Optimal Nutrition Enables Advanced Function in Plants

The Plant Health Pyramid

John Kempf developed this chart to describe how soils and crops transition towards complete pest and disease resistance as they achieve higher levels of health.

As soils and crops transition with regenerative farming practices, they pass through stages of increasingly better health. The progression to better health restores the natural and biological abilities of the plant and soil system. During this process, plants will demonstrate increasing immunity to soil and airborne pathogens, better resistance to insects, improved production of lipids leading to stronger cell membranes for tastier fruit with better shelf life, and more. 


Levels one and two of plant health are purely a function of nutritional integrity and are usually not 

difficult to achieve with most crops and most soils, especially when we have the opportunity to use foliar applications of plant nutritional supplements. On most crops, we usually expect to reach level one and level two in the first 3-4 months.

Levels 3 and 4 are not as straightforward to accomplish as the first two levels. In order to get to level 3, it is imperative that we have a healthy, vigorous soil digestive system capable of providing a majority of the plant’s nutritional requirements. Without this microbial digestive process in place, the plants will never have the surplus energy required to achieve high levels of lipid production and energy storage.


In the first two levels of the Plant Health Pyramid™, changes are taking place in the plant chemistry. The third and fourth stages involve changes in biology and are only achieved through regenerative agriculture. 

Level 1: Complete Photosynthesis

The volume of photosynthesis increases anywhere from 150-600% and the carbohydrate profile changes to be composed of a high proportion of complex carbohydrates with low levels of non-reducing sugars in the plant sap.

Plants develop resistance to soil-borne fungal pathogens such as Verticillium, Fusarium, Rhizoctonia, Pythium, Phytophthora, and others.


Plants require adequate levels of magnesium, iron, manganese, nitrogen, and phosphorus* to reach this stage of heath *Phosphorus is not directly involved in photosynthesis but is needed for photosynthate metabolism with the increased sugar production.

Level 2: Complete Protein Synthesis


The plant begins converting all of the soluble nitrogen compounds to amino acids and complete proteins so that 100% of all the nitrogen in the plant is converted to a complete protein in every 24-hour photo cycle. The result is there are no nitrates and no ammonium remaining in plant sap in every 24-hour photo period.


Plants become resistant to insects with simple digestive systems, especially larval and sucking insects such as tomato horn worms, cabbage loopers, corn borers, corn ear-worms, aphids, leafhoppers, white flies, and thrips.


Plants require adequate levels of magnesium, sulfur, molybdenum, and boron* to reach this stage of health. *Boron is not directly involved in protein synthesis but contributes additional pest resistance.

Level 3: Increased Lipid Synthesis


Plants begin absorbing the majority of their nutrition in the form of microbial metabolites which are extremely energy efficient, and they begin storing surplus energy in the form of lipids.


Plants develop increased resistance to all of the airborne fungal and bacterial pathogens such as downy mildew, powdery mildew, late blight, fire blight, rust, bacterial speck, and bacterial spot which land on the leaf surface and release pectolytic enzymes, because the waxes and oils on the leaf surface serve as a shield to prevent the enzymes from working.

Plants require a very aggressive plant microbiome in the rhizosphere to begin absorbing the majority of their nutrition in the form of microbial metabolites to reach this stage of health.

Level 4: Increased Plant Secondary Metabolite Synthesis


The plant’s immune pathways (SAR and ISR) are triggered by microbes in the plant’s microbiome, both in the rhizosphere and the phyllosphere or by other immune triggers resulting in increased concentrations of immune compounds and plant secondary metabolites


Plants develop increased resistance to the entire beetle family including Japanese beetles, corn rootworm beetles, squash bugs, Colorado potato beetles, cucumber beetles, and marmorated stink bugs, nematodes such as root rot nematodes, and viruses

Plants require the correct microbes in the plant microbiome to trigger the immune response to reach this stage of health.

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