neighbor’s land had no infestation at all—despite the fact that the crops were immediately next to each other and received the same care.

 

“At that point, I became convinced that fungicides and pesticides were not the solution to the problems that we were experiencing,” Kempf says. “I wanted to know what the differences between healthy plants and unhealthy plants are, and what allows some plants to have a functional immune system that they can be resistant to disease and insect pests while the next one right beside it is susceptible.” 

 

In a nutshell, what he subsequently learned, is that the foundation of health – whether we’re talking about plants, soils, animals, or people – really boils down to two things: 

  • Having adequate mineral nutrition, and 

  • Having that nutrition, in the case of plants, be supplied by an active soil microbial community, or having a strong soil biology 

By focusing on those two areas – plant nutrition and soil biology – the farm experienced an amazing turnaround, and it’s been completely chemical-free since 2006. Amazingly, as nutrition is improved in the plants, not only do they become naturally resistant to disease and insect pests, they also become hardier and better able to survive a wider range of climactic changes. 

Even more importantly, healthier plants also form much higher levels of medicinal compounds and essential oils, such as phenolics, aromatics, and bioflavonoids. This is really what turns food into medicine... As explained by Kempf, these medicinal compounds are compounds that plants produce as plant protectants, meaning they protect the plant from things like ultraviolet radiation, insects, and pests. When you eat such plants, that functional immunity can then be transferred to you.

 

What Is High-Performance Agriculture?

High-performance agriculture, as defined by Kempf, is providing plants with the environment and the nutrition they need to allow them to express their inherent genetic potential. This is a key concept, because you’re not really altering a plant’s yield by supplying it with better nutrition, per se. All you’re doing is allowing the plant’s inherent yield potential to be fully expressed.

 

Most plants in fact have FAR greater yield potential than what conventional agricultural practices are capable of producing. As explained by Kempf:

“Take tomatoes, for example. The day a tomato seed is planted, it has the genetic capacity to produce 400 to 500 pounds of fruit per plant. Every time that plant is exposed to any level of stress throughout the growing season that potential harvest is reduced. At the point at which you’re actually harvesting the crop, you are only harvesting a very small fraction of what you originally started with the day you planted that seed. When we give the plant nutritional supplements, the reality is that we are not increasing yields; we are simply preventing those yields from being lost.”

 

The question then becomes: How can plants be healthier and grow so much more vigorously than what has become accepted as normal? The answer to that question lies in a plant’s capacity to fully synthesize. The action of absorbing water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air, and through the catalytic action of sunlight energy, sugars are formed inside the plant. Those sugars are the energy source utilized to drive all of the plants’ growing processes and to build fruits. Anything you do to increase that plant’s photosynthetic capacity will therefore increase the plant’s energy. 

 

The photosynthetic capacity of any given plant is directly correlated to the mineral content and the nutritional profile of the plant. If it has adequate mineral and trace mineral nutrition, it will be able to photosynthesize at very high levels of efficiency and produce as much as three to four times or more sugars during a single 24-hour period, compared to most of today’s conventional crops. 

 

How to Evaluate Plant Quality

In the full version of the interview, Kempf discusses a number of examples of dramatically increased crop yields produced on high-performance farms. While many blueberry crops, for example, have an 8-12 percent sugar content, the blueberries he’s been working with have a sugar content of 14-18 percent. 

 

“We have increased the sugar production capacity of that plant by 50 to 80 percent, which results in a sweeter fruit and indirectly a fruit that is more nutritious,” he says.

 

To measure sugar content in your plant, you can use a refractometer, also called a Brix meter. Sugar content is often used as an indicator of quality—not because the sugars are in and of themselves necessarily an indicator of quality, but they’re typically associated with the plant’s mineral content. Hence, it can be used as a marker of quality. Brix meters are available on Amazon.com and other places, and can be had for under $100. 

It’s a simple way to measure the quality of the fruits, berries or vegetables you’re growing, and evaluate the effectiveness of your remedial actions.The most common Brix meters measure on a scale of 0 to 32 degrees Brix, which is what you want. They also have units available that go from 0 to 64. According to Kempf, those are less accurate as they measure too broad a range.

 

Using Tea Compost for Your Garden

I recently visited the Rodale Institute, which claims to be one of the oldest organic farms in the US. It was founded 75 years ago by J.I. Rodale. One of the most potent strategies they employ to improve plant health is compost tea. While there are a variety of ways to make compost tea, you typically use a volume of water, certain sugars for nutrients, minerals, along with certain bacteria or microbes. The mix is then aerated using a pump, as the beneficial organisms require oxygen to survive. The tea is typically grown over 24 to 48 hours, and then you apply it directly to the soil on a regular basis. 

 

An ideal compost tea is composed of tens of thousands of different species of bacteria, along with fungi and protozoa that actually digest the bacteria. This type of tea compost can address both of the main components necessary for maximum plant performance, i.e. mineral nutrition and optimized soil biology. Kempf explains:

 

“To provide a more complete picture of why those two factors are the engines that drive the overall system: Inside the plant, all types of metabolic processes go on that depend on mineral nutrition in order for the plant to be able to grow and be healthy. According to a number of plant researchers, geneticists, biochemists that have done a lot of work on plant nutrition, in order for a plant to have a completely functioning enzyme system, which it needs to be really healthy; it needs at least 64 different trace elements. 

We’re talking not only about having adequate quantities and the right balance of minerals, but we’re also talking about a very broad spectrum, a very broad suite, of mineral nutrition, specifically a lot of the various trace minerals, to function as enzyme cofactors. However, we need that mineral nutrition to be in a form in which it can be readily absorbed and readily utilized by the plants. And the key to getting mineral nutrition absorption into plants is microbiology in the soil system.” 

 

This  is very similar  to your own biology. You have microflora in your digestive tract that is responsible for helping you digest your food. As the proteins and carbohydrates in the food are broken down through enzymatic digestion into individual amino acids, essential fatty acids, and simple sugars, your body can then assimilate these simpler compounds and use them for energy.

 

As explained by Kempf, the exact same process holds true in soil, where the soil microflora digests root exudates, sugars, and amino acids that the plant’s root system sends out into the soil. These sugars and amino acids, for the most part, contain a very limited mineral profile. 

 

The minerals are actually created through the microflora in the soil, as follows. The soil bacteria, fungi, Actinomycetes, and a variety of other soil microbes feed on these soluble sugars and amino acids. They also extract minerals from the soil mineral matrix and use them to build their own bodies. As that microbial population cycles and regenerates, the minerals that are contained in their bodies are then released and become available for absorption by the plant. Again, this is very similar to the way that fermented vegetables or probiotics improve your own digestive and overall health. 

 

How Charcoal May Improve Soil Health

Compost tea can produce great results in terms of plant growth, but you also need to pay attention to other environmental factors, such as watering and increasing the organic matter in your garden soil by adding compost and other soil amendments. Another area I’m really excited about is the use of BioChar, which is charcoal used as a soil amendment. Producing BioChar involves slowly burning biomass, such as wood and other plant materials. The slow burning releases methane gas, producing charcoal that has an incredibly high surface area when spread out thinly.

 

The charcoal stores carbon (as trees and plant materials extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) and starts to reverse some of the challenges we’re seeing with increasing CO2 levels in the environment. When put back into the soil, it can keep the carbon stable, in the form of charcoal, for extended periods of time, which is an environmental benefit. 

 

From a gardening perspective, it provides a suitable environment in which beneficial soil bacteria can grow and flourish. According to Kempf, BioChar may also help “filter” toxic chemicals in the soil:

 

“I do not know this for sure, but I suspect, based on the charcoal component, that there’s a very strong possibility it might also have a great beneficial aspect in sequestering toxins and environmental pollutants that are in our soils and ubiquitous in our environment today.

 

For example, with all of the herbicides and pesticides that are being sprayed, all the aerosols that are in the air, every time we get a rainfall, there are some minimum levels of pesticides that are within that rain. I think having that BioChar component in your soil can help bind a lot of those toxins and prevent them from being absorbed by your plants.” 

 

Why Using Miracle-Gro Is Not a Good Idea

Many are under the false assumption that increasing plant nutrition is best done by picking up some Miracle-Gro from your local garden store. However, it’s important to realize that while conventional fertilizers can provide some level of improvement, they’re far from ideal. Nor are they superior, when compared to natural high-performance plant-enhancing methods. As explained by Kempf, there are two main issues at stake:

  • Plants require far greater diversity of minerals than that provided in any commercial fertilizer formula. For example, NPK fertilizers contain varied amounts of just three components: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. As mentioned earlier, plants need at least 64 different minerals and trace-minerals for optimal growth. 

  • While many soluble NPK-type fertilizers produce rapid, noticeable plant response, they significantly suppress the soil microbial community because they’re essentially electrolytes, and when applied to the soil, they increase the electrical conductivity of that soil, which results in a burnout and a suppression of the soil microbial community. So, long-term, this simply promotes soil destruction and decreases your ability to grow healthy plants. 

  •  

Resources for Further Learning

Soil and plant health is a complex topic that cannot be thoroughly dissected in any one article, so I advise you to take it upon yourself to learn more about high-performance gardening and agriculture on your own. One excellent resource is Secrets of the Soil: New Solutions for Restoring Our Planet by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. 

 

Kempf also has a web site called advancingecoag.com  where you can learn more about his work. For example, you can find quite a bit of information about their cultural management systems and the nutritional systems they use on high-performance farms. His company also produces plant nutritional supplements that help increase plant health. These products will probably become available sometime next year, as they’re currently in the testing phase.

 Click here to view the full interview on Mercola.com 

 

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Crop Management Company Focuses On Nutrient Absorption

The founder and chief executive officer of the company Advancing Eco Agriculture instead emphasizes plant health and nutrition. Results come not just from planting and fertilizing, but by paying close attention to plants’ needs and meeting them.

 

“The usual approach is to try to optimize for yield. We’ve taken a different approach,” Kempf said in a telephone interview with AgriNews. 

“Instead of trying to optimize yield, we attempt to optimize quality in plant health. What we find is when nutrition is balanced for plant health, quality goes up significantly. You get better test weights, reduced moisture content, greater protein content. As quality increases, you can’t stop the quality from increasing, meaning more yield.”

 

AEA was formed in 2006 as a crop consulting and service company, but was expanded in 2009 to include input formulations. It operates dually, providing minerals and on-farm service. 

 

A number of crop consultants work throughout North America, with the core regional focus in the Midwest, including the Corn Belt. Fruit and vegetable operations comprise a large portion of AEA’s business.

The holistic approach to agronomics is paying off for AEA’s customers, according to Kempf.

 

“One of our core strengths is that we help farmers produce crops that have a functional resistance to plant pests, both fungal and bacterial diseases, as well as insect pests,” he said. “We’re able to accomplish this utilizing mineral nutrition and ensuring that the plant has adequate nutrition so that it has a completely functional physiological system to counteract any disease or insect pest that might become a challenge during the growing season.

 

“We’re talking about making sure that plants have adequate nutrition, including trace minerals at different points in the plant’s life, which we refer to as critical points of influence. At various critical points of influence, plants are determining a great deal of their genetic yield potential within a very narrow time window. Any time plants have deficiencies or stress levels at these points, it greatly depresses the yield potential it might have later.”

 

The origins of AEA came from Kempf’s own farm. A member of Ohio’s Amish community, he began looking for alternatives to conventional crop management practices when his crops stopped responding to pesticide treatments.

 

Although AEA is not an organic farming company, Kempf eschews genetically modified plants. He also believes the herbicide glyphosate does more harm than good.

 

Annual soil tests are important, according to Kempf, but they don’t tell the whole story. He said he believes the key is efficient absorption of nutrients by plants.

 

“Obviously, the soil is the foundation,” he said. “Laboratory soil analyses are an indication of how that soil is balanced. What we’re finding today is that with the rapid climate shifts we see happening, nutrients may be held in soils, but are not necessarily absorbed by plants.

 

“When we look at a soil analysis, we’re seeing adequate levels of trace minerals and yet the plants are very deficient on trace minerals, especially manganese and copper. We’re finding that to achieve high levels of quality of plant health, the soil samples don’t give us a good enough indicator of where we are.”

 

A typical field plan is comprised of a carefully formulated planting solution, followed by one to three foliar applications, depending on crop and agronomic practices.

 

“We accomplish that by using a systems-based approach to plant nutrition, and we work with both nutrition and soil biology,” Kempf said. “Also, if needed, we will work with foliar applications timed to fit these various crops’ timing points.”

 

Systems such as those developed by AEA are essential for the continued increase in yields and efficiency, according to Kempf.

 

“There has been a lot of discussion about sustainability in agriculture, especially over the last five or 10 years,” he said. “My contention is that we are too far down a slippery slope that we need to have regenerative agriculture until we reach a plateau where we can have true sustainability.”

 

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Advancing Eco Agriculture~ Regenerative Farming

John Kempf, founder and CEO of Advancing Eco Agriculture, presented an informational seminar focusing on methods of optimizing soil composition and nutrient application to achieve essential functional immunity and regeneration of plants.

 

“Healthy plants resist insects and disease,” Kempf stated, pointing out that these are not his original ideas, but that there is much documentation to back up this theory.

 

In a three-hour lecture Kempf described how plant physiology, mineral nutrition and soil microbiology will work together through biological and regenerative farming, to increase yields 6-8 times.

 

“Once we understand the soil-plant system and the principles that drive that system, we can figure out where the triggers are, where we can exert a small amount of influence and get a really big response. We need to start measuring the amount of protein per acre.”

 

Kempf showed charts of plants and root systems and how they interact with the soil. He explained that imbalances within the plant effect the soil, which in turn affects the health of the plant.

 

“Healthy plants create healthy soil in as little as 6 weeks. We can build soil health organically while growing crops.”

 

Kempf reported that most farmers are only harvesting 10 to 15 percent of the inherent genetic capacity of their crop because of unhealthy plants and soil.

 

“The greatest point of yield influence is early in plant life. For example, 9-12 days after germination, a corn seedling will determine the number of ears that it has the potential to produce. Most have the genetic capacity to produce seven to nine ears. Where do we lose our yield potential?”

 

Kempf showed where yield is lost due to stress during “narrow windows” of time when plant performance is determined. Although much stress, such as weather, cannot be controlled, if the plant and soil are healthy, the plant will still reach its peak potential. “You can reduce stress impact by having a healthy root system.”

 

Building a “digestive system in the soil” through mineralization, humification and carbon induction.


“Carbon induction has the greatest potential of any source to build large amounts of stable humic substances, stimulate biology, and improve soil and plant health.”

 

Kempf explained that plant exudes a variety of amino acids and lipids into the root system, which then builds the soil providing more nutrition to the plant.

 

To enhance the opportunity for the plant to reach its innate potential it needs to reach its capacity to fully synthesize.

 

“If plants have complete nutrition, two things begin to happen. First, of all leaf shape will change. You’ll get larger leaves, which result in a larger photosynthetic area. You’ll get much thicker leaves. The second thing is, you’ll get much greater concentrations of chlorophyll per square inch of leaf area. All of this equates to greater sugar production and promotes photosynthetic efficiency.”

