Vertical Menu Allowance


(Part One)


          So what happens to your soils when they are farmed industrially?  In particular, what happens to your field when you apply all the associated chemical inputs, including commercial fertilizers?  To answer this we need to look at the entire system, because fertilizer does not stand alone.  Every isolated practice or input affects the entire eco-system of your field because it’s all interconnected and works together synergistically.  Your entire soil system rises or falls together.  When you change one component all the others are automatically altered, for better or worse. 

          This page is split into two halves.  Part one here looks at the effects industrialized farming practices have on your field while part two looks at the effects of a more natural, largely chemical-free operation.  The content and concepts on this page will be much easier to understand if you read the Soil Biology and Soil Analysis pages first.  And as you start reading here, please bear two points in mind. The first is that this page can only be a generalized overview.  The principles discussed here apply universally to whatever we might grow, whether that be our garden, yard or cash crop, yet how they are practically worked out on each operation will be unique because each operation and soil type is unique.  

           And secondlythis page is not an attack on commercial growers!, though admittedly it is hard hitting.  Our intent is not to anger or insult, but help inform and encourage people to re-examine many things long taken for granted.  No one likes being told what they're doing is behind the times or harmful, so view it this way: we're offering viable, alternative solutions (in "part two" of this page).  We know things about soil and plant biology today our forbearers couldn't have dreamed of 70-80 years ago when our current "conventional" system got rolling.  Yet, at its core, the current system hasn't changed much to match these developments.  

          Sure, machines get bigger, we have better hybrids, computers, GPS and better 
efficiencies, etc., but for the most part it's still not about building soil health through cover crops, diversity, balancing the soil chemically and cultivating healthy soil biology.  Instead, it's about using agro-chemicals to beat everything into the dark ages except whatever crop one may be growing.  Yet these chemicals keep getting more and more toxic over time, despite assurances to the contrary.  Please read the Glyphosate page to see what we mean. The conventional system is still about treating symptoms, not causes.  Our practices needs to catch up with our scientific

          Most things have a place, including judicious chemical use (even though they always give as much as they take).  Commercial fertilizers can play a part if used wisely.  Nevertheless, chemical use always has consequences, and our focus here is on the biological consequences of the chemical model, which are almost always harmful.  These consequences cannot be divorced from their long-term economic and environmental ramifications.  We need to look at the big picture and take the long view. There is always more to learn and another way to slice the pie.  We're offering what more and more are considering to be a better way to slice that pie.  You’re free to disagree with us, but we only help ourselves by becoming better informed.  So this is a call for open minds in all camps.  


​Hard Truths About Industrialized Farming

          We’re going to start with a hypothetical best case scenario: a fresh, healthy field.  Most are not so fortunate.  Let’s pretend our hypothetical farmer here has access to virgin land.  He will clear cut and plow it under, then plant his crop and spread his chemical fertilizer and all the other inputs.  The first year will typically yield a great crop, but this is not just because chemical fertilizer was used!  It’s because this first year the soil’s microbial ecology is in much better condition than a field that has been commercially farmed for years. 

          A virgin field from partially forested land has undisturbed, diverse, and very high numbers of soil microbes.  It will have plentiful humus and organic matter.  The soil is rich in available nutrients, and the vast mass of the microbes themselves constitute a huge nutrient sink, keeping nutrients fixed in the soil and providing for all plant needs.  In essence, this first year the plants will get a double shot of fertilizer: both from healthy & natural soil fertility and also from the commercial fertilizer on top of that.  It’s no wonder yields are usually great with fresh fields.    

​Prep Work


          Our conventional farmer here decides to plow everything under and remove all brush, trees and natural hedgerows right to the edge of his field, because you can squeeze a few more corn plants in that way.  Of course plowing has a place, but it comes with its own set of costs as well.  If you can get away with not plowing, that is desirable.  When plowed 8 inches deep or more, the beneficial aerobic microbes that live in the top few inches are buried and deprived of oxygen.  This either greatly inhibits them or kills outright.  The deeper the plowing, the worse this effect will be.  In general, the aerobic microbes are beneficial and the anaerobic pathogenic, but there are always exceptions and everything has its place.  Plowing everything deep enough also stunts decomposition of organic matter and there is potential for some of its nutrient content to leach and be lost.  There are more benefits to plowing semi-shallow than plowing deep.  No-till is better yet in many ways if you can deal with weeds adequately, but most forms of tillage have a place depending on the conditions.  We offer some suggestions on weed control in the second part of this page. 

