I feel this article should be read by every student (because they are our future), every farmer (because they are in charge of our vast farm lands), every agricultural student (because they are the future of our farming areas), and most importantly, by every consumer (because we feel that there is a lot of confusion about just what we should be growing, how we should be growing it, and finally, what we should be eating.
Whilst this article is written about the United States, it applies equally to Australia.
CONNECTING THE DOTS OF HUMAN NUTRITION LEADS BACK TO THE FARM AND IT’S SOIL.
By Bob Kinkead, who has practiced food, animal medicine in Central Missouri for 30 years.
When we were kids, we connected the dots of a puzzle to reveal a picture. There are many more dots than are covered here but my attempt is to give a general outline of our present condition in agriculture and solutions to our wrong headed thinking.
Now let’s connect some dots:
Dot 1. We are the most overfed and undernourished population to ever inhabit the earth.
Dot 2. We are this way because our food lacks the nutrients we need for good health and long lives.
Dot 3. Our food lacks these nutrients because (a) they have been leached out of the soil because (b) our farming practices have weakened or destroyed the microbial life in the soil.
Dot 4. Nature abhors bare ground. Why?
Dot 5. Bare soil versus soil with plant cover will be 10-20 degrees warmer on a hot summer day and 5-10 degrees cooler on a cold night.
Dot 6. This heat and cold kills soil microbes and/or drives them deep into the earth, especially the earthworms, and evaporation of moisture increases exponentially.
Dot 7. Bare soil erodes and compacts and absorbs much less water than soil with adequate plant growth and/or plant litter.
Dot 8. Commercial fertilizer (a) weakens and/or kills the soil microbes and (b) attempts to feed the plant imbalanced and possibly toxic nutrition.
Dot 9. Tillage of the soil weakens or destroys the mycorrhiza, this interferes with the plants’ ability to pick up nutrients from the soil.
Dot 10. Soil was and is forming by volcanic eruptions, grinding of rock by glacier movement, weathering (freeze, thaw and wind), and by fungal digestion of rock.
Dot 11. Lichen growing on rock is composed of two parts, fungal and algal. The fungal portion digests the rock to secure minerals but the fungus lacking chlorophyll cannot undergo photosynthesis, i.e. it cannot produce sugars.
The algae portion is green, has chlorophyll and by the process of photosynthesis, produces sugars, which it trades to the fungal portion for minerals. Thus, each part, fungal and algal having formed a symbiotic relationship, make up lichen.
Dot 12. This symbiotic relationship has gone on millions of years, building humus in the soil. The plants, through photosynthesis, produce sugar and the bacteria and fungal growth in the soil mine the nutrients (minerals) and trade for sugar.
Dot 13. Anything we do that interferes with this symbiotic relationship lessens the nutrient content of the food we consume.
Dot 14. Application of commercial fertilisers interferes with the balance of this relationship, as does tillage of any sort.
Dot 15. Ruminant animals also have a symbiotic relationship with the plants.
Dot 16. Mankind has destroyed millions of acres of productive grazing land by over grazing, and under stocking these animals.
Dot 17. One cow on five acres grazing all season, will kill thousands of plants, but one thousand cows on the same five acres for one day will not kill a single plant.
Dot 18. Ruminant animals, plants and soil organisms all develop together in one large symbiotic relationship.
Dot 19. How do the ruminant animals fit in this symbiotic relationship?
(a) When plants grow, they take CO2 from their surroundings and use the carbon through the photosynthesis in the production of sugar, starches, cellulose and plant structure.
(b) When the plant climaxes (seed production completed), the plant becomes dormant or dies and in the end, plants like animals, all die. This dead plant composed mostly of carbon, then slowly oxidises (burns), releasing the carbon in the form of CO2 back into the atmosphere.
(c) The dead or dying plant shades the ground, inhibiting future plant growth leading to bare ground.