 

Kempf explained that as plants become healthier and have greater photosynthetic efficiency they produce higher levels of sugars and, thus, energy. Plants then begin to build high levels of lipids, which store energy in the plant the same way that fats are stored in animals. “Once a plant has surplus energy it is stored as fat.”

 

Kempf said the higher levels of lipids are stored inside plant cells to build stronger cell membranes and reproductive tissue. These stronger plants are able to protect themselves from air-borne fungal and bacterial pathogens such as downy and powdery mildew, late blight, bacterial speck, bacterial spot and other diseases, and, according to Kempf, will resist and actually repel insect pests.

 

“Many of these lipids will also be exuded from the roots into the rhizosphere, where they will be used as an energy source by soil microbes. These lipids in the rhizosphere are an important piece of the puzzle in building stable humic substances.”

 

Kempf said that although there are several types of digestion in the rhizosphere, the best results come from soils with “a strong fungal dominated digestive system.”

 

Foliar feeding and soil amendments to increase plant health are recommended.

 

“I’m a strong believer in soil amendments, however, foliars are consistently undervalued and underutilized. They are the fastest and most effective way to have truly regenerative farming systems.”


Foliar feeding has been proved to be efficient in boosting plant development at specific physiological stages and provides additional nutrients.

 

Kempf displayed photographs of thriving blueberry plants, tomato plants and others that were tremendous in size, overflowing with produce and with enormous leaves, which had been grown through the advancing agriculture method, with no pesticides or fungicides.

 

Kempf said there is much research being done showing that functional immunity of plants can then be transferred to the people and animals that consume them. This concerns plant secondary metabolites (PSM), which, since the late 20th century, have been recognized as having physiological effects in humans and are commonly used in pharmaceuticals and food additives. An example of how PSM have become widely recognized is through the use of red wine, blueberries, tomatoes and watermelons in boosting the immune systems in people.

 

Another concept brought to the attention of the audience, is the use of plant sap analysis. Kempf demonstrated that plant nutritional status could be monitored through this method of analysis with a greater level of accuracy than through tissue analysis.

 

Plant sap analysis extracts sap from within the plant cell and will pick up a mineral imbalance 3-6 weeks earlier than tissue analysis. “Even with all agricultural breakthrough and research, I have never been as excited by anything as I am with plant sap analysis technology!”

Kempf said this technology could predict plant disease in a plant 5-8 weeks before emergence. “This is the most accurate indicator available we have of plant health.”

 

“We have a huge opportunity to manage our soil and plant health to produce regenerative models of agriculture that are constantly getting better and better,” Kempf concluded.

 

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The Unexpected Downside of Organics

Every few years a new study reveals that organic food is not nutritionally superior to conventional food. Some people grab on to this as a reason to dismiss organic agriculture altogether, others point out that the health benefits of organic food come not necessarily from superior nutrition but from an absence of potentially harmful chemicals. One side says the organic label is misleading, the other says organic was never meant to be more nutritious, just less toxic, and that reduced use of agricultural chemicals is better for all our health in the longterm, given how chemicals like to leach into water, soil, and air.

 

Neither ever seems to reach the logical conclusion: Why not improve the organic certification process so that organic foods are measurably more nutritious than their conventionally grown counterparts? And while we’re at it, how about improving the nutritional value of food in general? Studies using USDA data on the nutrient content of U.S. foods have consistently shown over the last several years that the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables in this country has declined dramatically in the last 50 years, a fact largely attributed to the farming industry’s shift in emphasis from quality to quantity. 

 

“We conclude that the most likely explanation was changes in cultivated varieties used today compared to 50 years ago,” University of Texas at Austin biochemist Donald Davis, PhD said when his 2004 study on the subject was released. “During those 50 years, there have been intensive efforts to breed new varieties that have greater yield, or resistance to pests, or adaptability to different climates. But the dominant effort is for higher yields. Emerging evidence suggests that when you select for yield, crops grow bigger and faster, but they don’t necessarily have the ability to make or uptake nutrients at the same, faster rate.”

 

An increasing number of farmers are pushing for a shift in the way we think about agriculture. Many are looking for alternatives to using more and more pesticides not because they are concerned about health or the environment or even necessarily the cost of the stuff (although that is, of course, a concern), but because after a while, the chemicals fail to work. Recent stories published in the journal Science found that, although pesticides and herbicides helped to boost yields and reduce infestations in the short term, over the long term they are less and less effective, with farmers generally needing to apply more and more chemicals, and weeds and pests becoming ever-more resistant. Australia’s wheat farmers are now dealing with one of the worst weed infestations in the world, for example, partly due to the overuse of herbicides, which led to resistant weeds.

 

John Kempf, a 25-year-old Amish farmer in Ohio, knows all about the un-virtuous cycle of agrochemical use. “I grew up on a fruit and vegetable farm in northeast Ohio, a small family farm,” he says. “We were heavy pesticide users, growing very conventionally, and in the early 2000s we had a three-year period where we lost a great deal of our crops to disease and insects. There were no fungicides or pesticides that would stop them or slow them down. We kept applying more and more and nothing worked.”

 

In 2004 the Kempfs rented land from a neighboring farm and planted across the field border from their crops, on new soil that had not had any recent exposure to pesticides. 

 

“I still remember it like it was yesterday: We had these two crops of cantaloupes planted right by the side of road, and the one planted in the old soil had a severe mildew infestation, but on the new soil, there were zero problems,” Kempf says. “It was the same variety of cantaloupe, from the same fertility program, grown the same way, so they should’ve been identical. I wanted to know the difference - how was it that this one was resistant to the mildew, with a functional immune system, and the other one was not?”

 

At that point Kempf, whose formal education ended in 8th grade, set about learning everything he could about soil and plant science. He harassed experts until they spoke with him, and read every book on the subjects of plant and soil health.  He learned to examine plant tissues to determine nutrient levels and immune system health. He learned to evaluate soil as well, and he eventually began concocting his own soil amendments and nutrient supplements for plants.  And he learned about the natural immune systems of plants, and how pesticides and herbicides undermine them. 

“Fundamentally plants have two ‘immune pathways,’” Kempf explains. “The modes of actions of most herbicides is to shut down both these immune pathways, making the plants incredibly susceptible to diseases, which take out the plants in days or weeks. This is the effective mechanism of RoundUp and the majority of herbicides, they simply short-circuit native plant immunity.”

 

By focusing instead on supplementing plants and soil with nutrients that support native plant immunity, Kempf was able to wean his family’s farm off of chemicals in one growing season, and hasn’t had any trouble with fungus, weeds or pests since the farm went chemical-free in 2006. His success began attracting attention from his neighbors, who wanted to learn more about how Kempf had turned his crops around. Pretty soon he was producing his soil and plant supplements in large quantities and being asked to consult at various farms. Today, his company Advancing Eco-Agriculture works throughout the world, consulting and selling a line of soil and plant supplements. 

 

Kempf can help farms get off of chemicals in one season and says farms pay roughly the same for his expertise and products as for the conventional agrichemicals they’ve been using. In cases where the soil is severely degraded, he says farms may need to make an initial investment in soil amendments, but he guarantees an improvement in yield and shelf-life. In 2012, when Kempf worked with Bio-Energetic Harmonics, a blue corn, spelt, and soybean grower in Atlanta, Ind., the state was in the midst of a severe drought. Bio-Energetic had been doing fairly well with its corn, producing 110 bushels per acre, slightly better than the average 95-to-100 bushels per acre. But given the drought, the farm was looking at getting 60 bushels; conventional corn farmers nearby were getting between 40 and 60. But Kempf had applied a plant nutrient boost to the seeds when they were planted, and the crop ended up yielding 170 bushels per acre that year. 

 

“When we focus on improving the quality of the plant, it enables that plant to become more tolerant of stress and more resilient even in stressful situations,” Kempf says. “Not only did we increase yields that year, but we had greater test weight (a signifier of better quality), got more pounds per bushel, and our protein content went up 2 percent, which is very significant.”

 

 Granted, Bio-Energetics is just one farm, but Kempf has dozens of similar examples, and he’s not the only proponent of what is being called “biological farming” or “eco-agriculture”.  Michael McNeill, an agronomist who owns Ag Advisory Ltd. in Algona, Iowa, often speaks alongside Kempf at conferences and workshops teaching farmers about biological farming. McNeill received his Ph.D. in quantitative genetics and plant pathology from Iowa State University in 1969 and has been a crop consultant since 1983. He has been called upon to give expert testimony to state and local governments throughout the country considering various regulations related to genetically modified organisms, and has consistently raised concerns about herbicides (particularly RoundUp and its main ingredient, glyphosate). In his testimony for the county of Boulder, Colo. in 2011, McNeill said that in the Midwest and other areas of the country, including the south, weeds have become Roundup resistant and are thriving. The response from most farmers, McNeill said, has been to simply spray more RoundUp, but that has terrible consequences for plant and soil health.  Glyphosate, the primary ingredient in RoundUp, clamps onto molecules  like iron, calcium, manganese and zinc, all of which are valuable to plants. McNeill went on to explain that overuse of glyphosate also leads to an increase in oxidizing agents, creating oxides plants can’t use, which results in lower yields and higher susceptibility to disease.  “When you spray glyphosate on a plant, it’s like giving it AIDS,” he said at the time.

 

McNeill, a consultant for both conventional and organic growers in Iowa, compared what’s happening with RoundUp now to what happened with DDT, another pesticide that was hailed as a miracle until we discovered it was a poison. In his testimony, McNeill referred to RoundUp as a technology that probably needed more research before it started being used. McNeill is not alone in that opinion. Robert Kremer, PhD, a microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, speaking at an August 12, 2011 conference sponsored by the Organization for Competitive Markets, said that repeated use of  glyphosate impacts the root structure of plants, and 15 years of research indicates that the chemical could be causing fungal root disease.

 

Even the conventional farming-focused John Deere magazine, The Furrow, has had a noticeable increase in articles on alternative pest management, non-chemical ways to deal with weeds, cover crops and the like over the past two years, an indication of growing unrest among farmers about the idea that the solution is always to spray more chemicals. Many farmers are neither eager to spray more and more nor excited by the prospect of converting to organic, a time-consuming and costly endeavor. Rather, they’re looking for a return to the days when the current level of chemicals was not needed, and when the crops they produced were of a higher quality—a time many in the aging farmer population remember well. According to Kempf, the ideal for both farmers and consumers would be a label that certifies nutritional value, not farming practices.

 

“I would like for it to require that foods be pesticide-free, too, of course, but really I just want something that’s a quality stamp,” he says. “The organic certification process doesn’t certify the quality of a food product, it certifies that it was grown in a particular way—it’s focused solely on the process,” he says. “And it’s a negative certification. So long as you didn’t use these things or do those things, you’re certified. The result is that you can really do nothing and produce a pretty junk product that’s certified organic.” 

Kempf says what’s needed is a UL-listed label for food, and there have been other calls throughout the years for this type of food label, but developing and rolling out such a label requires more time and money than any government agency or nonprofit has at the moment. And while there are labels that certify other practices (Fair Trade, non-GMO, etc.), when it comes to quality, consumers have no way to compare apples or oranges, barring extensive research on producers. 

 

In the meantime, Kempf finds hope in the groundswell of support amongst farmers for a return to a more natural way of farming, and away from what he calls the “warfare mentality” of modern agriculture. 

 

“Instead of seeking to nurture natural processes, today we seek to degrade and destroy natural processes—to destroy weeds, insects, fungal diseases,” he says. “We are continually destroying. It’s a very different frame of mind than farmers had 50 years ago, and it’s fundamentally at odds with why most people are in farming to begin with. But people are realizing there is another way, that we can have a regenerative model rather than degenerative. That there’s something real we can do about it, and that we have the science, knowledge,  and know-how to do it. That’s helping to bring an energy back into farming again, to reconnect people with what attracted them to farming in the first place."

 

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Climate Change Hits Your Fridge

“Although global production may increase initially (before 2030), global warming is projected to have negative effects in the long run. While production at high latitudes will generally benefit from climate change, in many African countries and Latin America it is projected to be severely compromised,” according to the 2011 report of the European Environment Agency.

Mother Nature is getting more hotheaded, causing problems for farmers and increasingly straining the global food supply. Yet last week a Gallup survey showed that Americans list climate change as one of their lowest priorities.

While the thought of less guacamole at Chipotle can cause a panic, it seems the U.S. is still unaware about how climate change is impacting food security here and around the world. But experts say less guacamole may be just the beginning in terms of food shortages.

“What we have seen in previous years when there’s less food grown, farmers don’t have a lot left over to give us,” said Ross Fraser, media relations manager of the Chicago-based food bank network, Feeding America. “There are heartbreaking stories about food pantries unable to open due to bad weather conditions.”

Consider how California grows nearly half of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With recent droughts and fires impacting the region’s agriculture, it could take a toll on what we put on our plates.

If global temperatures rise by more than 1 to 3 degrees Celsius (about 2-5.5 degrees Fahrenheit), food production is projected to decrease on a global scale, according to the latest IPCC report released by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Currently, about 17.6 million American men, women and children struggle to provide enough food to eat—including the 17.5 percent of Illinois households that are food insecure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And temperatures have already risen 1 degree Celsius.

So how should we begin to adapt? Experts addressed possible first directions to start the fight for food security including policy reform and agricultural innovation organically or through genetic modification. While GMOs remain controversial, experts agree that agriculture is transforming and its ripple effects will make their way into American kitchens.

The need for policy revolution:

On March 14, science advisers to British Prime Minister David Cameron made public a report calling on the governments of the United Kingdom and Europe to ease restrictions on genetically modified food to anticipate sustainability issues with expanding populations.

“They’re pushing aggressively to remove policies and to bring them more in line with what science has shown us and what experience has shown us over the last three decades,” said Val Giddings, senior fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Giddings is a co-author of “Feeding the Planet in a Warming World: Building Resilient Agriculture through Innovation.” The steady erosion of public support for investing in agriculture technologies, such as GMOs, is because fewer societies today have first-hand experience with farming—the lowest proportion in the history of humanity, he said.

He and his team at the non-partisan think tank are quite concerned about the potential negative impacts from climate change on crops, especially now when global stocks of food are at the lowest level that they’ve been in many decades.

“It’s been a long time since many of those who make policy have really felt hunger,” Giddings said. “Most of those in policy decision-making positions have grown up in a world where they at least were never really exposed to hunger. So when you’ve not been burned, you tend not to understand the full seriousness of fire.”

Increasing temperatures will make it easier to grow some food crops but harder to grow others in the areas we are accustomed to seeing them flourish historically, Giddings said. Displaced environments alter the behavior of insects, animals and other organisms as well. Those that require warmer latitudes will be moving north and higher in elevation, and vice versa.

It seems like it is happening in slow motion, Giddings said, but little by little these changes will add up. Food must be more capable of resisting expansions of insects, pests and diseases in the future, which could increase during climbing temperatures and extreme weather.

“We need to have policies in place that enable us to more quickly develop and apply new technologies to solve these sorts of problems,” Giddings said. “This is a profoundly anti-innovation state of the policy realm and it needs to be fixed.”