          A great loss the farmer just incurred by plowing everything under is that he broke up one of his greatest but most fragile assets: his mycorrhizal and other beneficial fungal networks.  Remember, nine out of ten soil microbes are beneficial.  Mycorrhizal fungi can effectively multiply a plants root surface area by several hundred percent, in addition to their many other benefits.  These fungi only live in symbiotic relationship with living plant roots.  Once you plow everything under and plant a couple seasons of annual crops minus any cover crops between seasons, you lose these fungi permanently.  Even with proper farming practice and conditions it can take many years for these fungi to re-establish as they are physically fragile and very sensitive to toxins.  Using the naked eye alone, the picture below of new conifers inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi gives an idea of how extensive these networks can be.  

​Ground Cover

          Now the farmer thoroughly cultivates his field to prepare a fine seed bed.  Okay, but with no ground cover, hedgerows, or wind-breaks his field is now very susceptible to wind erosion.  If he gets strong winds in dry conditions, before the crop is tall enough to anchor everything, he could end up watching tons of his most fertile topsoil, clay colloids and humus particles blow away.  This happens.  Remember how much prime topsoil was lost in the last century, primarily to mainstream agricultural plowing practices and lack of ground cover (think of the dustbowl conditions of the prairies in the 30’s).   

          Without a cover crop the soil is also susceptible to rain erosion.  In recent years we’ve seen massive trenches dug into fields with spring melt-off and flooding.  That’s more prime topsoil washed into lakes and oceans.  Farmers tend to downplay their topsoil losses, no doubt because we can’t directly compare today’s topsoil levels to those of 100 years ago.  Since today’s levels are all most have known they think them normal, but they are  a far cry from the levels that used to exist.  There used to be close to ten feet of rich black top soil on the prairies 100 years ago, for example.  That was before the current model of plowing everything under for mono-cropping became predominant.  In recent decades the rate of loss of top soil has vastly outstriped the rate at which it is replenished.  Such losses are unsustainable

​Sowing With Salt

          This farmer chose to use conventional chemical fertilizer, which is the norm today.  Once chemical fertilizers have been applied at the commonly recommended rates they give a quick (imbalanced) boost to the plant, but this comes at a cost.  Most petro-chemical fertilizers are acid salts.  There is confusion about salt in agriculture.  Salts come in many forms and many plant nutrients are in the form of mineral salts and are necessary, but in low concentrations.  

           The truth is, when found in higher than trace amounts many salts rapidly become toxic to soil and plant life.  Most synthetic fertilizers don’t just contain a lot of salt; they are salt (ammonium, chlorides, phosphates, etc).  Others break down into salt, like urea.  It's not just the amount of mineral salts in question either...the rate of absorption is just as important.  Plants need to assimilate and convert salts properly, without being overwhelmed.  Industrial fertilizers come to the plant in dissolved forms and huge amounts that are instantly drawn into the plant in a big rush.  This looks pretty when you see the fast initial growth, but it creates other internal problems and imbalances the plant has to deal with.  Natural systems, if the field is healthy, feed plants through microbe driven nutrient cycling.  This provides what they need at much healthier and more balanced rates.  

           Excess salts taken up by the roots too quickly will harm plants through osmotic influences and also ionic toxicities.  The former can dehydrate your plants and reduce water use efficiency, and the plant will have to expend energy synthesizing sugars and other organic compounds to bring cellular solute levels back to a healthy level relative to its environment.  This results in yield drag.  Ionic toxicity can manifest as burnt plants or worse, and both cost you.  If you only use small amounts of chemical fertilizers natural systems can assimilate and use them much more easily and efficiently and you can greatly mitigate damage, but you’re still adding another stressor to the system.  And, due to the physical attributes of these fertilizers, when the right conditions exist a large percentage can leach or volatilize before they can do your plants any good at all.  It often turns into a "feast or famine" scenario with these products that can be difficult to manage.  