(d) Ruminant animals in huge herds consume one third to one half of the plant and trample the remainder to the earth, leaving it as a food source for the oil micro flora. The ruminants also spread manure, urine, hair and saliva and trample these into the soil, adding more and diverse micro flora and nutrients to the soil.
Dot 20. The farmer and rancher is paid for bushels and kilos, not for the nutrient content of what they produce.
Dot 21. Our processing and preparations of food we eat removes or destroys many of the vitamins, minerals and proteins. The same applies to much of the food processed for our livestock and pets.
Dot 22. In our farming we have tried to bypass the microbes in the soil and feed the plants directly with man-made fertilizers, thus producing inferior nutrient deficient, disease susceptible crops.
Dot 23. With our livestock by:
(a) Overgrazing and under stocking, using continuous grazing, we have and are destroying the land, leading to desertification.
(b) Fattening, sometimes called finishing, our livestock in feed yards is like the plants trying to bypass the micro flora in the ruminant to produce protein.
(c) We have, and are, selecting genetics to marble the meat (scatter fat in the meat). Meat from grass finished ruminants contain the correct ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids, more 3 and much less 6. Grain fed animals contain much more 6 and less 3, thus we have taken beef, a perfect source of protein, altered it by nutrition to a very imperfect source of protein.
Dot 24. We crave salt, fat and sugar in our diets. Food processors know this and add one or all to our food. Don’t blame them, the more they add, the more we buy.
What a mess! Again, what can we do?
Dot 25. For the farmer who tills the soil: 1. Stop tillage. 2. Learn how to use and apply cover crops.
Stopping tillage decreases costs, stops destruction of the mycorrhiza and micro flora. Cover crops feed the soil organisms, conserve moisture, inhibit weeds, stop erosion from wind and rain, destroy hard pan, enhance the water cycle, improve structure and, the most important and true secret of the soil, increase the glomalin content. (Glomalin is the glue that holds the soil, gives it the good crumbly feel. Most importantly, glomalin provides the plants best nutrition. It is produced by mycorrhiza)
Dot 26. For the rancher, grazing a small acreage to a vast rangelands: 1. You must graze like nature did. Large numbers of ruminants (in our area, 100,000 to 200,000 pounds per acre) on a small acreage for a short period of time (never over two days. 12 hours or less preferable), coupled with a long rest period (in our area at least 30 to 60 days). It’s called mob grazing.
Dot 27. The food processor must learn that less is the best lesson. The less processed, the more nutritious. Whole foods did not get the name by chance; you need to learn to buy the products you process based on the nutrient content, not just kilos and bushels.
Dot 28. The consumer must learn to eat as close to nature as possible. Fresh is best. If not fresh, then frozen and last choice, canned. Cook as lightly as possible, only enough to make the food safe.
In agriculture, if you find one way superior to another, you can rest assured that it’s nature’s way. Food as produced, processed, distributed, marketed and prepared today, provides us with excess calories (starches, sugars and fats), and deficiencies of balanced proteins, vitamins and minerals.
In conclusion, the soil is not as deficient as it may seem. Our management of it and thus, food production is what has caused our problems. We have blocked and, in some cases, destroyed the symbiotic relationships that exist in nature.
I believe the micro flora, mainly the fungal part, are the only organisms that can process minerals correctly and provide them for the plant in a form the plant can use. The plant then manufactures and provides the minerals, vitamins, balanced protein and energy to our livestock and us.
We can consume vitamins, minerals and protein supplements, a few of these we can assimilate and use, most we cannot. Many nutrients we need, provided by the micro flora, from the soil to the plant for us, we probably don’t know exist or that we need them. All healthy life begins with healthy, functioning microbial activity in the soil.
I have come to the conclusion, after practicing food animal Veterinary Medicine for 30 plus years, there is no such thing as disease, there are only deficiencies and/or toxicities.
All life is symbiotic, that it works for the good of all. If we, mankind, go against the symbioses, we will, as a species, die out.