Diseases, such as rust in wheat and new varieties of the fungus that caused the Irish potato famine, will be exacerbated by climate changes, according to Giddings. It highlights the importance of having tools to protect the global food supply from varied challenges as we move toward the future.

Even for those who still have a full plate at the dinner table, there are consequences—economic ones.

“The most immediate impact might not be in [more] hunger, but it will certainty be in price,” Giddings said. “Just look at recent history. Political uprisings in the Arab Spring were galvanized if not initiated by food price spikes associated with commodity price volatility. If people get hungry, they get antsy.”

Roger Thurow, senior fellow of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the author of “The Last Hunger Season,” knows that climate change has a profound affect on smallholder farmers in the developing world. Africa will feel the adverse effects first, he said, since most farmers have less money and technology to adapt to shifting weather conditions.

“You’re basically flipping seasons, flipping the whole agricultural calendar to accommodate climate change,” Thurow said. “Smallholder farmers are really close to the land and close to the weather conditions, because it impacts them so greatly.”

Climate change is hard on yields, so creating crop diversity is critical to adaptability. Current research poses solutions that include drought-tolerant maize, beans and wheat. In addition, developing rice that requires less water to grow could increase production in drier regions, as well as rice that can grow in saline areas near the coast as oceans rise as a result of global warming.

Although we should not just be concerned about quantity of food, but the quality as well, Thurow said. Nutrition is the key to sustainable agriculture and when developing countries benefit or suffer, we all will feel it in our stomachs and wallets. 

“We’re all linked together in the global food chain,” Thurow said. “We saw that in 2007 and 2008, when stockpiles of major commodities, grains, cereals, were reduced to their lowest level in decades. The impacts were shortages and higher prices. There was rioting in dozens of countries around the world.”

Global peace as well as social economic stability drove home for world leaders that food security needs attention, and the first step is protecting it from climate change.  

“We came face-to-face with the issue of post-harvest losses, which is an issue that is sort of lost upon the American public,” said food security expert David Blumberg, describing a 2010 trip to India that exposed first hand the enormity of food safety issues farmers face in developing countries against the weather. 

Rain had washed grain into the streets, he said. When touring the rest of the country they found similar food storage problems in almost every other small town.

“There wasn’t adequate storage infrastructure in place to hold onto the harvest of the farmers for that season,” Blumberg said. “So food was getting eaten by birds, rodents, insects, or molding because the rain had fell on it.”

Blumberg is the chief executive officer of Blumberg Grain, a company that installs technologically advanced grain and produce storage systems that enable farmers to protect their harvests from rot, climate and pests.

About 40 percent of food in the U.S. is lost in the transition from farm to fork, according to a 2012 paper by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The trend applies to developing countries as well, Blumberg said, and the company looks for ways to lessen losses by providing specialty warehouses featuring controlled atmosphere technology. It pumps nitrogen into the environment to delay expiration, such as extending the lifetime of a mango to five months, for example.

Americans may not be tuned into the true problems facing future generations when it comes to food production because U.S. agricultural systems are modernized, and farming doesn’t have a front seat in public discourse, Blumberg said.

“We take for granted the fact that we can go to a supermarket and we have all of these products available to us 365 days of the year,” he said. “But increasingly those products are coming from overseas.” 

Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo are just some of the countries where Blumberg Grain has deployed innovative warehouses to help farmers deal with unprecedented levels of precipitation, humidity levels and sunlight, he said.

Modernizing such territories quickly and identifying new regions where climate changes have created productive farming potential are the first steps toward maintaining food security, according to Blumberg.

Last month, Blumberg spoke at the World Food Security Summit in Dubai and confirmed the general consensus is that global warming exacerbating the food security problem is a “no brainer.” However, the timeline to see those drastic affects remains debatable, he said.

“But there’s no denying that there will be an effect and agricultural players, whether it be private sector or public sector, are now taking steps to do what they can,” he said.

In defense of natural innovation

From Africa to America, the agriculture industry often tries to improve upon traditional connections between farming and nature.

For life-long farmer John Kempf, “modernization” in form of pesticides and genetically modified crops, comes with a price. He sees an emerging trend of farmers disenchanted with such “antagonistic” farming practices that sever the reverent connection to the land established by farming forefathers.

“We have adopted a model of agriculture that is based on a warfare mentality based on the elements of search and destroy. Identify a specific pest. Identify a specific pathogen. And see how you can kill it,” he said.

With insecticide names such as“Warrior” and “Cruiser,” the need for healthier crops does seem like a war. Dependency on pesticides is a vicious cycle, he said, because the more farmers use, the more they need to use, causing plants to become increasingly weaker in the process.

Kempf, founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, a crop nutrition consulting company, works with farmers across the U.S. to eliminate the use of genetically modified seeds and toxic pesticides, claiming proper crop nutrition will provide more than enough resistance to the disease and insect attacks intensified by climate change.

Regenerative farming means maximizing plants’ built-in immunity potential, making them less susceptible without genetic modification. Results of such natural innovation include crop yields 10 to 30 percent greater than conventional farming and increased nutrient density of 40 to 50 percent, he said.

“Plants that have an original design, so to speak, photosynthesize much more effectively and produce much higher levels of sugars than plants that do not,” the agriculture expert said, citing that 90 percent of crops grown in the U.S. are not at an optimum level of health.

Kempf is no stranger to climate change. During the last several years, he has seen the climate extremes facing his clients, from temperatures bouncing rapidly from very high to very low, to significantly less rainfall in the Western U.S.

“We’re seeing a lot of climate shifts really impacting the crops that we grow and our soils,” Kempf said, adding that California is running out of water. In Salinas Valley 45 percent of farms will not have enough water for 2014 growing season, he said. On the other coast, heavier rainfall in the Northeast is causing rampant soil erosion.

Yet agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases, which are at the root of climate change. When soils are tilled, the organic matter oxidizes and it is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. But agriculture also has the biggest opportunity to correct it, according to Kempf.

"If we grow plants that are really healthy, that have adequate mineral nutrition, they can capture more carbon dioxide that is released from the soil,” he said.

Kempf maintains a more proactive approach is needed and that farmers around the world should not be complacent with current yield expectations.

“We should not be talking about sustainable agriculture today,” Kempf said. “First of all we are too far downhill to sustain the levels of where we are now. Our soils are too degraded. Our crops are no longer healthy enough. We should have no desire to sustain current levels of health and productivity.”

Instead, he said the first step is to aim higher. Only after consistently producing larger crop yields with greater nutrition should sustainability be considered.
 
From the crop field to the kitchen, consequences of climate change increasingly impact economic, political and social stability. Experts agree that the future holds further changes. Yet how to begin adapting may not be a black and white solution, but a combination of policy reform and agricultural innovation.

 

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Healthy Seedlings Mean Healthy Plants

 

“Really healthy plants start with really healthy seedlings,” explains John Kempf, a lifelong Amish farmer. As founder and CEO of Middlefield, Ohio-based Advancing Eco Agriculture, Kempf specializes in optimizing plant health and soil biology to increase the yield, nutrient density and shelf life of crops.

 

“Most seedlings today are grown for appearance rather than utility,” Kempf says. “Instead of buying the largest seedlings, get the ones with the shortest, sturdiest stems.” For example, tomato seedlings should be 6 inches, not 12 inches, tall. If the upper part of the plant becomes too big for the root system, the roots won’t be able to get enough water to support the top of the plant, resulting in transplant shock.

A biological fertilizer such as compost tea, liquid seaweed, kelp meal or alfalfa meal should be introduced into the hole at planting or transplanting. This will provide minerals to the plant and enhance soil biology.

 

“The first three weeks after planting are absolutely critical for best performance,” notes Kempf. This includes proper watering and protection from frost.

 

Seedlings are frequently transplanted too deeply, which can lead to rot or fungus on the stem. Seedlings should be planted at the same depth as they were at the greenhouse; don’t bury the stem. The only exception is tomatoes.

 

Do not use pesticides prophylactically; only use them if and when you have a challenge. (“Pesticide” encompasses insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.) Pesticides actually make your healthy plants unhealthy. Just applying pesticide triggers a different kind of plant metabolism that will attract disease and insects.

 

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4 Obscure Green Thumb Gardening Tips For Growing Success

 

 

Even if you have yourself a bright green thumb, gardening tips can always come in handy when planting for the season.

 

Plants are similar to humans in that their ability to fight disease is directly connected to how healthy they are to start. The stronger a human’s immune system, the better armed they are against disease.

The healthier the soil in which a plant is grown and the healthier the seedling, the more likely the plant will thrive, producing a robust crop.

 

John Kempf, founder and CEO of Advancing Eco Agriculture, grew up on a farm in Ohio. His crops were no longer responding to the pesticides and insecticides they had formerly used, and one year they lost 65 percent of their harvest to disease. He knew that something had to give. In 2004, after renting land to plant cantaloupe, Kempf began to see the root of his farming woes. The cantaloupes growing in the new field were healthy and vibrant, while the cantaloupes in the old field were enveloped with disease.

 

Since then Kempf has devoted his life to optimizing plant health and soil biology to increase the yield, nutrient density and shelf life of crops both on his own farm and as a consultant to other farmers. He has outlined some obscure but simple gardening tips for the tens of millions of us that will try our hands at a home garden this year. Get your green thumb on this gardening season.

 

1. Choose small seedlings with the sturdiest stems.

“Most seedlings today are grown for appearance rather than utility,” Kempf says. “Instead of buying the largest seedlings, get the ones with the shortest, sturdiest stems.” For example, tomato seedlings should be 6 inches, not 12 inches, tall. If the upper part of the plant becomes too big for the root system, the roots won’t be able to get enough water to support the top of the plant, resulting in transplant shock.

 

2. Boost your seedling’s immune health by avoiding pesticides.

Pesticides make plants unhealthy because they break down the plant’s immune health, says Kempf. Instead, consider a biological fertilizer such as compost tea, liquid seaweed, kelp meal or alfalfa meal. When you’re transplanting, add these natural fertilizers to the holes immediately for an extra dose of nutrients.

 

3. Don’t dig too deep.

Too often we plant our seedlings in holes that are too deep. This can cause rot or fungus to grow on the seedling’s stem. Do not bury the stem, except with tomatoes, which are an exception to the rule.

 

4. Baby your babies.

When plants are the smallest, they can’t have the same level of stress as they can when they’re a little larger.

“The first three weeks after planting are absolutely critical for best performance,” notes Kempf. This includes proper watering and protection from frost.

 

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Helping Farmers Convert to Non GMO Production

Richard Kalmolvathin says non-GMO production is a good start to making agriculture more sustainable. “It’s the spark to the fuse,” he says. “We recommend non-GMO and believe it is the future.”

 

Concept is just to raise good food”

 

Kalmolvathin’s South Dakota-based company, Verity Farms, LLC is one of a growing number of businesses that are helping US farmers switch to non-GMO and more sustainable farming practices. Verity works with 300-400 farmers throughout the US to help them grow healthier plants, which will produce healthier foods for people and animals.

 

“Our concept to just to raise good food,” says Kalmolvathin, whose company was featured in an article in the New York Times a few months ago. “We try to take inputs out and go back to the seed and then to the soil.”

 

Another company helping farmers go non-GMO is Advancing Eco Agriculture. CEO John Kempf says more farmers are seeing disadvantages with growing GM crops. “GMOs have been widely adopted because the perception is that they are fast, easy, and cheap,” he says. “But as the cost per acre has increased, more farmers are transitioning to non-GMO.”

 

Kempf adds that GM crops don’t absorb trace minerals well, have greater water and fertilizer requirements, less vigorous root systems, and a weaker symbiotic relationship with soil biology. “This translates into foods with less nutrition, which leads to people with compromised immunity,” he says.

 

“GMOs produce food that makes people and animals sick”

 

“Farmers are fed up growing GMOs,” says David W. Nelson, president of Pedogenesis, Inc., based in Campbell, Minnesota. “The technology fees (charged for patented GM seed) are hard on farmers, and they want more options.”

 

Nelson adds that non-GMO corn hybrids produce better yields than GMO and farmers can earn premium prices with non-GMO.

Nelson enjoys his work. “My biggest pleasure is getting customers to switch from GMO to non-GMO,” he says.

 

Agriculture research firm FHR, based in Stewartville, Minnesota is also helping farmers switch to non-GMO. “We found through research that GM crops are lower yielding, more susceptible to insects and disease and produce food that makes people and animals sick,” says John Oolman, director of research, at FHR’s research division RAL.

FHR also recommends that farmers not use glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide. “We have found that glyphosate ties up or chelates micronutrients in the soil and in plants and animals so they aren’t available as nutrition. We believe that glyphosate is bad for plants, animals, and humans,” Oolman says.

 

FHR works with farmer-owned Genesys Grain to supply non-GMO corn and soybean seeds to farmers. “The seed we recommend and breed is non-GMO, which is tested for GMOs at a local laboratory,” Oolman says.

 

Focus on soil fertility

 

Enhancing soil fertility is a major emphasis of the crop experts.

“We help them identify strengths and weaknesses in soil, look at the crop they’re growing and put together a soil fertility plan for them,” says Nelson, whose company also works with several hundred farmers.

“It’s about nurturing the soil to have maximum absorption. That is what we strive for: the best quality soil,” Kalmolvathin says.

 

FHR also focuses on soil fertility and provides products to farmers to enhance soil fertility. “We take soil samples and find out which nutrients are in the soil and put together a fertilizer program for farmers,” Oolman says.

 

Advancing Eco Agriculture focuses on “regenerative agriculture.” “We need a regenerative model with healthy crops and producing healthy soil. When plants are properly supported with nutrition they aren’t susceptible to pests and disease,” says John Kempf.

 

He emphasizes strengthening the immunity of plants, which in turn will help strengthen the immunity of people who eat such plants.

The crop experts recommend reducing chemical fertilizers and pesticides and increasing sustainable practices such as crop rotations and cover crops to reduce weed and insect problems. “We encourage a gradual transition from heavy pesticide applications,” Kempf says. “As plant nutrition improves then plant health and immunity improves and then farmers are able to greatly reduce the use of pesticides.”

 

Several companies supply foliar fertilizers to enhance plant growth at different stages. “We believe that the right fertilizer applied with the right amount will give farmers high yields with less money,” Oolman says.

All the crop experts report strong demand for their services. Each reports working with hundreds of farmers and in the case of AEA, thousands. AEA has a goal of converting 16,000 farms from conventional to regenerative agriculture by 2016.

 

Kalmolvathin says his company’s mission is to preserve the small family farmer. “It’s a dying breed. That’s our target market. It’s doing the right thing,” he says.

 

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20 Million Fight Threatened Over Pig Smell On Farm

Paul Dagostin's barn, which houses nearly 5,000 hogs in Salem Township, Pennsylvania, is in the crosshairs of some nearby residents.

 

"They want to shut me down because of the smell," said the 45-year-old, third-generation farmer. Dagostin, who is married and has two small daughters, said he built the barn last year after taking out a business loan of a million dollars — and after meeting all township and state requirements. 