          Unfortunately, many don't moderate usage of these products when commodity prices are high and that elusive bumper crop is calling out with its siren voice.  You should never just “give it” with conventional fertilizers because you'll pay for it later.  Large amounts of salt-based fertilizer destroy soil microbes and harm plants.  Thankfully AGGRAND contains virtually no salt: most products contain 0% and some are under 1% content.  This is good for everyone and especially so for heavily irrigated land or fields with salt issues. 

​More Details...

          Chemical fertilizers also cause damage in other ways, especially heavy applications.  Of course you get major pollution issues with chemical run-off: be sure to read the Environmental Impact page.  Chemical nitrogen sources in particular are extremely mobile and volatile, often disappearing into the water table or atmosphere before it can be used by plants.  Some farmers compensate for this by putting down extra, just to be safe, but this compounds issues and eats into profits. 

          Commercial nitrogen applications have the deleterious side-effect of stealing calcium away from your soil as the nitrogen leaves.  We can’t overstate how harmful this is.  Many fields these days are quite calcium deficient.  Some are severely deficient.  Calcium is an extremely important plant nutrient and if it’s deficient you’ll have trouble all around.  And the nitrogen-calcium issue gets worse…see the Soil Analysis page for more detail. 

          When conventional fertilizers (and other agro chemicals) stunt or destroy soil biology you will begin to develop several issues simultaneously, even when not visible to the eye.  Among these are compacted ground, diminished water drainage and water-holding capacity, greater chance of drought stress and a heightened predisposition to greater disease and pathogen attack.  All of these are directly related to the health of the biology in the soil, which chemical fertilizers and other toxic inputs drastically affect.  All these problems are further compounded by the failure of many to keep organic matter levels high in their soils, which is vital!  These issues don’t all hit at once, but build after years of continuous and stacking chemical application and conventional practice.  More on this later. 

​To Be, or Not To Be...A Chemical Addict

          Chemical fertilizers and most other Ag inputs destroy your soil’s natural systems of fertility; the Soil Biology page explains this.  The take-home implication for this is that they will then always leave your soil more dependent on further chemical fertilizer inputs.  Though it starts simply enough when soil health is good, they will eventually make an addict of your field, garden or yard, with all the ravages that come in time with any chemical addiction.  There is no other way to describe this. 

          The more chemical fertilizers and inputs you use, the more beat-up and depleted your soil becomes, which then requires ever heavier fertilizer doses each time around if you want the same results, which beats up your soil even more, etc. It's a vicious cycle.  Once on this treadmill it’s hard to get off because it can take years for natural systems of fertility to fully recover once all perennial growth and cover crops are removed, organic matter is reduced and soil biology largely eradicated.  Many want healthier fields but not so many are willing to go through the transition stage.  That is unfortunate.  Current trends and economic conditions are not sustainable and will not last forever.  It's preferable to take some licks voluntarily now than wait and be forced to take a real beating later!  Using smaller quantities of chemical fertilizer and spray inputs can partially mitigate this damage, and lessen this chemical addiction, but your results will still be compromised once natural systems have been compromised. 

          With AGGRAND the *opposite* is true.  Over time you will grow less dependent on fertilizer inputs, including AGGRAND.  This is because our products stimulate soil biology and its ability to naturally cycle nutrients and provide its own fertility.  Your need for fertilizer will not disappear altogether, especially with heavy feeders like corn, for instance.  Growers will likely always need fertilizer, just as we will always need food, though there are exceptions.  The article: Diversity is King.pdf, is a good example of such an exception, but is possible only through many years of natural and holistic practice.  In general, however, the need for outside fertility will diminish as you continue to improve your fields naturally.  The biggest challenge you will likely face in not using chemical fertilizers is how to maintain high nitrogen levels, though there are ways to help with that.  We have our soil analyzed every year and overall its fertilizer needs continue to diminish annually as they work towards a plateau of sorts.  We still apply maintenance amounts to the soil every spring and a few foliar applications throughout the growing season.  


