Microbes are at the heart of sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere into Agricultural Lands. Current farming practices are highly antagonistic to the soil’s microbes and the microbial biomass they produce, therefore soil function, the ability to cycle carbon, water, and nutrients is diminished over time. This is easily measured by proxy through determining the soils SOM (soil organic matter), or SOC (soil organic carbon) levels.
The SOM levels in healthy soil should be in the 5% – 7% range, ideally. However, most farmland today is in a Depleted State. That is less than 3% SOM and much of that is in a Severely Depleted State less than 1.5% SOM.
How did this happen and why is it a problem?
Current farm management practices are antagonistic to the soils microbial biomass which declines over time as measured by the reduction in SOM levels. This means the soil has lost its ability to cycle carbon, salinity accumulates requiring more water to grow a crop, and nutrient uptake is diminished, plus other negative impacts. The problem is that the soil has lost its sustainability and management must rely upon finite crop inputs to produce high yields. However today, the costs of crop inputs are volatile and generally increasing, while crops are more susceptible to stresses from extreme heat, drought conditions, insect pressures, and diseases.
Landowners of all types (residential, industrial, commercial landscape, small-farm, and commercial farm) are challenged with the same problem of depleted soils – the loss of sustainable plant productivity. This loss in turn threatens not only our consumptive behaviors and values, but also the adequacy of supply and ultimately the literal survival of humankind on Earth. All of this is occurring at a time when the world’s population is growing rapidly toward 9+ billion people by 2050 (Microbial Soil Reclamation, Adams, 2022).
Interestingly, there is growing recognition that AG Lands can provide the most cost effective and efficient means of re-balancing the CO2 and other GHG’s in our atmosphere. The potential is high for AG Lands to return us to CO2 levels of less than 300 ppm from the current 420 ppm and therefore stabilize our climate. To accomplish this objective, we must restore soil health and function. However, the benefit of also restoring sustainability to our food supply, and ultimately reducing or eliminating the consumption of finite resources provides added benefits for AG Lands to transition to regenerative practices. Soil health, as measured by SOM/SOC levels, is the primary driver.
How do we solve the soil health problem?
The key is the restoration and protection of the soils’ microbial biomass. It is the microbes that work symbiotically with the plants to release crop nutrients, sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide in soil, use that carbon to aggregate soil particles which hold moisture, and create the ideal environment for plants to grow in a low stress environment. This is called Regenerative Agriculture as the soil annually accumulates carbon as measured by SOM/SOC levels.
What is Sequester® and how does it work to establish Regenerative Practices?
Sequester® rapidly restores the soils’ microbial biomass, in other words that engine that drives the train. Sequester® is formulated with the most powerful microbes known for restoring the soils’ microbial biomass and soil function – Cyanobacteria. Sequester includes Cyanoblend®, a proprietary combination of Cyanobacteria strains that fix nitrogen, solubilize phosphate, reduce salt concentrations, sequester carbon and much more. Cyanobacteria are nitrogen fixing photosynthetic Autotrophs. These microorganisms are credited by NASA for creating our atmosphere some 3.5 billion years ago, and likely to be part of future settlement on Mars.
When applied to soils at planting time, Sequester® has an immediate impact on restoring the soils’ microbial functionality. Management can reduce the amount of water applied by 30%, while reducing the amount of fertilizer applied by 30%, and salinity levels will drop by 30% or more. We call this the 30/30/30 Benefits from the 1st year of using Sequester® which makes it cost effective for the farming enterprise.
Sequester® is a non-toxic, naturally derived product that is safe for children, pets and labor. It is delivered in a concentrated form for a suggested application rate of 1 – 2 gallons per acre per year. Sequester® is registered as a soil amendment but can safely be applied directly to any crop by spray or irrigation to keep the microbial biomass active during the crop cycle.
Sequester is available to Commercial AG Producers in 2 x 2.5 gal Jugs, 135 gal Mini TOTES, and 275 gal TOTES. For Residential, Landscape, Garden, and Small Farm use in 8 oz or 16 oz Bottles, and 1-gal Jugs. Go to https://sequester.ag
The natural carbon cycle produces the ideal conditions for growing. CO2 is naturally in the atmosphere, and plants remove it when they photosynthesize and use it to build their biomass, also known as green matter. While alive plants exude from 25% to 40% of their photosynthate from their roots to feed microbes that populate the area in their root zone. When the plants die, or when animals die, they are returned to the soil. Microorganisms then also decompose the residue from animals and plants and can cause the release of GHGs like carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere but if the right populations of microbes are present much of the carbon sequestered in soil is stabilized and accumulate in the soil as soil organic matter
Decomposition is extremely important because all the nutrients the plants took up during their life are returned to the soil. Dr. Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Professor of Soil Biogeochemistry and Falasco Chair in Earth Sciences at the Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of California, Merced, uses the analogy of carbon storage in soil as a bank. There is a large amount of carbon that goes into the soil, and then a lot of it is used up. If we can save it before it escapes, we can build a bank of carbon in the soil.