 

"Now they are threatening me with a $20 million lawsuit. I don't think they can shut me down, but I'll have to hire lawyers to fight this," said Dagostin, who raises hogs supplied by Country View Family Farms. 

What some in the township of 4,000 people want — and others in several farmland towns across the country want as well — is to change zoning and other laws in order to limit neighborhood farms from becoming more industrialized. The focus is stopping the pollution, such as bad odors or contaminated water from runoff, that may come with larger farms. 

 

"It's a big issue especially in parts of the country like the Southeast where they produce a lot of hogs," said John O'Brien, an agribusiness lawyer at Snell & Wilmer and a wheat and corn farmer. 

"The odors can carry up to 15 or 20 miles," said O'Brien, whose firm has helped secure financing for farm expansions. "We're likely to see more of this as urban sprawl creeps closer to farms." 

 

The fight is dividing the southwestern Pennsylvania community, said Joshua Kishbaugh, chairman of the Salem Township Board of Supervisors. 

 

"We are pro-farm, but when you take a family farm and make it bigger, you affect everyone," said Kishbaugh. "Sometimes the smell from the hog farm almost makes you throw up." 

 

State right-to-farm laws

What residents can or can't do to shut down or stop farm industrialization varies from state to state. Most agriculture states have right-to-farm laws, which in theory shield agricultural operations from legal actions such as nuisance lawsuits over issues like bad odor. 

Right-to-farm laws can also prevent local governments from passing zoning laws that are more strict than those already in place at the state level. 

 

However, farms like Dagostin's are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as consolidated animal farm operations (CAFOs). That's because they feed more than 2,500 animals and house them for more than 45 days during a growing season. 

 

Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures and fields. Animal manure is collected in lagoons or underground pits which are diluted with water and eventually emptied like septic tanks. 

 

While mostly protected under right-to-farm laws, CAFOs have specific federal and state regulations. They are required to have a nutrient management and odor management plan and face inspections from state officials — rules Dagostin said he follows to the letter. 

 

"Everything I do is legal and highly regulated," said Dagostin, whose farmland has been in the family for decades. "We put in additives to cut down on the smell, and we inject the manure in the ground." 

CAFOs, which produce the majority of U.S. livestock, have come under a fair amount of criticism over the years. Critics say they force livestock into confined spaces while producing manure that gets stored in pits or vats that could leak into local water supplies. 

 

"IF YOU ARE ON ONE END OF THE SMELL, IT'S INTOLERABLE. BUT OTHERS SMELL A WAY TO MAKE A LIVING."

 

Others point out, however, that when properly managed, located and monitored, CAFOs can provide a cheaper source of meat, milk and eggs, due to efficient feeding and housing of animals. 

 

Smaller is better?

There could be one way to end the odor battle, said John Kempf, founder and CEO of Advancing Eco Agriculture, an agricultural and horticultural consulting and manufacturing company. But it would likely eliminate CAFOs. 

 

"It's too simple to say smaller is best for farming, but you can have smaller farms, have animals run free on land and have the manure go back into the soil instead of having to collect it," said Kempf, who is a farmer in Ohio. 

 

He argued that his kind of model would cut down on the bad odors and threat of water contamination, while still making profits for farmers by having lower investments and more product per acre of land. 

But Snell & Wilmer's O'Brien said the hog may be out of the barn when it comes to CAFO farming. 

 

"There's still a move to the bigger farms with livestock," he said. "If you are on one end of the smell, it's intolerable. But others smell a way to make a living." 

 

Those threatening Dagostin with lawsuits are fighting against having another pig feeding operation in Salem Township. The fight has even broken family ties. 

 

The farmer who's proposing a 4,800 pig farm is being actively opposed by his two nieces. Besides bad odors and possible water pollution, residents claim Dagostin's farm and the proposed one have lowered home values. 

 

To help tighten up rules governing the expansion of certain farm activities, Salem Township has set a May 14 vote to change some of its zoning laws. Township supervisor Kishbaugh said the changes, if approved, would create more physical separation between farms and other properties — while calling for better farm water pollution testing. 

But Dagostin said the problem goes beyond the nose test. "I can understand them being upset, but we would have to shut down everything that smells to make people happy," he argued. "This is about being a farmer."

 

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The Shortage of Farm Workers And Your Grocery Bill

Even as they plant this spring, many American farmers will face an ongoing problem at harvest time—having enough workers to pick their crops.

 

And a remedy to the shortage is unlikely anytime soon—and not even immigration reform, currently stalled in Congress, would do the trick, said one analyst.

 

"There's a perception with farmers and others that immigration reform will help legally bring in more farm workers," said J. Edward Taylor, a professor of agriculture at the University of California, Davis, and an expert on immigration and farm labor issues.

 

"But it really won't solve the shortage in the long run, if they do pass a reform bill, " he said.

 

Taylor, who co-wrote a paper this month on farm labor challenges, noted that the main provider of low-wage agricultural workers in the U.S., at nearly 70 percent, has been Mexico.

 

But Mexico is drying up as a source. That's because rural Mexicans are getting a better education, courtesy of more government spending, and rejecting farm work, even in their own country.

 

"The nonfarm economy in Mexico is growing and it's creating new jobs that require engineering and managerial skills and giving better wages," said Taylor. "That's where young people are going."

 

Taylor also said this switch in career goals is adding to the worker shortage as older farm laborers in the U.S. are ready to stop working and aren't going to be replaced. And any replacements that might be on their way have been stopped by tougher border controls and increased deportations.

 

However, it's not only Mexico's younger generation that's rejecting the harder farm work, said Charles Trauger, territory manager at market data firm GlobalView.

 

"Americans themselves don't seem willing to take the harder farming jobs," said Trauger, who has a farm in Nebraska.

"Nobody's taking them. People want to live in the city instead of the farm," he said. "Hispanics who usually do that work are going to higher paying jobs in packing plants and other industrial areas."

To entice more workers, farmers have increased wages along with paying for meals and giving bonuses for those workers who stay a whole season. Traditionally on the lower pay scale, real average hourly earnings of nonsupervisory farm laborers has been between $10.50 and $10.80 since 2007 and stood at $10.80 in 2012, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.

 

But the actual wages can vary from farm to farm, and there are no benefits or guarantee of work, as weather conditions, such as California's devastating drought, can leave fields fallow and no crop to harvest. An estimated that 800,000 acres of the Golden State's farm land will be idle this year, creating some $2.7 billion in crop losses.

Any increase in worker pay can be a financial burden on farmers, said John Kempf, CEO of Advancing ECO-Agriculture, a crop nutrition consulting company.

 

"As farm income has increased, so have prices for fertilizer and machinery necessary for farming," said Kempf, who has his own farm in Ohio. "That really goes against the idea that farmers, and especially smaller ones, are making enough money. They're keeping very little of what they make."

 

Experts say consumers may feel the pinch of higher prices from increased labor costs and a lack of harvested crops, but they will keep buying what they need.

 

Whatever lure there is from better pay may not be enough to bring in more farm workers, said Tim Richards, professor of agribusiness at Arizona State University.

 

"It's back-breaking work for low pay," he said. "When a lot of agriculture jobs were eliminated during the last recession, a lot of people moved on to construction and other jobs that paid more and they're not coming back."

 

Taylor said the worker shortage might be eased if farmers used their workers more efficiently and cooperated in how they use their labor. That could translate into more job security by having workers contracted on several farms during harvest season instead of farms individually hiring workers on their own, experts say.

 

To help offset the labor shortage, many farms, especially larger ones, have turned to technology. That includes using special picking machines and other robotics to harvest crops like delicate fruits and vegetables.

"New technology can help improve worker productivity and cut down costs on the labor intensive crops," said Taylor. But he added that high technology might not be useful for every crop, like labor intensive berries.

 

'Over the last century, an estimated 3 million migrant and seasonal farm workers were in the U.S. at any one time. But that has declined to around 1 million now, according to the latest USDA numbers.

Farmers are said to have up to a 30 percent shortage in farm workers. Of those here, 72 percent are foreign born, including 68 percent born in Mexico.

 

As the flow of workers crossing the border slows, and with immigration reform not likely to pass anytime soon or even solve the problem, American farmers have to adjust to a new way of doing business, experts say.

 

"Farmers may need to move to growing less labor-intensive crops or go even more high tech," said Richards, who believes some sort of immigration reform would have a positive effect on the labor shortage. "But something needs to be done. We can lose a lot of crops that simply don't get picked."

 

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Ancient Practice of Crop Rotation Makes a Comeback

Crop rotation was standard farming practice for hundreds of years worldwide and in the United States until just after World War II, when chemical-based farming took over the industry, said John Kempf, founder and CEO of Advancing Eco Agriculture, a farming consulting firm.

 

Even though U.S. agriculture is dominated by corporate farms and chemical producers, independent farming and traditional farming practices are making a comeback, he said.

 

“We have very strong economic drivers that are triggering agricultural change,” Kempf said. “For the last 60 years agriculture has gone centralized, concentrated in areas and industries. We’re moving toward a more de-centralized model for regionally and locally based production.”

 

Industrial farming led to certain parts of the country emerging as centers for particular crops such as apples and cherries in Washington, potatoes in Idaho or corn in the Midwest.

 

“It doesn’t need to be that way and it’s not ecological or economically necessary,” Kempf said. “People have believed that at larger scales, you can achieve greater economies of scale. That works in manufacturing, but doesn’t work as well with agriculture.”

 

Steve Gliessman, professor of agroecology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, prefers the term “integrated farming system” for crop rotation because it indicates how land, crops, and animals all complement each other in the right combination.

 

Gliessman said each piece of land and farm requires a specific design involving what plants or crops to grow and how long to keep animals grazing.

 

Kempf finds Farmland LP’s approach intriguing in that it increases the use of sustainable farming practices and reduces capital costs for young people interested in farming. The average age of farmers climbed from 54 in 1997 to 58 in 2012.

 

“You need a conscious consumer who seeks out products that they know are high quality and that they know are helping the environment and the farmer,” Gliessman said.

 

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Peeking Into Amish Farmer John Kempf's Garden

Today we’re going to peek into lifelong Amish farmer John Kempf’s garden.  

 

“Really healthy plants start with really healthy seedlings,” explains John Kempf.   I got John to answer a few questions about garden memories and helpful tips.  

 

Can you tell us about your first childhood memory in the garden?
I clearly remember helping transplant vegetable plants into the soil, and reveling in the feeling of the soil underneath my bare feet, the feeling of being closely connected to the seedlings and the awe of being able to plant one seed and get a hundred in return.

 

What are in your plans for your summer garden?
My garden is more of a full-fledged farm so I’m working on a much larger scale. The crops we grow include lots of fruits and vegetables, including cantaloupes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, beets, salad greens, and culinary and medicinal herbs.

 

You have to pick one favorite.  What’s your favorite vegetable to grow?
I love growing tomatoes because they are so responsive to enhanced nutrition and give such a great response to close attention.

 

Do you have any tips for beginning gardeners? So many people always tell me they want to start but are always discouraged and scared of failing.


A very useful technique can be to contemplate about how you would feel if you were the plant. The feeling of connection to the plants we are growing and being a part of natural systems is an inspiration, and we learn to value who are, and how we can contribute. People bring empathy to the landscape.

 

Can you tell us about Advancing Eco Agriculture?  Why did you start it?
Advancing Eco Agriculture is a regenerative farming and crop consulting company. We work with farmers throughout the U.S. and Canada to optimize plant health and productivity.

 

My family had purchased a neighboring plot of land and began growing cantaloupes on both this new plot and our land. After some time, the fruit on our land was covered with downy and powdery mildew while the fruit on the new land had absolutely none. I started researching and reading everything I could to understand why this was happening. I realized it was because the quality of the soil plays such a vital role in the plant’s overall health. I started AEA in 2006 after I realized I was spending more time researching than I was actually tending to our family farm.

 

Here are some more tips from John:

Go Short

“Most seedlings today are grown for appearance rather than utility,” Kempf says. “Instead of buying the largest seedlings, get the ones with the shortest, sturdiest stems.” For example, tomato seedlings should be 6 inches, not 12 inches, tall. If the upper part of the plant becomes too big for the root system, the roots won’t be able to get enough water to support the top of the plant, resulting in transplant shock.

 

Performance-Enhancing Hugs

A biological fertilizer such as compost tea, liquid seaweed, kelp meal or alfalfa meal should be introduced into the hole at planting or transplanting. This will provide minerals to the plant and enhance soil biology.

 

“The first three weeks after planting are absolutely critical for best performance,” notes Kempf. This includes proper watering and protection from frost.

 

Stay in the Shallow End

Seedlings are frequently transplanted too deeply, which can lead to rot or fungus on the stem. Seedlings should be planted at the same depth as they were at the greenhouse; don’t bury the stem. The only exception is tomatoes.

 

It’s Better to Wait

Do not use pesticides prophylactically; only use them if and when you have a challenge. (“Pesticide” encompasses insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.) Pesticides actually make your healthy plants unhealthy. Just applying pesticide triggers a different kind of plant metabolism that will attract disease and insects.

 

As founder and CEO of Middlefield, Ohio-based Advancing Eco Agriculture, Kempf specializes in optimizing plant health and soil biology to increase the yield, nutrient density and shelf life of crops.  

 

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All Flesh Is Grass: The Importance of High Quality Forages

Under most conditions, a cow will only eat for eight-to-nine hours a day and take 55-60 bites per minute. With these constraints on the amount of material that can be consumed per day, the quality of the feed being offered becomes fundamentally important to the amount of milk or meat a given animal can produce. When pasture, hay or balage is rough in texture, low in protein and digestible carbohydrates, and deficient in mineral content, a cow literally cannot eat enough to meet her daily needs. 

 

When looking at a stand of forage, there is more to consider than simply color and potential yield. Heavy tonnage and a dark green leaves do not necessarily mean that the crop is healthy and will make quality feed. High nitrate and potassium levels can push yield and color in alfalfa, but the resulting hay is often out of balance and will tend to be refused at the feed bunk. To get a complete picture of the quality of particular forage, other factors like sugars, mineral levels, protein and fat content must be considered.

 

Because mineral deficiencies are the root cause of many animal health problems, it is still necessary to use supplemental minerals to make up for what is currently missing in the feedstock in the ration, but the most cost effective, long-term strategy is to improve the mineral content of the forages that make up the majority of what the animals eat.

 

On many farms, the calcium (Ca) content as reported on feed tests, even in Ca loving crops like alfalfa and clover, can hover around .75%. Raising this level by only .25% can mean that there will be almost 1.5 times more available calcium in the diet. Because it has been absorbed and complexed by a plant, this calcium is already in a form that is highly bio-available and more efficient than even the best (and most expensive) supplements.

 

In a similar way, increasing the protein content of forages will reduce the need for increasingly expensive off-farm sources. Equally as important, if the forages are on a well-balanced nutritional program, they will have the sulfur and trace minerals necessary to make complete proteins.

Adding fats to beef and dairy rations has become popular over the last several years because they can increase energy content of the diet without increasing the dry matter intake (DMI) of the animal. Many farmers don’t realize they have the ability to raise the fat content of their forages to a point that would make many of the commonly fed supplements unnecessary.