​Seeds of Dissent

          Now the farmer plants his seed.  Most commercial seeds are treated with a cocktail of chemicals.  You should see the warning labels on some of these commercial seed bags!  Why do they treat them with so many poisons?  You won’t hear many open admissions to this in the industry, but on the whole industrially grown crops are slowly growing more and more susceptible to stresses, pathogens and pests as soil conditions steadily degrade.  Rescue chemistry is needed by them now more than ever.  The problem is, almost all of it is highly toxic. 

          Read some of the big farming magazines and you will see this confirmed indirectly.  Scores of ads for expensive chemicals coming to market each year testify to this, as do booming chemical sales.  Or consider all the editorials by the agronomic experts in these publications, all of them telling you how important it is to stay on top of this or that spray regime to lick this or that problem.  It can all be very confusing to people who don’t understand the underlying causes…so they just go with what their local agronomist and chemical salespeople tell them.  But that’s just it: underlying causes are rarely acknowledged or dealt with by the local agronomist.  Current agro chemicals only deal with the symptoms and actually exacerbate the underlying causes that predispose plants to these problems in the first place.  You will not hear this from your typical Ag extension though.    

          The majority of seeds are treated with fungicides, which hit any remaining fungi the plow and the salt-based fertilizer didn’t get.  This further damages your soil’s health.  Fungi and bacteria naturally hold each other in check in the soil, so with little or no biologic controls present certain pathogenic bacteria can multiply excessively.  Seeds are also treated with bactericides “just to be safe,” which hit any remaining bacteria (both “good” and “bad!”) your chemical fertilizer didn’t damage.  This further compromises your soil’s health. 

          Seed is usually treated with pesticides too.  Some of them are quite nasty, like neonicotinoids: pesticides derived from the tobacco industry.  Neonicotinoids are in a class of pesticides known as systemics, which means they cannot be washed off the plants they are sprayed on, but rather are incorporated directly into those plants.  They accumulate in meristematic tissue, in new root and shoot growth, and in the flower, fruit and seeds, which are then ingested by pollinators and end consumers like us.  Many people who grew up enjoying apples, peaches and other stone fruit have developed allergic reactions to them in the last 10-15 years, with burning and itching in their mouths and throat. 

          Many of these chemicals, but especially glyphosate and the systemic pesticides, are contributors to the widespread destruction of amphibian and marine life & beneficial pollinators, and are being banned around the world.  It was only about 20 years ago that monarch butterfly and honeybee populations across the world started shifting from healthy to dire, corresponding with the introduction of the agro-chemicals currently in use.  This connection has now been carefully established worldwide and the only people who continue to deny and obfuscate this connection are those in the chemical industry.  The monarchs are now creeping towards extinction and we have all heard about the serious nature of bee colony collapse disorder these days.  These are only some of the more well-known examples of harm caused by these chemicals.  There are many more. 

          These seed treatments help fight the disease and pest problems that often hit commercial mono crops, sure.  For a while.  They also have the cumulative effect of damaging everything else in your field and the surrounding environment and further predisposing your plants to those very diseases you’re trying to fight by damaging soil health. 

          Currently two huge chemical companies (which own all the big seed companies) own the vast majority of the commercial seed market, and are well on their way to complete control of the seed supply.  This is very bad for biodiversity, genetic & environmental health, competition in the marketplace and our wallets.  It threatens food security & sovereignty, and is only good for the big companies.  Seeds are life!  Don't allow yourself to be put in the position of losing all control over them.  

           There is a strong case to be made for getting a hold of quality conventional seed while you still can, and then saving and using your own seed every year, especially for cash croppers.  You will be free of the seed (chemical) companies and their constricting patent laws and technology agreements.  You'll save money.  You can avoid the use of many or all of toxic treatments normally applied to them.  And seed used through successive generations on your operation will adapt to your environment far better than any seed shipped in from afar each year.  Epigenetic factors will begin to play a big role in gene expression within a few generations and you will have a crop custom tailored to your unique location.  Self-sufficiency here would feel great, and you would regain the ability farmers of yore had: the ability to breed your own varieties.  Admittedly seed saving is something of a lost science today, and the whole issue of weed control becomes more prominent, but it was done before and can be done again. 

