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Regenerative Agriculture Specialization (RAS)

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Understanding Biological Interactions

 
     
  Before describing the different products, we need to understand the complexity of how nature functions. If we look at a natural forest, untouched by humans, we find amazing levels of synergy between literally thousands, possibly millions, of different species. This environment functions in perfect harmony without any chemical or fertilizer additions and will have done so for millions of years. Apart from adaption to the specific environment there are other mechanisms at play.  
 
 
 
 
 
  Quorum Sensing  
 
  Life as we know it would not exist without microbes. But microbes cannot act alone. They behave both competitively and cooperatively by communicating through an array of chemical signals. Further, many actions performed by microbes require that their populations first reach a certain critical mass. When there are only a few individuals, their behaviour is different to when there are many. Research into density-dependent coordinated behaviour, termed ‘quorum sensing’, has increased exponentially in recent years.  
 
 
 
 
 
  The resistance of plant communities to pests and diseases and tolerance to drought, frost and nutrient deficiencies are strongly influenced by both quorum sensing (QS) and quorum quenching (QQ) in the soil microbiome. QS and QQ also help explain how diverse plant communities, function more effectively than monocultures. Researchers have long known there's more than physical complementarity involved, but until recently, have not been able to explain how the soil microbial community transforms to a coordinated 'super-organism' once a tipping point, or threshold, in microbial populations has been reached.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
  When we understand this, we realise how overuse of chemicals affects beneficial organisms, especially fungi like Trichoderma, reducing their numbers to below this critical mass, thus rendering them ineffective. As we wean ourselves off chemicals, we allow organisms to re-establish to reach the critical mass which enables them, once again, to play a significant role in plant function as well as pest and disease suppression. With time, we see a cumulative effect, leading progressively to more beneficial organisms being able to play their important roles. This explains why farmers who have adopted the biological route, experience substantially reduced input costs while increasing yield and quality of their produce.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  Mycorrhizae - The Co-ordinator  
 
  Mycorrhizae form symbiotic relationships with plants and microbes They act as both a communication network (through their hyphae) and “trader”. In 1m2 of biologically active soil there can be up to 10 000 km of hyphae connecting the roots of different plant species with each other as well as the numerous micro-organisms. Using this ‘network’ they trade sugars from plant roots in exchange for nutrients, water, salt and heavy metal buffering and protection from micro-organisms. A good network can be hectares in extent. The better the trade the better all three (plant, microbe and mycorrhiza) grow which results in substantial sequestration of carbon into our soils, improving structure, nutrient status and soil health. However, when we apply herbicides, fungicides and pesticides many species can be eradicated, disrupting the symbiosis. This leads to the breakdown of the mycorrhizal system and quorum sensing along with all their benefits. Our aim is to reignite these important systems by using appropriate biological products and practices.  
 
 
 
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
    Key groups of products and practices are discussed below.  
     
   

1. Beneficial Microbes

 
     
    Over the past 30 years our knowledge of microbes and how they interact has enabled us to identify combinations that best help re-establish our soil biology. In a recent marine experiment, where 15 species were monitored, they found that when they removed the starfish, only 8 species remained. The same applies to microbial populations in our soils when we kill their “starfish”. Very often the “starfish” can’t be replaced, but we can supply surrogates capable of carrying out similar functions. Products we have access to contain “surrogates” known to work synergistically to help fill the gaps left when various beneficial species are eradicated. More recently technologies have been developed giving these microbes high levels of tolerance to agrochemicals and stresses like temperature and UV. This has dramatically increased their efficacy and ease of application. The aim of these combinations is to create a desirable climate for the proliferation of beneficial microbe populations adapted to the soils and climate of the area. This often results in the re-establishment of the real “starfish” enabling us to progressively wean ourselves off the damaging agrochemicals.  
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
   

2. Charged Biochar

 
     
    In a marine environment we find 25 x more fish living in reefs. The reason being that the smaller species have a combination of:  
     
    Refuge to hide from predators  
     
    Abundant food  
     
    Symbiotic interactions  
     
    The use of charged biochar enables us to establish microbial reefs in our soils.  
     
    1 gram of biochar has a 250 m˛ surface area making it an ideal refuge for microbes.  
     
    Addition of highly decomposed Elliotti pine sawdust supplies an abundance of nutrient rich humates to feed the microbes.  
     
    Addition of earthworm castings derived from selected materials supplies numerous nutrients and microbes.  
     
    Further addition of chemical and stress tolerant microbes enables the establishment of known beneficial microbes to optimise symbiosis.  
       
    The creation of these microbial reefs enables faster re-establishment and proliferation of microbes, and a reduction in application rates of beneficial microbes.  
     
       
   

3. By-products of Fermentation

 
     
    Fermented products are well known for their health benefits. This includes products like sauerkraut, beer, apple cider vinegar, wines, yoghurt and silage. Fermentation results in the production of numerous metabolites which play important roles as substrates and activators of gene expression. By adding key nutrients in the fermentation process, combined with applied stresses, we produce products which enhance vigour and stress tolerance to both plants and animals to which they are fed or applied. The results we are seeing from these products are exceptional and often enhance the effect of other applied biological products further enabling reductions in application rates. A 1+1=3 scenario.  
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
       
   

4. Biological Regulators and Activators

 
     
    Seaweed extracts, carbo chelates as well as many fermentation products fall into this category. The benefits of seaweed have been known for centuries. Apart from a wide, well balanced range of essential nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, seaweed plays important roles in cell division and root development. When cells are attacked by pest or disease the cell wall breaks down releasing cell sap. This alerts the surrounding cells to the attack which activates their immune system. When applying a seaweed extract, it has similar properties to cell sap which tricks the plant into thinking it’s being attacked which activates its immune system giving added protection to the plant. Seaweed extracts are a standard additive to many of our products.  
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
       
   

5. Composts, Manures, Mulches and Organic Fertilizers

 
     
    We don’t market these products yet, but they play important roles in the re-establishment of healthy soil biology. Fermentation is often part of the manufacturing process which further adds to their value.  
     
     
       
   

6. Cover Crops

 
     
    Multispecies cover crops compliment microbial reefs by providing an environment conducive to the proliferation of beneficial insects and birds. This plays an important role in pest control. We have seen excellent results when planting cover crops around the edges of lands as well as in them interrow of orchards for this purpose. Different plants have root systems with unique characteristics. These roots attract their own combinations of beneficial microbes.  
     
     
     
     
     
    By planting multiple species together, we increase the diversity in the soil biome. The plant and microbe species interact further through mycorrhizal connections creating further synergies. Shaded clovers, for example, supply taller plants with nitrogen in exchange for photosynthates.  
     
     
     
    Mycorrhiza need access to living plants for survival. As soon as land lies bare, the mycorrhizal network breaks down. Planting cover crops enables mycorrhizal populations to continue to function.  
     
     
       
   

7. The Animal Factor

 
     
    In nature animals play important roles in both nutrient and microbe cycling. For example, livestock when used to graze cover crops in orchards, fertilise the soil with their dung and urine. When used for short durations at high density they also trample cover crops to create a mulch which creates an ideal environment for microbes and earthworms to thrive. In addition, this results in increased water infiltration and retention to make maximum utilisation of rainfall. Most farmers don’t manage livestock properly which often leads to land degradation. Use of livestock and cover crops also creates an extra income stream while benefitting the soil biome. The healthy biome enables us to minimise and often negate the use of both agrochemicals and chemical fertilizers.