 

When forage crops have high sugars, digestible carbohydrates, balanced proteins and increased fats, they become a nutrient dense and complete feed for all types of livestock. Ruminant animals were designed to eat predominantly grasses, legumes, and other herbs and shrubs. Adding starches and proteins to feed rations has become the standard practice in the industry only because of the inability of most forage to deliver the minerals, protein and energy necessary for high levels of milk and meat production.

 

For the plants, foliar applications of balanced nutrition packages can make rapid changes in plant nutrient availability and energy. Foliars work in two basic ways. First, they can provide small amounts of key nutrients that a plant cannot find in the soil. When timed appropriately, these micro-doses of minerals can give plants the missing pieces they need to perform key growth and reproductive functions. Foliars also can increase the metabolism and energy level of plants, so that they have an increased ability to pull minerals and other compounds from the soil, leading to an increase in their value as a feedstock.

 

This process of building quality forages is best considered as a part of building the health of the whole farm system over a period of several years. Yet it is possible for a single application to make a significant difference in the health and quality of a forage crop.

 

In most areas, there will be at least two or three cuttings of hay or trips through the pasture left this year. Ample time to begin to make the kind of changes in soil fertility and plant health that will mean better quality pastures this late summer and fall, and better hay in the barn next winter.

 

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3 Fresh Ways To Analyze Your Crops

Life in the computer age means that new high-tech ways to analyze your crop are constantly being devised. Here are three fresh solutions that allow you to get a faster, more accurate handle on what your crop needs.

 

1. Leaf area index (LAI) measurement. LAI, which is a ratio of crop canopy to ground cover, can an under-appreciated indicator of stress in a canopy, according to Rod Madsen, LI-COR product manager.

"It gives a really good indication of how much leaf area is being used for photosynthesis, which really drives production," he says. "Look at soybean during flowering stage, for instance. An open canopy at that stage is just wasting energy."

 

Determining LAI can help farmers identify some different management practices they should deploy on areas where plants are stressed and not closing canopy as quickly. LI-COR has developed a plant canopy analyzer to take accurate LAI samples without resorting to crop description collection techniques, Madsen says.

 

Madsen says LAI hasn’t been discussed much but adds that farmers are typically interested in new ways to look at their crops.

 

"Farmers seem more in tune with technology today," he says. "They want to understand not just their production, but also get into the details about why small sections of a given field aren’t producing and learn how to manage them differently."

 

2. Sap analysis. While tissue analysis shows what nutrients the plant has already used, sap analysis shows what it still has in reserve, says Michelle Gregg, program director of Crop Health Laboratories.

"Tissue sampling is sort of like a post-mortem test," she says. "Sap analysis, however, carries the same diagnostic value of a blood sample. The test provides a screenshot of nutrient in the sap before it is metabolized by plant sells."

 

Because of this, farmers can anticipate crop needs and make fertility inputs before the plant even expresses deficiency symptoms, Gregg says. The tool has become increasingly popular in orchards, although she says Crop Health Laboratories is able to sample sap from any row crop.

 

"Sap analysis has become the key component of my nutrient management program," says Mike Omeg, an orchard grower in Washington. "Using this tool, I am able to adjust the contents of nutrient applications in real-time."

 

3. DGCI analysis. You’ve heard of NDVI, but what about DGCI? That stands for "dark green color index." Jacob Madden, director of marketing for Spectrum Technologies, explains.

"The whole idea is to measure the subtle difference in greenness that your eyes can’t detect," he says.

 

Historically, consultants have used a $2,000 gadget called a SPAD meter to get similar readings. Thanks to DGCI, Spectrum was able to develop an app for iPhone and iPad devices that can take readings that correlate to SPAD readings for about a tenth of the cost. The FieldScout GreenIndex+ app costs $99.99, and users must purchase an additional color board for $49.

 

The board is colored green and yellow (specific color standards that help balance out relative cloudy and sunny field conditions), bright pink (as a contrast tool) and gray (for white balancing smartphone cameras). Users place a corn leaf on the board and take a photo with their iPhone or iPad. Do this 20 or 30 times, and the app has enough information to calculate the average DGCI across the field. Iowa State University and Penn State University both have methods of calculating nitrogen needs based on SPAD readings.

 

"By utilizing modified versions of industry-accepted university models, the app provides a good guideline for how much N to put down," Madden says.

 

Once a user gets comfortable with using it, he or she can collect readings in a matter of minutes, he adds.

 

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A Bright Future For Agriculture

In 2006, John Kempf, a local Amish farmer, founded Advancing Eco Agriculture, a consulting firm offering ecologically sound, comprehensive, plant-growth methodology to farmers. 

 

Years before, when Kempf finished the eighth grade in a local Amish school, his father assigned him the plant nutrition and pesticide application responsibility on the family farm. “Year after year, I watched our crops being destroyed by diseases and insects, in spite of increasing pesticide applications,” Kempf said. “Then one year a melon crop had no disease damage. Two feet away were the same melon plants, which had heavy disease pressure and there was a differentiating line extending all the way down the field. I wanted to find the difference between those two groups of plants.”

 

He began to question the established practices and initiated dialog with worldwide experts, researching and reading all available applicable literature. He sought out alternative approaches to prevent damage to his crops when they stopped responding to conventional pesticide treatments. To enhance plants’ natural immunity and make them less susceptible to pests and disease, he developed a comprehensive, systems-based methodology founded on plant physiology, mineral nutrition and soil microbiology. “I am blessed with intellectual gifts. I can pull together information and see very quickly and clearly where all the pieces fit,” said Kempf.  “I was able to walk into a farm and get results because I can see things that other consultants have missed.”

 

Word spread and the demand for his service grew rapidly. By 2009, he was consulting with more than 400 farms and training five field personnel to share the consulting workload. “We operate on the premise that plants have a functional immune system the same as people do. Some people’s immune system works better than others’ because of how well that system has been supported with good nutrition throughout their entire lifetime. We apply this same concept to plants,” said Kempf. “Plant immunity is not well understood, believed or accepted throughout agriculture because it’s been easier to apply a bandage, such as a chemical to just get rid of the pest.” 

 

He maintains that the knowledge of high-level, healthy plant growth is not taught in universities, to agronomists or farmers because there is not easy access to the information. “It was out there,” he added, “but it was scattered all over in many different research journals and books.” Kempf has compiled the information into an integrated system that works. 

 

Today, AEA is owned and chaired by New York resident, Philippe van den Bossche, an entrepreneur and investor who has dedicated his career to the issue of global food security. He acquired the company in January 2013. John Kempf is CEO, and AEA currently services more than 2,000 farms in the United States, Canada and overseas, with more than 20 experts in the field providing consultation. “When we first begin working with a farm,” said Kempf, “we perform a very thorough evaluation of everything happening on that farm from a nutritional perspective. We conduct a soil, plant and water nutritional profile as well as considering the farm management system. Soil, leaf and water samples are sent to a third-party laboratory and the analyzed information is sent to the farmer and AEA.

 

Kempf spends his days and evenings on the phone, skyping or speaking to farmers around the country. In his latest blog, this is what he predicts for agriculture changes in the next decade:

 

“1. GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) foods are a sunset operation.

GMOs have failed to deliver on their promises of improved yields, and are being unilaterally rejected by consumers both in domestic and export markets. There are already economic incentives for farmers in the form of production premiums and lower input costs that will lead farmers away from GM production. I project the production of GM crops to be only a small fraction of the current production levels for food crops in ten years. 

 

2. Agricultural production and food processing will become increasingly decentralized.

Energy costs, larger numbers of small and midsize farmers, the desire to constrain food contamination to a smaller scale will drive decentralization, and food quality standards will begin to shift from procedural certifications to quality certifications. 

 

3. The middle class of farmers will begin recovering aggressively.

As regenerative farming models move to the mainstream, midsize farms will make an aggressive recovery. Because of the reduced capital expenditure they will be able to compete effectively with the entrenched models, which are already financially and emotionally committed to their current production systems. Mid-sized farmers will also be able to capitalize on the ‘value added’ component of healthier farming models, such as grass-fed, local, pesticide free etc. and will demonstrate much better economic returns. 

 

Mid-size farms have a competitive advantage over larger operations when they adopt ecologically friendly-farming models. Regenerative farming models require closer attention and better management, which is much more difficult on larger scale operations.  

 

4. Food Certification will become outcome and quality focused instead of process focused.

 

Today, food processing, organic certification, and GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) are all process-oriented certification, which are intended (but frequently fail) to certify the quality of the finished product. I expect consumer demand for clean food to drive certification, which actually tests and certifies the quality of the end product, both in food safety and nutritional integrity. 

 

In Mesopotamia Township, AEA manufactures an extensive product line of proven soil enhancing products. Visit www.advancingecoag.com or call 800-495-6603.

 

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This 20 Something Hopes to Unleash the Next Green Revolution

In 2010, a young man on a quest for enlightenment walked into the office of Jerry Hatfield, director of the USDA’s National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. His name was John Kempf, and he was eager to learn more about Hatfield’s plant physiology work, which deals with the complicated interactions of plants, soils and the atmosphere.

 

The two talked agronomy for several hours before Hatfield sent Kempf on his way with a stack of literature to devour. The visit was just one of many steps on Kempf’s journey, which had begun six years earlier in a blighted cantaloupe patch. Desperate to rescue his family farm from worsening disease and pest problems, Kempf dove into deep-end science, looking for solutions he couldn’t find in the conventional farming playbook.

 

In the process, Kempf became a staple on the alternative-ag lecture circuit and the CEO of a rapidly growing consulting firm that his followers hail as the next best thing in sustainable, profitable agriculture. The most hopeful even say that he and his company offer a glimpse of a better farming future, uniting the best that our various schools of agricultural thought have to offer.

 

Kempf is just 26 years old. He is also Amish, and has only an eighth grade education.

 

Once he finished school at age 14, Kempf went to work on his family’s fruit and vegetable farm in northeastern Ohio, overseeing irrigation, plant nutrition and herbicide and pesticide applications. In the fields, Kempf used horses instead of a tractor, with a sprayer powered by a small Honda engine.

 

It was a trying time for the family. Pests and disease were ravaging the crops, and Kempf found himself mired in escalating chemical warfare against them, with little success. Things hit a low point in 2004, when well over half of the Kempfs’ mainstay crops – tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and cantaloupes – were lost. With the family staring at an increasingly bleak financial situation, Kempf, then 16, set off on his mission to relearn everything he’d been taught about farming.

He began by looking closer at one of that year’s few bright spots: the fact that some cantaloupes on a piece of land directly adjacent to the Kempf farm had actually done well. That year, the Kempfs had run rows of cantaloupe from their old fields to the new one, which had not been subjected to years of heavy chemical application. The results, as Kempf describes them in one of his YouTube videos, were jarring.

 

On the old field, powdery mildew struck with a fury. But directly on the other side of the boundary – which showed up as clearly as “a knife line,” says Kempf in the video – were identical plants cared for in an identical manner and yet which remained completely, gloriously healthy.

Unwittingly, it served as a rigorously controlled experiment. The variable was the differing histories of chemical use on either side of the property line, and Kempf looks back on it as his Eureka moment.

 

Why, he wondered, did the plants on the new field thrive, while the others withered? And why, more generally, were pest and disease problems on the farm getting steadily worse, despite Kempf’s best efforts to spray them into oblivion? He dug into periodicals like the Soil Science Society of America Journal and Biology and Fertility of Soils. He picked the brains of knowledgeable people. He identified gaps in his knowledge and then he chased them all down: botany, pathology, entomology, physiology, immunology, etc.

 

Kempf felt that the answers to his questions did indeed exist, but that the folks who held them had their noses so deep in their own work they were missing the bigger picture.

 

“Agricultural research and education has focused on areas of specialty,” says Kempf. “Many of [these scientists] believe that the answer to agricultural challenges lies within their own area of research, and they don’t communicate with each other.”

 

Kempf, though, was eager to communicate with all of them as he systematically worked to find, understand and synthesize these disparate bits of knowledge into a unified understanding of soil and plant health that he could apply to the farm. And although he was still a teenager who’d never even taken a ninth-grade science class, he found that scientists like Hatfield were eager to work with him.

 

“I was taken seriously,” Kempf says, “because I was able to ask really intelligent questions and I didn’t tell anyone how old I was.”

 

Kempf quickly began to suspect that the chemical-drenched farming methods he’d been using were causing, not helping, his problems.

“A lot of materials used in corporate agriculture have the capacity to enhance plant growth and performance, but they suppress soil biology,” he says.

 

The scorched-earth tactics he’d employed with his pesticides and herbicides, he realized, had worked all too well. The microbial life critical to healthy soils had become collateral damage. Afterwards, in a best-case scenario, Kempf could coax his cantaloupes and other crops to acceptable yields only by practically drowning them in fertilizer. He threw this approach out the window. Instead, by focusing on creating healthy soils, he’d let plants do what plants have evolved to do best when they’re given a fighting chance: grow like crazy.

 

By 2006, Kempf had quit pesticides altogether and was spending an increasing amount of time talking about his ideas with scientists and farmers all over the country. His father issued an ultimatum: Stop talking or make some money doing it.

 

Kempf picked the second option and founded his crop consulting company, Advancing Eco Agriculture (AEA) in 2006. His spiel, in a nutshell:

 

Healthy soils support healthy plants. Healthy plants have healthy immune systems that fend off disease. Finally, according to Kempf, plants with healthy immune systems are more nutritious. (There isn’t, however, solid scientific evidence directly linking healthy soils with more nutritious food, primarily because there isn’t an agreed-upon scientific definition of “healthy soil.”) AEA also says its approach allows farmers to realize yield gains of between 10 and 30 percent and that eliminating the need for pesticides drives farm costs down.

 

Kempf eschews the phrase “sustainable” because that would imply there’s much worth sustaining about the current state of farming. Instead, he calls his approach “regenerative agriculture.” He occupies a curious niche, advocating that farmers ditch pesticides while simultaneously critiquing organic farming. Mainstream organic agriculture, says Kempf, is all about “negative certification” and is preoccupied with what farmers aren’t allowed to do – no GMOs, no chemical pesticides, no this, no that, etc. While that ensures that organic products are largely free of pesticides, it provides no assurance that crops in an organic farmer’s field are thriving, or that organic produce is healthier than its conventional counterparts, according to Kempf.

 

His approach is more proactive. AEA sells all sorts of products intended to improve soil and plant health in some form, and takes sophisticated measurements to monitor plants’ health throughout the growing season. It is simultaneously a throwback to pre-industrial agriculture and an embrace of its latest technological innovations.

People are responding to this philosophy. Growth has been rapid; Kempf says AEA now has about 30 employees and a few thousand clients across the country.

 

Larry Keefer, a lifelong farmer who plants 500 acres of soybeans, wheat and corn west of Lansing, Mich., is among the growing number of AEA clients who have become believers in the approach.

 

“I just consider this a new and better way of [farming],” says Keefer, who has experimented with different non-conventional techniques for nearly two decades.