​The Importance of Genetic Diversity

           The gene pool must be kept diverse, which ensures health and the ability to adapt to every challenge.  Seed stock must not be reduced to a few patented varieties originating from narrow parentage!  We've lost 80-90% of the vegetable varieties that were available 100 years ago as a result of corporate streamlining.  Hybridization is fine, so long as we bear in mind there are losses and compromises associated with extreme hybridization.  The further you hybridize a line the more information is taken out of its gene pool; never the other way around.  The gene pool can only be manipulated so far before we come up against big complications. 

           This is why the Gros Michel banana has passed into extinction some 60 odd years ago, for exampleBy all accounts the Gros Michel was a larger, tougher and sweeter variety of banana that was grown and eaten worldwide to the exclusion of virtually all other varieties, until the middle of last century when it was swallowed up by a blight to which it had no resistance.  Other varieties of banana were resistant, but because the short-sighted banana industry deliberately grew only that one banana variety worldwide for profit’s sake, they almost lost it all when blight hit.  Thankfully there was a "wimpy" and "bland" banana variety that had resistance.  The banana we eat today came out of that survivor. 

          You'd think they would have learned their lesson with that scare, but it appears giant agro-corporations aren't very concerned about petty details like mass extinction events.  It appears the same fate may befall the Cavendish banana variety that's almost exclusively grown and consumed around the world today, because another form of blight has surfaced.  Already large areas of banana production have been affected.  Not to let a good crisis to go waste, the bio-tech industry is hard at work on an engineered (GM) banana to "fix" the problem, but if the full genetic diversity of the banana "kind" with it's innate resistance had been kept intact in the first place this likely would not be the crisis it is today.  

       This is one reason why diversity is so important.  It maintains genetic stock.  Hybridization is fine, but radical hybridization; breeding down the same line over and over for only a few select traits like yield, for example, impoverishes a plant's gene pool and makes it weaker in other ways.  The same impoverishment is beginning to afflict commercial seeds offered by the giant seed corporations today, who are trying to narrow all crop types down to just a relative few (patented) varieties because it's more profitable for them.  Their profits come at our loss. 


Seasonal Sprays
(Herbicides, Fungicides, Bactericides & Pesticides)


          As the season progresses, this farmer is advised by his local agronomist to spray for problems even before they appear.  He’s told this is precautionary, and of course, perfectly safe!  Are they really?  These sprays are highly concentrated toxins and stack synergistically when mixed, leading to multiplied toxicity.  Agro chemicals take months, years or even decades to break down in the environment.  Many linger and accumulate in the soil and plants and bio-accumulate in the food chain, wreaking havoc on end-consumers.  They decimate soil biology and harm the ecosystem in multiple ways before ultimately degrading or entering the watershed where they do great harm to frogs, amphibians and marine life.  Frogs and amphibians are a “canary in the coal mine” currently on steady decline worldwide. 

          But these sprays sure take care of your crop problem right now!  That is, until the problem adapts in a few years.  Too bad “this season” seems to be as far as many look.  Of course growers need to make a living, but what needs to happen before more start taking the long view on the consequences of their actions?   Or is short-term profit all that matters? 

          Ever since copper acetoarsenite became available in the 1800’s, and later lead arsenate and similar products, up to DDT and our modern chemicals, the same mantra has been repeated over and over: “they’re perfectly safe.” 

          Are they kidding??
  Lead and arsenic, both long known as extremely damaging neuro-toxins all by themselves, are suddenly safe when stacked together and put on your garden just because the manufacturer or some gov’t agency said so?  To this day, high levels of lead and arsenic persist in soils all over the world after decades of use, which of course ends up in our food.  

          Remarkably, many are looking to DDT again for help, which speaks volumes about the long-term ineffectiveness of synthesized chemical insecticides.  As glyphosate rapidly loses its effectiveness across N.A, what is the industry’s proposed fix?  A return to sanity?  Hardly.  Their fix is to develop even more virulent sprays, where multiple toxins are stacked, "just to make sure."  So very soon we won't just have Round-Up, but we'll get something like Round-Up stacked with one of the two main chemicals used in Agent Orange, namely, 2,4-D, which is itself often contaminated with highly toxic dioxins.  Or we'll get it stacked with Dicamba, another potent chlorine based herbicide.  Etc.  Don't be alarmed though: our gov't agencies have *assured us* they're perfectly safe.  