In order to combat climate change, we need to slow the decomposition of carbon in the soil so there is more of it in the soil than out of it. Luckily, there are processes of land management to slow down this decomposition. They involve fixing the situations in which microbes cannot operate, many of which have been inadvertently caused by common agricultural practices.
Problems Caused By Traditional Agriculture
Soil is one of the most cost-effective and scalable ways to sequester carbon and combat climate change. Healthy soil is alive with microorganisms but for soil carbon to be stabilized they need to be the right kind of microbes. Unfortunately, due to many practices that have a negative effect on our soil, we’ve lost half of the biodiversity within it. Every year, an estimated $85 billion is lost due to soil loss in the US alone (Soil Health Institute).
Microbes cannot operate in the conditions caused by traditional agriculture.Two examples of practices that are causing these conditions are tillage and chemicals. Tillage breaks up microbial biomass and aerates the soil, which changes soil microbial ecology and results in stored carbondecomposing too quickly. Additionally, the mineralization of organic matter through chemical use causes the release of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. In fact, agricultural areas have much more nitrous oxide in their atmospheres than other areas do. While we do need to slow down the decomposition of carbon, we absolutely need this decomposition to continue at its natural rate. In this state, the cycle perfectly balances the atmospheric elements.
According to the Regenerative Agricultural Association of Southern Africa, (RegenAg SA), 50-75% of organic matter has been lost to industrial agricultural practices including tillage, the use of chemicals, and farming the same crops repeatedly over the last 100 years (RegenAg SA). In addition to serious financial losses, this reduction in soil results in slowed food production (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). The lack of nutrients in the soil also causes the same lack of nutrients in the food grown in it.
Today, more and more acres of farm and range land fall below the economic threshold to remain in business as crop input costs continue to rise along with production risks related to climate issues. Many commercial farmers are faced with the scarcity and rising cost of water, high fertilizer and chemical costs, and overall drought conditions. Farmers in other areas are facing conditions that are extremely wet with low permeability, shrinking windows for planting and harvest, and displacement of oxygen in the soil.
The use of fertilizers, while well-intentioned, results in the loss of the symbiotic relationships between plants and the microbes in the soil. Without those relationships, the food is not nearly as nutrient-rich as it would be naturally.
Reducing and ultimately stopping the addition of synthetic nitrogen into the soil is necessary for the future of our agricultural production. Adding nitrogen to the soil causes carbon to be released into the atmosphere rather than sequestering it, contributing to climate change and further depleting the soil’s function. It is not a sustainable solution, as more and more nitrogen is required every year, and less of it is absorbed by the plant. It ultimately contributes to pollution rather than agricultural productivity. In fact, approximately 3% of global emissions are greenhouse gas emissions from nitrogen fertilizers (RegenAg SA).
Many soils today don’t have enough organic matter. The carbon in organic matter holds water and supports many functions but also along with root exudates provides food for soil organisms. If we keep plowing, we keep releasing the carbon and limiting the food for the microbes. This is one of the most compelling reasons to reduce tillage significantly (Hobby Farmer).
Our adoption of industrialized agricultural practices focused on tillage, inorganic fertilizer and heavy dependence on synthetic chemicals have interfered with the essential components to ecologically balanced life on earth. Microbially depleted soils have contributed significantly to the accumulation of CO2, Nitrous Oxide, and Methane in the atmosphere. Most troubling is that depleted soils are a link to other problems such as the soil’s ability to hold moisture, form structure that allows for aeration and permeability, provide nutrients in their proper chemical form as well as participate in metabolic signaling with the crop genome – all of which are essential to optimize crop productivity and the optimal level of minerals and nutrients for human and animal nutrition as well. On top of all this, depleted soils are also subject to physical loss through wind and water erosion and unless these conditions are reversed, increasing desertificationof our agricultural lands is the inevitable result for much of the world (IPCC, Chapter 3).
Solutions Brought by Regenerative Agriculture
Restoring soil function is the objective of regenerative agriculture practices. This starts with the inoculation of the soil with beneficial microbes to restore the soil’s microbial biomass and its ecological balance. A typical gram of soil contains 1 billion microbial cells and as many as 50,000 different species which in turn provide the functionality that drives nutrient cycling, soil carbon dynamics, soil structure, and moisture retention. By improving the soil’s natural ecosystems, farmers can reduce dependency on nitrogen and ultimately reduce pollution while producing more nutritious foods.
It is critical that we implement regenerative agricultural practices. These practices improve soil health, reduce GHGs, reduce nutrient loss to our waterways, increase carbon sequestration, and increase biodiversity.
Because cyanobacteria are photosynthetic, they contribute to a large share of the total photosynthetic conversion of solar energy and assimilation of CO2. The CO2 fixation rate in cyanobacteria is about 10 – 15 times faster than terrestrial plants. Thus the use of biological agents is considered one of the effective approaches to reduce the concentration of atmospheric CO2, and thereby, to help in mitigation of possible global warming (Chisti 2007).