 

One of Keefer’s most valuable crops is a high-grade, non-GMO soybean used to make tofu in Japan. His bushel-per-acre yields are typically in the high 40s. Last year, he gave AEA a try on a 40-acre test plot and harvested 59 bushels per acre – an increase that will “add up in a hurry” to the bottom line.

 

He says he was the first in his area to sign on with AEA; this year, at least 10 others have joined him.

 

Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about Kempf, though, is the way he walks a line between the divided ideologies in agriculture today, eschewing rhetoric in favor of results.

 

In its aversion to chemicals, focus on a healthy agricultural ecosystem and emphasis on quality over quantity, AEA calls to mind crunchy, tie-dyed farming. But Kempf, from a conventional farming background himself, also uses the same “feed-the-world” talk as Big Ag, and the AEA website is free of the feel-good organic lingo that Michael Pollan calls “supermarket pastoral.”

 

Kempf, a recognized expert in agronomy and soil science who quit school after the eighth grade, is himself something of a stereotype-defying guy. As a member of the Amish church, he neither drives a car nor travels by airplane; as the CEO of a rapidly growing consulting outfit, he employs the services of a New York PR firm and maintains a sleek, culturally aware presence on Twitter and the blogosphere. He runs AEA alongside the company’s chairman, Phillipe van den Bossche, an investor who lives in Manhattan, who previously worked for Madonna, and who readily acknowledges that he and Kempf are from “opposite ends of the spectrum.”

 

Kempf says he intends to convert 10,000 conventional farmers to his AEA program by 2016. Those familiar with Kempf and his ideas say he’s headed in that direction.

 

“I see [his approach] as sort of a ‘new mainstream’ in agronomy, as opposed to the old N-P-K approach,” says Michael McNeil, a crop consultant from Iowa who has known Kempf for years and who believes it’s just matter of time before regenerative agriculture catches on more widely. “As the profit margins get less and less for the farmer, they’re going to start looking for other ways to survive. And spending a lot of money on agri-industry is not working for them.”

 

For his part, Kempf says his ultimate goal is to “impact the quality of food” and “to see these regenerative models of agriculture become the accepted model of agriculture around the world.”

 

In other words, he plans to take regenerative agriculture so mainstream that the two become one in the same.

 

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Mike Omeg, Cherry Farmer

Mike Omeg lives on the family farm, Omeg Family Orchards, established 1908 in The Dalles, Oregon. The timeless snowcapped peak of Mt. Hood dominates the sky over the heavily laden cherry orchards. Lewis and Clark traversed the valley and encountered a lively Native American trade area with a 10,000-year history. This valley has stood the test of time.

 

"My great grandparents started our cherry farm. I came back here after college and now I am raising my family right here in the house that my great grandparents built in 1909 and gave to my grandparents as a wedding present. We are surrounded by cherry orchards." For that reason, plus a few others like productivity and profitability, Mike Omeg took a gamble on an unorthodox method to enhance his cherry production without invasive chemicals. "I would have to say my first reason for searching for alternative methods was profitability."

He explained that in the last couple decades, the 650 acre farm (350 acres in sweet cherries and another 300 ac of rangeland) has become quite proficient in managing above the ground productivity with innovations like trellises and pruning. In the face of increasing market pressure from growers in far-flung places like Turkey and China, Omeg found himself looking below the ground to the health of his soil. "We had maxed out innovation from the ground up. We had to look to the soil to increase our profits."

 

Mike Omeg's quest took him first to the traditional sources of information--where he rapidly discovered just how little information was available. "The university extension system was great for everything else, but there was very little information on the soil itself; same thing among chemical fertilizer fieldmen. I finally had to go to the organic farmers to learn about the soil. I saw a lot of guys in Birkenstocks that smelled like patchouli," he quipped. He learned that the organic farmers used fish hydrolysate, not just to boost nitrogen but to improve their soil microbiology as well. "So I began looking into fish; I like to evaluate things. I have a degree in Entomology, and I have a very scientific mind."

 

An ACRES Conference a few years ago was the turning point for Omeg. He met AEA founder John Kempf, along with AEA's David Miller and Jason Hobson. Mike shared with them his experiences with fish hydrolysate fertilizers. After getting fish from all over the country, Omeg observed that some fish worked better than others. Jim Brackins' fish worked the best. Brackins is the manufacturer of SeaShield. "I started a relationship with Jim that has been very beneficial for me and I talked to David (Miller) and John (Kempf) at AEA and said this is something that I do on my place and it works. You should check it out. They did and that's how SeaShield began to be distributed through Advancing Eco Ag in a nutshell."

 

Omeg explained, "One of our main challenges was how to get more calcium into our product." Omeg's cherries are shipped all over the world and are especially popular in Southeast Asia. "That means our cherries have to withstand a couple weeks on a container ship, followed in some cases by unrefrigerated storage and open air markets. They have to be very dense and firm to make the trip. They also have to be glossy to sell."

 

In agriculture lime or gypsum are usually applied to the ground to boost calcium. Omeg explained, "The thing I like about the triple blend in SeaShield is that you are putting calcium that's already been cycled through a living organism-I always think of Mother Nature as being the ultimate recycler. Living things love to use calcium that has already been a part of another living thing fairly recently. I think that through using these two sources of calcium, both the shrimp shell and the crab shell, we are putting two different forms of calcium out there that are slightly different. I like the concept of providing diversity both to the biology of the soil and to the plant itself. It makes sense to me--we use fish as well as shrimp and crab. We need to provide a diverse amount of foodstuffs for more diverse organisms within the soil." The orchard experienced a decline in the incidence of powdery mildew with just fish hydrolysate. The effect is even more pronounced with SeaShield. "Powdery mildew is the number one disease that we manage most intensely during the growing season. We apply a lot of fungicide in our conventional system--7 or 8 applications per year. Sweetheart and Skeena both have a tendency to get powdery mildew--there was a decline in mildew on those two varieties. Jim Brackins mentioned a grape grower in California had noticed a significant decline in powdery mildew. We started using SeaShield last year--it was our first year. We had a researcher from Washington State University who was doing a labor efficiency trial in one of our orchards. He was in a Sweetheart block, and at the end of the day he said, 'Mike, I haven't seen any mildew on any of this fruit that we've been looking at all day and there's none in any of these trees--what are you doing?' The SeaShield had done even better than fish at reducing our mildew picture," recalled Omeg.

 

Even Omeg's neighbors are noticing, "I had a neighbor last year ask me 'What are you doing in your orchards?' and I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Well, I’m looking across my orchard and it’s a light green, then I look across your orchard and it’s a deep green.' This was in the Spring when the leaves were coming out. The faster you can get leaves and the greener they are, the better your trees are doing. We have noticed that when driving around in the Spring, you can see that our orchards leaf out faster and have greener leaves. You can draw the property lines just with your eyes."

 

The benefits of bringing the sea to Omeg's soil are enormous. "We have seen Increase in the vigor of trees.  This is substantial in some blocks.  We see larger fruit and canopy growth and better branch caliper." This overall increase in soil health translates directly into profits, "Generally we see an increase in ½ row size or more in our fruit.  The financial ramifications of this are substantial at $1,000 to $2,500 more net profit per acre.

 

"My plan is to apply much more SeaShield on the ground than foliar applications: Reduce my foliar applications and increase the amount of SeaShield I put on the ground and then evaluate the effects of that.”

Mike Omeg currently applies 60-70 gallons of SeaShield per acre annually. "There is a direct, linear correlation between the fruit size and the increased application of SeaShield. We've not seen diminishing returns yet."

 

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The Amish Farmers Reinventing Agriculture

Amish farmers avoided the draft during WWII, even choosing to face jail time over going to war because they didn’t believe in combat, and now they are taking up a different fight altogether – peacefully – by studying plant immunology in order to grow healthy organic produce without pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals that biotech companies are lavishing on crops like cheap perfume on an uncouth lady.

 

Samuel Zook, an Amish farmer recently explained to a reporter:

“If you really stop and think about it, though, when we go out spraying our crops with pesticides, that’s really what we’re doing. It’s chemical warfare, bottom line.”

 

Zook should know what its like to try to grow without pesticides and still get rid of pests that would ravish his crops. He owns a 66-acre farm that was once riddled with fungus and other plant-killing insects that he could scarcely eradicate.  The 39-year old farmer talked at length about trying to run a homestead that had been in his family for five generations, and how miserably he was failing. He became disillusioned with the Big Ag methods promoted as ‘agriculture’ when they are nothing more than war on the natural world.  His frustration led him to the writings of an 18-year old Amish farmer from Ohio, named John Kempf.

 

This young upstart is the founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, a consulting firm the farmer established in 2006 to promote science-intensive organic agriculture. That’s right – it wasn’t just going to be an inconclusive guessing game about what to grow and how to grow it – his achievements would make any pro-GMO agriculturalist or biotech scientists eat their genetically modified words.

 

Kemp started his own research after experiencing several failures on his own family’s farm when he was merely a pre-pubescent young man in the 8thgrade. He poured over biology, chemistry, agronomy, and science books for two years. He didn’t do it to make straight As in his classes or impress his teachers. He was literally trying to save the family farm.

Kemp achieved a breakthrough when he started studying plant immunology. In healthy plants, he learned, just like people, an array of compounds are produced that naturally defend against intruders.

 

He explained:

“The immune response in plants is dependent on well-balanced nutrition, in much the same way as our own immune system.”

He went on to describe how modern agricultural models, including GMO plants that require heavy doses of Round Up, and other toxic chemicals, including the newly approved Enlist, Duo, Dow’s 2,4-D chemicals that were once used in the Vietnam War, really deprive plants of the proper nutrition they need, and then their immune systems become compromised and can’t fight pests, fungus, rot, and other diseases.

Modern fertilizers focus only on increasing crop yields – no matter the price. Arguably, this also depletes human nutrition by creating plants that have questionable chemicals in their very DNA, but also lack proper vitamins and minerals.

 

An article published by Alternative Medical Reviewstates:

“Reviews of multiple studies show that organic varieties do provide significantly greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than non-organic varieties of the same foods.”

Aside from having fewer pesticide residues, organic foods also contain more secondary metabolites. In organically grown foods, more “bioactive compounds that aren’t directly involved in the plant’s growth, maturation, or reproduction, include the antioxidant compounds – the polyphenols, the flavonoids, and all the other phytonutrients  – that make fruits and vegetables so uniquely healthful and which the evidence suggests is the primary explanation for the association of produce consumption with increased health, are present.”

 

Through plant sap analysis, Kempf has been able to discover deficiencies in important trace minerals which he can then introduce into the soil. Once these elements are presented – his plants are nourished instead of poisoned to death, and they start fighting for themselves.  With pesticides, natural predators of pests flourish.

“Instead of trying to grow crops that are healthy with fungicides and pesticides, I started to grow crops that are healthy with nutrition, “ said Kempf.

 

Kempfs methods developed on the Ohio farm are now being used across North and South America, Hawaii, Europe, and Africa. He promises his clients higher-quality crops, bigger yields, better taste, and produce that carries a lucrative “organic” label, but he does something even better.

 

“Organic certification is a negative-process certification,” he explained, “You can do nothing to your field and become certified. In contrast, we focus on actively restoring the balance found in natural systems.”

 

“In the Second World War,” Samuel Zook began, “my ancestors were conscientious objectors because we don’t believe in combat.” The Amish farmer paused a moment to inspect a mottled leaf on one of his tomato plants before continuing. “If you really stop and think about it, though, when we go out spraying our crops with pesticides, that’s really what we’re doing. It’s chemical warfare, bottom line.”

 

Eight years ago, it was a war that Zook appeared to be losing. The crops on his 66-acre farm were riddled with funguses and pests that chemical treatments did little to reduce. The now-39-year-old talked haltingly about the despair he felt at the prospect of losing a homestead passed down through five generations of his family. Disillusioned by standard agriculture methods, Zook searched fervently for an alternative. He found what he was looking for in the writings of an 18-year-old Amish farmer from Ohio, a man named John Kempf.

 

Kempf is the unlikely founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, a consulting firm established in 2006 to promote science-intensive organic agriculture. The entrepreneur’s story is almost identical to Zook’s. A series of crop failures on his own farm drove the 8th grade-educated Kempf to school himself in the sciences. For two years, he pored over research in biology, chemistry, and agronomy in pursuit of a way to save his fields. The breakthrough came from the study of plant immune systems which, in healthy plants, produce an array of compounds that are toxic to intruders. “The immune response in plants is dependent on well-balanced nutrition,” Kempf concluded, “in much the same way as our own immune system.” Modern agriculture uses fertilizer specifically to increase yields, he added, with little awareness of the nutritional needs of other organic functions. Through plant sap analysis, Kempf has been able to discover deficiencies in important trace minerals which he can then introduce into the soil. With plants able to defend themselves, pesticides can be avoided, allowing the natural predators of pests to flourish.

 

"Instead of trying to grow crops that are healthy with fungicides and pesticides, I started to grow crops that are healthy with nutrition."

According to Kempf, the methods he developed through experimentation on his Ohio farm are now being used across North and South America, Hawaii, Europe, and Africa. The entrepreneur promises clients higher-quality crops, bigger yields, better taste, and produce that carries a lucrative “organic” label. Kempf, however, considers his process as an important improvement upon standard organic farming methods. “Organic certification is a negative-process certification,” he explained, “You can do nothing to your field and become certified. In contrast, we focus on actively restoring the balance found in natural systems.”

 

I recently sought out Samuel Zook, one of Kempf’s earliest converts, at his farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to see Advancing Eco Agriculture’s practices in action. After trailing a leisurely horse and carriage in my car for several miles, I was greeted at the farm by a bounding dog and Zook’s young barefoot son. The boy stared silently with his arms wrapped around a watermelon almost as big as himself. In a straw hat and suspenders, he looked like a miniature version of his father. The elder Zook smiled demurely through a neatly trimmed beard and extended his hand before inviting me on a tour of his fields. A hushed gaggle of children tripped along behind us as we walked among the bales of hay and rows of tomatoes, onions, melons, and squash.

 

Roc Morin: Can you describe the differences between how you used to farm and how you farm now?

 

Samuel Zook: The inputs changed drastically. Instead of trying to grow crops that are healthy with fungicides and pesticides, I started to grow crops that are healthy with nutrition.

 

Morin: What was the hardest part about making the change?

 

Zook: Well, there was a big psychological block that I had to get through. I’d see a couple bugs out there and feel like I immediately had to do something about it. But, I learned that if I sit back, things will often take care of themselves. That first summer for instance, we saw a lot of horn worms. Before that, I would have sprayed them right away, but this time I waited and a bunch of wasps came along and killed them. Once I saw that, I started getting really excited.

 

Morin: So, when you use a pesticide you’re killing the predators too, right?

 

Zook: Right. You’re killing the entire ecosystem.

 

Morin: Have all of your problems disappeared?

 

Zook: I wish I could say that, but not entirely. We’re not living in the Garden of Eden yet. The issues I had before have disappeared, but we still have some other issues that we’re working on. One of the main things that has improved is how it feels to farm. Before, if I applied fungicide on my tomatoes, I had to wait three to seven days before I could reenter the area. Now, it’s so nice to just walk in my field any day of the week and not worry a bit. That in itself is huge. The other thing is, when I used to mix these skull-and-cross-bones chemicals to put in my sprayer, I’d have to be suited up. The children would be around and I’d say, “Now, get in the house. It’s not safe.” Now though, if the children want to help, it’s fine. If I want to mix the solutions better, I’ll just put my hand in a stir it around.