          Do you want your children ingesting Round-Up and 2,4-D?  Do you want it sprayed all over our continent and fed to our feed-stock?  Research what Agent Orange did to the Vietnamese unfortunate enough to be there at the time, and remember, it didn't have glyphosate mixed in with it then either.  Despite all the industry promises and propaganda, what will likely happen again is that in a few years time we will have super weeds resistant not just to glyphosate but also these other chemicals, and then they'll need another round even more toxic sprays, etc.  When does it end? 

          Friend, none of these products are environmentally benign as claimed, but they are big business.  They’re extremely concentrated toxins specifically designed to kill insects, plants and microbes en masse.  How can they be anything other than deleterious to health?  Fundamentally these products contribute to the very problems they are made to treat, because they destroy the soil’s biology & health.  Nevertheless, our farmer here listened to his fellows and the local agronomist and applied several of these sprays.  In so doing he pushed the chemical treadmill further along.  

          There is one chemical in particular, glyphosate, which is so widely used and so harmful, though many still seem to think it's harmless!, that it deserves it's own treatment.  To this effect we've written up a separate glyphosate page to address this one chemical, and if you are a grower using it you will learn a thing or two that might change the way you manage your operation.          


​Closing Thoughts


          Obviously this farmer in our story here didn’t single-handedly destroy his field or the environment this first year.  Many family farms and growers use chemical means & methodologies on a limited scale year after year, which mitigates the damage done so that naturally resilient soil biology can partially or even largely recover between applications.  Such growers will undoubtedly continue to operate that way for many more years with descent results, although their operations will always be limited and unable to reach their full potential.  Our hypothetical farmer, however, did a lot of damage to his field’s ecosystem via heavy chemical use.  

          Part of the problem lies in the practice of mono cropping vast tracts of land with only one or two crop types year after year.  There is no diversity.  This sets the farmer up for deficiencies and pest problems, despite the economies of scale he can enjoy by doing this.  Another part of the problem also lies in the fact that many growers don’t view their fields or gardens as eco-systems but merely plots of inert dirt that simply exist to hold their plants up.  They’re not viewed as living systems.  Your soil must be seen as alive and handled accordingly!  Forget what the local Ag salesman says: poisons can never be beneficial to living eco-systems because they’re specifically designed to kill a part of that system, which then harms every other part.  

          While this first year was good because things were fresh, this field will grow progressively worse if things continue the same way each year, just as so many other similar operations have declined.  If he is feeding livestock with these chemically sprayed GM crops they will begin to suffer from more and various complications and health issues, which are increasingly being documented.  The more chemically intensively his operation the harder things will be for his soil to recover, esp. if he doesn't give the biology a breather between applications The one thing we cannot lose is our most important asset: living, healthy, balanced soils.     

          The model here is like a mouse wheel.  It’s easy to get on but very hard to get off once you’re running with it.  It leaves growers feeling trapped and with fewer cropping and management options in terms of crop rotation, residual spray effects, etc.  It destroys bio-diversity and make the soil and what it grows nutritionally depleted, weaker and ever more addicted to toxic rescue chemistry and synthetic fertilizer inputs.  This isn't idle theory; it’s being seen across N. A. and the world as industrialized production methods become ever more aggressive and entrenched in today’s cropping.  Some reading here may know this from personal experience. 

          Again, the point is not to anger conventional growers, many of whom are hard working people whose operations span generations, and who have no desire to damage the environment.  Our hat is off to growers who do the best they can in a less than ideal system and still get good results.  The point is, we hope to encourage you re-examine current agricultural methods and assumptions that have been taken for granted for decades. 

           There are always options; always more than one way to slice the pie, especially as advancements keep coming.  Natural practices and products like AGGRAND Natural Fertilizers will not make your weed problem or work go away.  However, they do offer a viable, healthy and highly sustainable alternative to intensive industrialized farming.  Actually, they're better than sustainable: they're regenerative.  To see how, please proceed to the conclusion of the matter in A Tale of Two Fields--Part Two.



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