Benefits of Cover Crops
Implementing cover crops is important for improving soil resources and the ability to be more independent of synthetic fertilizers. No-till cover crops get the best results of all. Some advantages include:
- Having a living root system in the ground, which feeds soil microbes
- Protecting soil from erosion from extreme weather
- Significantly improving the soil’s ability to absorb water
- Facilitating livestock foraging
In most cases, this regenerative agriculture concept of cover crops can be accomplished by always having some forage or crop residue. Bare ground is detrimental to soil health because soil organic matter is lost. Carbon escapes and soil temperature may increase to a level that limits biological activity. Then the soil no longer has the right combination of microbes.
Reduced tillage in cropping systems can help keep a cover on the soil, keeping carbon in the ground and providing the microbes with their food source. And providing adequate recovery time for pastures—along with never grazing them down too short—ensures plenty of litter and protection against bare ground and erosion.
When livestock overgraze and the plants are short or some are dying and leaving bare ground, there isn’t enough vegetation to hold moisture when it rains. And it runs off.
Land that is well covered with a variety of vegetation has much more holding capacity. It absorbs water like a sponge (Hobby Farmer).
Today we are seeing a growing shift towards regenerative agricultural practices as commercial farmers are seeking to reverse the decline in soil health and gain the regenerative-agriculture-associated benefits of improved water use efficiency, nutrient cycling, reduced soil loss (erosion), drought, and climate-induced stress resilience.
The emergence of carbon markets benefiting from the synergistic activity between crops and the microbes in their root zone which work together to sequester carbon from the atmosphere is a significant economic incentive for the adoption of regenerative practices. Some predict that literally trillions of dollars will be paid to agricultural property owners over the next 30 years in order to meet the net-zero climate objectives which are being announced by multiple individuals, companies, and governments.
Regenerative Agriculture Steps
Regenerative Agriculture sequesters carbon in the ground to improve the ecosystems within the soil. Soil reclamation is necessary to improve the nutrient content of food. Regenerative farmer Gabe Brown has five principles for boosting soil function:
- Limited Disturbance- limiting tilling, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides so as to preserve the structure of the soil and the microbes within it
- Armour- working with cover crops to keep soil always covered
- Diversity- keeping multiple species of plants and animals on your land
- Living Roots- keep plants alive for as much of the year as possible to feed the soil’s biology
- Integrate Animals- Grazing and animal waste causes the plant to naturally engage in carbon sequestration and increases the plant’s productivity
Most regenerative practitioners do the following:
Inoculate with Beneficial Microbes:
Integrate Animals, Apply Compost or Microbial Soil Amendments – Grazing, compost, or microbial amendments introduce beneficial microbes to restore and rebalance the soil’s microbial biomass, the essential component of functional soil. Technically speaking, beneficial microbes are “heterotrophs” that consume root exudates, existing organic matter, and even each other, resulting in the release of the nutrient and mineral needs of plants (Cyanobacteria are autotrophs but have the unique ability to switch metabolic states and function as heterotrophs)
Feed the Microbes:
Living Plants– Keep the Soil Covered. Use cover crops between cash crops. Without photosynthesis, there is no energy to feed the soil microbiology and keep these populations growing and working. It’s important to keep the soil covered with photosynthetic biology (crops and/or Cyanobacteria) to sequester carbon for increased SOM. Diversity of cover crops, or multi-species cover crops, is encouraged, as this practice also supports greater microbial diversity.
Protect the Microbes:
Reduce Soil Disturbance – Use minimum or no-till practices so the soil’s microbial biomass remains structured, healthy, and functional. This step also includes reducing or eliminating chemical disturbances from fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that are antagonistic to the soil’s microbial biomass. When the microbial biomass is disturbed or negatively impacted, re-inoculate with beneficial microbes to fully restore soil function.
For maximum benefit, this strategy requires the planting of cover crops. However, cover crops may not be suitable for all farming enterprises and cropland, especially in arid areas where growers are concerned about the expense and availability of water resources. Cover crops also require seed (ideally multi-species) and equipment operations, which for many growers may be limited by economic concerns. Cyanobacteria are a good alternative in these situations as they can serve as micro-cover crops through their ability form living biocrusts on soil surfaces.
Microbial Soil Reclamation
Heavily degraded soils need to go a step further – reclamation. This process is defined as the restoration of soil function – the restoration of the soil’s microbial biomass, ecological balance and functionality rapidly creates top-soil, cycles carbon and nutrients, and aggregates soil particles to protect soil carbon, hold water and eliminate nutrient runoff and erosion.
Biodel AG manufactures Sequester®, a biological product containing the most powerful micro-organisms known for soil reclamation – Cyanobacteria. The key is that Cyanobacteria are nitrogen-fixing, photosynthetic “Autotrophs” with a unique ability to function as heterotrophs when living off root exudates deeper in soil profiles where sunlight is limited.
Sequester® is now available in the U.S.: https://sequester.ag/
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