 

Morin: What are some of the problems that you’re dealing with now?

 

Zook: One of my major issues in the greenhouse is spider mites—little insects that just love a warm, dry environment. It’s very hard to control them, even conventionally. We usually get them under control, but we often lose some yield.

 

Morin: How do you get them under control?

 

Zook: Mainly through applying specific trace minerals like iodine and a whole line of ultra-micronutrients. We analyzed the sap of the plants with the help of a lab and I think we’ve narrowed the problem down to excessive ammonium nitrates. If ammonia builds up in the plants, it’s bug food, so we need to figure out a way to convert ammonia fast. I just spent two days with John [Kempf], and he came up with an enzyme cofactor which we’ll use to stimulate that ammonia conversion. We figure things out ourselves now rather than call up the chemical rep.

 

Morin: What did your chemical rep say when you told him that you didn’t need his services anymore?

 

Zook: Well, that was an interesting summer. He used to come here every week telling me horror stories about all the diseases in the neighborhood. But, I had made up my made up my mind, “No mas.” He came back every week for eight weeks telling me what I needed to spray. I said, “I’m fine, thanks.” The last time he was here, we were out picking tomatoes and he walked over. He was looking around and talking about this and that, and he didn’t even mention pesticides. “Well,” he said, “your tomatoes look pretty good.” I thought, “Yes!”

 

The War Between Organic and Conventional Farming Misses the Point

Morin: One thing that I immediately noticed is how great everything smells here. Do you still smell it, or are you accustomed to it?

 

Zook: Oh, I smell it every time I come here. It’s exciting. Those aromas are actually compounds the plants produce to defend themselves from insects and disease attacks. A lot of people don’t realize that plants have immune systems.

 

Morin: So, you can smell health—can you can smell problems too?

 

Zook: Yes. There’s a real science to walking through a field and pausing to feel what the plants are feeling. There’s a huge difference between walking in this field and walking in one that has had six fungicide applications. The plants just don’t radiate that same vitality. Another thing I learned is that every time you spray with a fungicide or something, it’s actually suppressing the plant as well as the fungi.

 

Morin: The same way that antibiotics can weaken a person’s immune system?

 

Zook: Yes. It might kill the disease, but then because it has weakened the plant, a week later the plant is much more susceptible to that same disease again. That’s the way it is with miticide. If I come in here and spray the mites with it, it would kill some of them, but it kills by messing with their hormones, so the ones that do survive will then mature 50 percent faster. So, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’d have a huge mite outbreak 10 years later. Instead of doing that, let’s figure out what this plant wants and provide it. They really do respond.

 

Morin: What else can you tell by looking at your plants?

 

Zook: Well, one thing we learn is to read the leaves. This asymmetry here indicates zinc deficiency. The spots over here indicate a phosphorus deficiency. And, this here rippling of the leaf usually indicates excess nitrogen.

 

Morin: Before you started with this method were you able to read the leaves?

 

Zook: You know, I barely noticed them at all. I just planted and sprayed. Now it's a lot more fun.

 

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Bob Wilt, Blueberry Farmer

Sunset Valley Organics, Oregon

 

Bob Wilt farms the land his father bought in fertile Corvallis, Oregon in 1942. He is an affable man, and endlessly patient with the untutored as he warms to his subject of applied biological agriculture. His love of farming underscores his every word. His farm, Sunset Valley Organics has earned a dominant position in the niche market of high quality organic blueberries. Four ounces of Sunset Valley freeze dried blueberry powder retails for $19.95; 16 oz. of his freeze dried organic blueberry slices sells for $65.00. Devotees post enthusiastic reviews of his products online. Sunset Valley's robust yields and booming businesses are a far cry from the disease ridden, depleted farm it had become by 1998.

 

Wilt has worked with single minded dedication to turn his farm around from what he calls a 'chemical addiction.' "I guess you could say I was like a druggie that had hit rock bottom; the more you need the more you apply…the more you apply, the more you need."

 

"We put in blueberries in 1970, and things went really well up until about 95 or 96. I got the bright idea I wanted a beautiful, manicured field--you know, with nothing growing between the rows." His bright idea, fueled by mega doses of potassium chloride caused his farm to "basically tank on nitrogen. I lost about a third of my crop in 1998." Faced with an intractable fungus outbreak in 1998, Wilt applied a strong fungicide program to control disease. "By 2001 we had really short fruitwood with only 2--3 buds on a limb. Our yields went backward. I spent like a sailor trying to turn that around."

 

A decade ago, the resources to support the farmer in search of practical, real world bio-agricultural techniques were few and far between. Wilt read books, but readily admitted they were written by academics rather than the actual farmer, and were heavy on theory and light on technique. His search for salvation led him to consult with soil biologist Dr. Elaine Ingham. "She taught me soil biology 101 in nine hours. Suddenly I was no longer using potassium chloride and nitrate; I was learning about compost tea and liquid fish."

 

As with any recovering addict, the temptation to return to the original drug of choice is sometimes overwhelming. Wilt questioned himself frequently as the inevitable tide of pests and disease rose over his fragile crop and depleted soil. "I felt like a druggie that had been taken off all my drugs; I just wanted that 2.5 gallon jug. That first year was very difficult. Other farms in our area were down 20%, but we held our own." A meticulous believer in metrics, Wilt convinced himself to stay the course. Although he considers himself a biological farmer, he went organic. "I am a biological farmer, not an organic farmer--I just get paid to say that," he explained.

 

For the first five or six years Bob Wilt charged into biological farming with very little daily guidance. "I was basically self-taught." He had the time with Dr. Elaine Ingman, and attended a couple of seminars taught by Dr. Arden Anderson; read voraciously and observed his crops with a keen eye. "In the last four years I met John (Kempf) and David (Miller) of Advancing Eco-Agriculture. We are making a lot more progress. We have to do better yet. Every time I hit a goal it seems like they move the goal post. You are always chasing that dream.”

 

"In 2001 when we decided to change our approach the ground was hard. There were insects, and our leaves were small. Now the field feels alive. Back then I sprayed herbicide on the whole row to keep the field 'clean.' Now there is foliage in between the rows. I decided I would not be organic by neglect. We mow to keep our field clean and tidy. You need to get through those rows to do other operations."

 

Sunset Valley has developed its' own compost tea, a product that is consistently higher in microbes per milliliter than the industry standard of 10 to the 6th power. "We consistently hit 10 to the 9th and 10 to the 10th power," explained Wilt. The higher the concentration of microbes, the richer the tea and the more thoroughly it replenishes the soil. A neighbor's worm bins feed the vermi compost for the tea, which is brewed for four days, twice as long as the industry standard. He swears by his tea, which he says is as effective as anything else and costs 20 percent of the cost of chemical fungicide.

 

A saltwater fish source is the basis for the fish emulsion. Wilt swears by saltwater fish rather than freshwater, and has a source that heats ocean fish to 130 degrees till it liquefies. "There are more than 90 minerals in saltwater fish--they have been living in the ocean all their lives. The difference is subtle, but after several years of usage you will see a positive result." Wilt is convinced the depletion of our agricultural soil is mineral based, and can be replenished fairly quickly with the right techniques.

 

How hard was the leap of faith from conventional agriculture techniques to biological farming? Sunset Valley Organics saw positive results within year one. "Remember, this was a whole new approach. There were very few practical resources and I had no idea what I was doing. But in a year when others had a 20% drop due to bad weather, we held our own." Wilt is candid about his fear. "I was a non-believer when we started. But when we stopped using nitrogen fertilizer, the insects went away. It was hard to let go of fungicides though. Lots of diseases get in the blossoms and do not show up until the harvest. I had a lot of fear, and it was hard to just depend on biology. I struggled terribly the first two or three years," he explained. However, he is adamant that getting the soil properly mineralized will help fight off fungus.

 

For the farmer who feels safe with the 2.5 gallon chemical solution, biological farming is a frightening undertaking. Wilt explained that his soil was "basically dead." That level of depletion started him on a lonely quest that has become a movement and is, some say, the future of planetary agriculture. "Arden Anderson told me this a great paradigm shift, and that I had to put the hat on backwards. Of course, that is the hardest thing for a grower to do; start believing there is a better way."

In retrospect, Bob Wilt said he did almost everything wrong when he began his impromptu, untutored launch into biological agriculture. He explained that the biology that turned his farm around first required a home, and his initial task was to construct that home. "You have to build a home for biology; balancing carbon, minerals, food; then introduce biology. That takes commitment." Wilt had the commitment of an addict who had hit bottom, a mindset that has served him well on his journey.

 

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Amish Farmers Study Plant Immunology

Amish farmers avoided the draft during WWII, even choosing to face jail time over going to war because they didn’t believe in combat, and now they are taking up a different fight altogether – peacefully – by studying plant immunology in order to grow healthy organic produce without pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals that biotech companies are lavishing on crops like cheap perfume on an uncouth lady.

 

Samuel Zook, an Amish farmer recently explained to a reporter:

“If you really stop and think about it, though, when we go out spraying our crops with pesticides, that’s really what we’re doing. It’s chemical warfare, bottom line.”

 

Zook should know what its like to try to grow without pesticides and still get rid of pests that would ravish his crops. He owns a 66-acre farm that was once riddled with fungus and other plant-killing insects that he could scarcely eradicate.  The 39-year old farmer talked at length about trying to run a homestead that had been in his family for five generations, and how miserably he was failing. He became disillusioned with the Big Ag methods promoted as ‘agriculture’ when they are nothing more than war on the natural world.  His frustration led him to the writings of an 18-year old Amish farmer from Ohio, named John Kempf.

 

This young upstart is the founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, a consulting firm the farmer established in 2006 to promote science-intensive organic agriculture. That’s right – it wasn’t just going to be an inconclusive guessing game about what to grow and how to grow it – his achievements would make any pro-GMO agriculturalist or biotech scientists eat their genetically modified words.

 

Kempf started his own research after experiencing several failures on his own family’s farm when he was merely a pre-pubescent young man in the 8thgrade. He poured over biology, chemistry, agronomy, and science books for two years. He didn’t do it to make straight As in his classes or impress his teachers. He was literally trying to save the family farm.

 

Kemp achieved a breakthrough when he started studying plant immunology. In healthy plants, he learned, just like people, an array of compounds are produced that naturally defend against intruders.

 

He explained:

“The immune response in plants is dependent on well-balanced nutrition, in much the same way as our own immune system.”

He went on to describe how modern agricultural models, including GMO plants that require heavy doses of Round Up, and other toxic chemicals, including the newly approved Enlist, Duo, Dow’s 2,4-D chemicals that were once used in the Vietnam War, really deprive plants of the proper nutrition they need, and then their immune systems become compromised and can’t fight pests, fungus, rot, and other diseases.

Modern fertilizers focus only on increasing crop yields – no matter the price. Arguably, this also depletes human nutrition by creating plants that have questionable chemicals in their very DNA, but also lack proper vitamins and minerals.

 

An article published by Alternative Medical Reviewstates:

“Reviews of multiple studies show that organic varieties do provide significantly greater levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than non-organic varieties of the same foods.”

Aside from having fewer pesticide residues, organic foods also contain more secondary metabolites. In organically grown foods, more “bioactive compounds that aren’t directly involved in the plant’s growth, maturation, or reproduction, include the antioxidant compounds – the polyphenols, the flavonoids, and all the other phytonutrients  – that make fruits and vegetables so uniquely healthful and which the evidence suggests is the primary explanation for the association of produce consumption with increased health, are present.”

Through plant sap analysis, Kempf has been able to discover deficiencies in important trace minerals which he can then introduce into the soil. Once these elements are presented – his plants are nourished instead of poisoned to death, and they start fighting for themselves.  With pesticides, natural predators of pests flourish.

“Instead of trying to grow crops that are healthy with fungicides and pesticides, I started to grow crops that are healthy with nutrition, “ said Kempf.

 

Kempf's methods developed on the Ohio farm are now being used across North and South America, Hawaii, Europe, and Africa. He promises his clients higher-quality crops, bigger yields, better taste, and produce that carries a lucrative “organic” label, but he does something even better.

 

“Organic certification is a negative-process certification,” he explained, “You can do nothing to your field and become certified. In contrast, we focus on actively restoring the balance found in natural systems.”

 

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John Kempf, Changing the Way We Grow Food

How nutritious is our food? What does the nutrition of the plant have to do with having a healthy immune system? The use of herbicides like RoundUp (Glyphosate) has increased to over 500 Million pounds per year. How has this changed the quality of our food? If the plants that we are growing are nutritionally deplete, what is that doing to our immune system?

 

John Kemp, farmer, agronomist, scientist and founder of Advanced Eco Agriculture(“AEA”) has many of these answers. This young farmer has studied the soil and the nutrition of plants and has found that the most important two components in creating nutrient dense foods are to focus on the soil’s microbiology and mineral nutrition.

 

Kempf spoke with us today and explained how we need to be thinking of our soil as the plant’s digestive system. He expanded upon how the digestive system of a plant is very similar to our own digestive system.  How healthy is the soil that most of our food is grown in that is in our mainstream grocery stores? How depleted is that soil from the heavy use of chemicals and genetically modified seeds that are grown in a lab that are engineered to withstand huge doses of these chemicals? Kempf’s approach to growing food makes sense and his methods make sense! The microbiome of our gut is like the soil of a plant. If our gut is healthy, we are healthy. If a plant’s soil is healthy, the plant is healthy.

 

“Farmers are the foundation of the ultimate healthcare system. Preventing people from becoming ill is something our current medical system cannot do!” ~John Kempf

 

He shared how mainstream agronomists mainly focus on yield. Kempf has taken a fundamentally different approach by seeking to balance a plant’s health. When you improve the plant’s health, it automatically creates higher yields.  He emphasized the need to enhance the soil’s biology and nutrition to create the most nutrient dense foods available. Kempf and his company, AEA, offer sound advise on how to achieve these goals through a variety of methods.

 

Kempf also shared practical information for home gardeners to assist in creating the most nutrient dense foods using these methods. His focus on soil nutrition may just be the answer to counteract the use of chemicals and genetically engineered foods that are so prevalent in this country.

 

Earlier this year, Kempf was invited to be on a panel speaking to the United Nations about genetically engineered crops (“GMOs). Two of those questions that the six-member panel discussed were: Have GMOs increased yields? and; Have GMOs reduced the use of pesticides?  No one on that panel believed GMOs were a viable solution for sustainable agriculture in the future. They further concluded that GMO crops had not reduced the use of pesticides and in fact had contributed to a large degree in the increase in total pesticide use.

 

This interview with John Kempf may just change the way you look at your food and if you are a farmer or a home gardener, it will definitely shed some light on how to create the most high-quality, nutrient-dense food available! This is a must listen to show.

 

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Hain Farm Begins Growing Their Own Food on Organic Farm in Long Island

Hain Celestial Group Inc., one of the fastest growing public companies on Long Island, is making a bet on an industry that has been under pressure here: farming.

 

In less than six months Hain Celestial, of Lake Success, has turned an unused 12-acre patch of land in Bridgehampton into an organic vegetable farm that is producing its first harvest of kale, romaine lettuce, celery, beets and cucumbers.

 

The vegetables produced by the farm -- dubbed simply "The Organic Farm" -- will be used for Hain Celestial's BluePrint brand juices. The cold-pressed concoction of organic fruits and vegetables appeals to health-conscious consumers willing to pay $10 or more a bottle.

The company says its investment is about $100,000, including seedlings, fencing, irrigation and labor costs. However, Hain Celestial says if this experiment thrives, it could expand the farm, and it would become a blueprint for its efforts to oversee production of organic food the company uses in its products. Hain Celestial says it is one of the largest users of organic fruits and vegetables in the world.

 

"The Hamptons is not just all about expensive homes and great beaches," Irwin Simon, founder and CEO of Hain Celestial, said while inspecting his company's first farm. "It is also about great farmland, which was originally what the Hamptons were all about . . . This is something that we would want to continue, and it is a cheap investment to be able to get the opportunity to grow a lot more products on Long Island."

 

The company's other brands include Celestial Seasonings tea, Earth's Best baby food, Terra vegetable chips, Spectrum cooking oils and Dream nondairy milk. The company has a stock market value of more than $5 billion, and its shares are up 19 percent since Jan. 2.

The stakes of the experiment for Long Island's farming culture are large. "Anytime we can maintain and expand production is very important to agriculture, because the trend over the years has been less and less farms and less and less farmers," said Dale Moyer, agricultural program director at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk based in Riverhead.

 

Organic production on the Island has grown in the past 30 years, Moyer said, with more than 35 organic farms in Suffolk County. Organic farms make up about 15 percent of the vegetable farms and about 10 percent of the acreage in vegetable production. Overall, more than 600 farms in the county are valued at about $240 million a year in agriculture production.

 

The number of farms in Suffolk, however, has fluctuated in recent years, and total harvested cropland shrank by about 2,000 acres from 2002 to 2012, to a total of 19,805 acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

 

Hain Celestial's steps into developing its own organic farm, located roughly two hours' drive from its headquarters, mean the company, Whole Foods Market's largest supplier, would have exclusive oversight over how the produce is grown. Harvesting of the five crops started Oct. 20 and will continue through this month and possibly into December. About 100,000 pounds of produce is expected to be harvested. About 6 pounds of produce go into a 16-ounce bottle of BluePrint Green juice; that flavor includes some types of produce that aren't grown on the Long Island farm.

 

The journey toward growing pesticide-free vegetables that are not genetically modified began in June when Hain Celestial partnered with Advancing Eco Agriculture. The Middlefield, Ohio-based company specializes in regenerative farming practices to help plants become naturally resistant to pests and diseases. The soil preparation, irrigation and planting started in July.

 

The land, which hadn't been used in more than a decade, was covered in weeds, and the soil quality was very poor. "Since it had been so many years since this particular plot of land had anything grown on it, it is very hard to produce a healthy crop in the first year. It usually takes multiple seasons to do that," said Philippe van den Bossche, chairman and owner of Advancing Eco Agriculture. "We had to do a lot of work to bring the quality of the soil up naturally, by adding micronutrients and other soil amendments actually to make the ground ready to even produce a crop."

 

Organic farmer Marilee Foster from Sagaponack, whose family has farmed hundreds of acres of potatoes and grain crops in the area since the 1700s, was hired to work the land. She initially grew some of the vegetables in a greenhouse and transplanted them to the farm with the help of four others, she said.

 

"One of the reasons that this project intrigued me from the start was that it is a locally sourced crop and processed locally," said Foster, who can see the farm from her house. "Over the years, Long Island has lost a lot of its wholesale agriculture here. The trucks don't like coming on and off the Island, so it's really about keeping the industry that I love and care about alive."

 

The farm obtained the organic certification in September through the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York Certified Organic LLC, a Binghamton-based accredited certification agency of the USDA's National Organic Program. There are three certified organic operations in Nassau County and 23 in Suffolk County, according to NOFA-NY.

Organic certification standards require annual and random inspections of farms for pesticide residues or environmental contaminants. Farmers are also required to submit a written plan for managing the farm, including how to handle soil fertility, water quality, weeds and pests.

 

"There is a myth that organic farming means chemical-free. That's not true," said Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. "They use organic-type chemicals when necessary and nonchemical means of protecting their crop. It depends on the soil, weather, and the bugs that are out there."

 

Hain Celestial, which has been an aggressive acquirer of smaller organic food brands, purchased BluePrint from co-founders Zoe Sakoutis and Erica Huss for more than $26 million in a cash and stock deal in December 2012.

 

The cleanse drink -- which seeks to purge the body of toxins -- also serves as a meal replacement. It is manufactured in a 10,000-square-foot factory in Long Island City and brings in more than $40 million in revenue a year with flavors including Green Juice, Pineapple Apple Mint, Spicy Lemonade, Carrot Apple Beet and Cashew Milk.

 

A California federal judge in July dismissed a proposed class-action suit alleging Hain Celestial mislabeled and falsely advertised BluePrint juices as "raw" and "organic." The San Francisco-based judge ruled the plaintiffs' complaint contradicted their assertion that pressurization -- the process by which Hain Celestial treats its BluePrint brand juices to extend the shelf life -- kills vitamins, nutrients and enzymes, as cooking does.

 

Despite the hefty price tag for land in the Hamptons, Hain Celestial would make a significant impact on maintaining agriculture if it can expand its organic farm, Moyer said.

 

"The South Fork is very expensive, and Long Island as a whole is very expensive compared to many of the areas in the Northeast," said Moyer. Preserved land in the South Fork can go for as much as $100,000 an acre, compared with $30,000 on the North Fork. "The demand for agricultural land in the South Fork is greater, and that has pushed the price up," he said.

 

Local home builder Jeffrey Colle, who owns the property Hain Celestial is using for its farm, said his partnership with the company is not about money.

 

"We are trying to promote organic farming and agriculture," said Colle of East Hampton-based Estates by Jeffrey Colle. "I believe in keeping the land open and leaving it to be farmed. As long as it is organic.”

 

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Matt Brungard, Pumpkin Farmer

“Peter Peter pumpkin eater had a wife and couldn’t keep her. He put her in a pumpkin shell and there he kept her very well.”

 

Sounds a lot like a nursery rhyme doesn’t it? That is until you meet Matt Brungard. His pumpkins have the potential to do just that, thanks to Advancing Eco Agriculture.

 

Brungard was a naturopathic physician until he ditched that career and came home to his northeastern Ohio roots. He is now farming his family’s land with his father and raising his five children with his wife, Amy. They are indeed one big, happy family. And if you would have driven by Matt’s place in October, you would’ve seen a sight that is nothing less than surreal – a record size pumpkin loomed eerily above the garden wall. I’m not talking up to your knees; I’m talking up to your shoulders.

 

Could he keep his family there very well? I will let you be the judge.

Brungard won the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers' 20th annual pumpkin weigh-in held in Canfield, Ohio on October 11th. The massive pumpkin weighed in at a mind bending 1,951 pounds. Brungard is a member of the highly specialized club.

 

“I’ve always been competitive,” explained Brungard, “I was a competitive cyclist for many years.” The peripatetic life of a competitive cyclist was incompatible with family life, and Brungard had to dial it in and switch it up. Typical of this very creative and competitive man, he came up with the grand idea of growing competitively large pumpkins.

 

"All the guys in our club from all the surrounding states took a tour of our patches and every one of them said my plants looked great. The weather just cooperated – it rained at the perfect times, the garden never got dry. Well water is a little bit too cold, but it rained and the weather just cooperated perfectly.”

 

What gave the New Middletown pumpkin grower the competitive edge? Brungard is adamant about crediting AEA with his success. "Jerry Schneider is a friend and mentor in Bessemer, Pennsylvania. He is a master gardener who uses organics. A few years ago he started talking about this Dutch guy out of Middlefield, Ohio. I was blown away just like everyone else is when they hear him.”

 

Brungard met John Kempf three years ago at a Seminar and was very impressed when he heard him speak. “This is the third year that I’ve been using AEA products and I hit it hard."

 

“Each year, and this is my third year, I keep using a little bit more of his stuff. I hit it really hard this year with about three or four of his products and I really think that that made a difference. I used Photo Mag, which is a foliar magnesium, and it helps with photosynthesis. The two most important nutrients I was missing in years past were magnesium and calcium."

 

“I also used Hyper CaP. Jerry Schneider recommended the Hyper CaP because it has the phosphorus. I’m glad I used it. It made a world of difference. There are synergistic nutrients in there; the molasses, and the kelp. So you’re not just throwing one nutrient at it. Those two were the reasons that my pumpkins didn’t split. I had no splits. I had splits the last two years before.”

 

Brungard also used Sea Shield. "It’s a new product – It’s a vaccination in a bottle. It stimulates the immune system. I was able to use a lot less of my fungicide and my chemicals because I used that organic spray.

“I will definitely use more AEA products next year. Based on my results from this year I’m looking very forward to that,” explained Brungard.

He has also become a proponent of sap analysis, provided by AEA. "Jerry Schneider and I split 14 tests for sap analysis. That made all the difference. I saw the calcium come up; I saw the magnesium come up and I saw the boron come up. Never really foliar sprayed in years past. This year it made all the difference. I could actually see the results of the test. Foliar spraying is key to get the nutrients into the plant.”

“This plant just grew and grew and grew. It was so healthy, the day I picked the pumpkin off, it looked just as healthy as it looked a month before.”

 

Brungard is definitely pleased with his win, and is looking forward to an even more bountiful harvest next year.

 

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Two Amish Farmers Work Together to Restore Farmland

In the last several decades, the connection between man and nature has become seemingly distant. With intensive farming and technological advancements, the natural farming has diminished or has decreased in quality to say the least. Farming has changed so much since the mid-1900s that it’s actually doing more harm than good.

 

Chemical treatments have tremendously suppressed the plant’s natural immune system that is supposed to provide mankind all the nutrients it needs. For one Amish farmer, Samuel Zook, these changes have cost him the natural production of his own 66-acre farm that has been passed down over five generations. He had enough and decided to take matters into his own hands. 

 

Two Amish farmers worked hard together to restore the farmland

Samuel Zook and another farmer, John Kempf, worked together to restore Zook’s farm. They researched and studied the individual plants and farming methods to see what was lacking and what could help restore the land. Kempf says, “The immune response in plants is dependent on well-balanced nutrition in much the same way as our own immune system.”

 

Through personal experience, grueling process, and high expenses, they were able to restore the farm. Additionally, Kempf’s desire is to share the information and knowledge to help other farmers, so he founded Advancing Eco Agriculture in 2006. He uses non-chemical ingredients to restore plant’s immune system and succeed through natural methods. 

 

Observe, listen, and respond

When Zook’s farm turned for the worse, what he had been doing was spraying his crops with chemicals to let the unnatural take place. Now he simply observes his individual plants, intensely listens and responds to the needs of each plant. 

 

The hardest part Zook says was trusting there could be a better way. “That first summer for instance, we saw a lot of horn worms. Before that, I would have sprayed them right away, but this time I waited and a bunch of wasps came along and killed them. Once I saw that, I started getting really excited.” 

 

When no more chemicals were used and the land stayed in tune with nature, farming became more of a pleasure.

 

Replenish the soil and understand plants’ needs

Zook had to nourish his soil by providing the right supplements, such as trace minerals and iodine. Beyond that, he has become more connected with the plants. He says, “There’s a real science to walking through a field and pausing to feel what the plants are feeling. There’s a huge difference between walking in this field and walking in one that has had six fungicide applications. The plants just don’t radiate that same vitality.” 

 

Finally, Zook concluded that it’s also important to read and understand the plants’ leaves. Simply take a closer notice on the leaf’s changes, such as the rippling of a leaf, that usually indicates excess nitrogen; the leaf’s asymmetry that indicates zinc deficiency; and a leaf’s spots indicates phosphorus deficiency.

 

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Middlefield Growth Guru Says Strong Plants Make Soil

We try pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, compost, integrated pest management and crop rotation - even in our littlest yards.

 

But do we really know what plants want?

 

John Kempf, a Middlefield consultant on plant health who has clients across the country, said we are not going to get the best out of agriculture and the environment if we don't start paying attention to the distinct needs of plants.

 

"They have immune systems, just like we do," Kempf told an audience of mostly organic farmers Friday at a pre-conference session of the annual meeting of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

And, like ours, those immune systems need to be fortified over a life cycle. Kempf revealed his own food pyramid for plant nutrients, and a diagram of the stages of growth when it's necessary to administer the right minerals in the right balance.

 

Herbicides and pesticides are a relic of our "warfare mentality" he said. Pests have sharpened sensors that will always draw them to a weakened plant.

 

"You can spray insecticide, kill the pests, and you'll still have a weak plant," he said.

 

A strong plant will not only fend off pests and disease, he said, it will also help build up the soil, assuring a stronger future for both.

Kempf says he's not offering new information, just a synthesis of findings lost in a rush to chemical solutions and the fragmentation of plant study.

 

"Farmers used to be generalists," he said. "Now there are so many specialists, and they don't always talk to each other. An incredible amount of information never gets applied to the field."

 

A member of the Amish community who set down his straw hat before his presentation, Kempf said much of what he's saying can be obtained by Internet searches. He recommended a Google search for the words "nutrient requirements of" before adding the Latin name of the plant to be grown. Also helpful, he said, is the online bookstore operated by www.acresusa.com.

 

He recommended that home gardeners start with seeds from good sources (such as Baker Creek, Johnny's Selected Seeds and Fedco), well-composted soil and then follow a proper schedule of nutrient application.

 

Over-application of certain elements can inhibit plants from accessing nutrients, with potassium and calcium frequently at odds. He advocates the analysis of sap from living plants rather than the more common practice of testing dried plant matter for nutritional content. When the crop is still alive in the ground, he said, there may still be time to improve it. He relies on the Bellville company, Crop Health Labs (1-800-495-7938).

 

Kempf said he got interested in plant health when he noticed a patch of cantaloupe on his family farm planted on two kinds of soil, one with a long history of chemical use, and one without. The latter had fewer pests and disease, which sent him into a self-education and eventually a consulting business. He operates Advancing Eco Agriculture at 4551 Parks West Road, Middlefield, 44062, where he sells nutrients for both commercial and home use.

 

At OEFFA, Kempf recounted numerous cases of strong plant health trumping bad growing conditions and pests. This spring, he will establish his own demonstration farm on 160 acres in Orwell, Ashtabula County, where he'll grow food that will develop into a community supported agriculture program by 2016.

 

"It will have the healthiest plants possible, with the highest immune systems possible, and absolutely no pesticides," he said.

 

Paid interns are being sought for this growing season, with information available by emailing Kempf through his web site.

 

The sold-out OEFFA conference continues through Sunday with more than 100 workshops on sustainable growing.

 

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