The relationship between plants and man has grown distant in the modern era of chemical treatments. Instead of observing, listening and understanding the language of his crops, man has instead resorted to spraying them with pesticides, suppressing plant immune systems. Spraying plants with chemicals might save a farmer time in the short term, but these broad measures overlook the underlying, individual plant nutrition problems.
For one Amish farmer, those problems almost cost him his 66-acre farm. His homestead, passed down through five generations, was on the verge of coming undone. His crops were plagued by fungus and pests that chemical pesticides couldn’t halt. In fact, the pesticides were perpetuating the problems in his plants, suppressing their natural immune systems while hiding the underlying problem of poor plant nutrition.
Farmers save their crops by ditching pesticides and focusing on plant nutrition
The Amish farmer, Samuel Zook, quickly sought help from another Amish farmer, John Kempf, who also saved his farm from demise. Kempf set the chemicals aside and dove into the research of botany, biology, chemistry and agronomy. Kempf, of Ohio, ultimately founded Advancing Eco Agriculture in 2006 to promote organic agriculture that goes beyond, integrating plant nutrition science. From his research, Kempf concluded, “The immune response in plants is dependent on well-balanced nutrition in much the same way as our own immune system.”
His intense study revealed that plants create a number of compounds that naturally repel intruders. By studying the sap of his plants, Kempf went on to discover plants’ individual nutrient deficiencies. This helped him understand what a plant was lacking, allowing him to introduce necessary trace minerals into the soil. He said that modern agriculture only focuses on large yields, using fertilizer that is high in some nutrients but lacking in many other trace minerals. Without the availability of full-spectrum trace minerals in the soil, the plants lack the tools needed to naturally ward off pests. Kempf now shares his methods with farms in North America, Europe, Africa, Hawaii and South America, promising higher-quality crops that taste much better and go beyond just being organic.
It was Kempf’s work that ultimately inspired Samuel Zook, who is now using Advancing Eco Agriculture‘s practices at his farm in Pennsylvania. He has witnessed an amazing turnaround in the natural health of his crops.
Farmers learn to replenish soil micronutrients, building plants’ immune systems
Zook, who used to just plant and spray, now observes and listens to his crops, responding to their individual needs. “Instead of trying to grow crops that are healthy with fungicides and pesticides, I started to grow crops that are healthy with nutrition,” he said. The greatest challenge in making the change was getting through the mental blocks. “That first summer for instance, we saw a lot of horn worms. Before that, I would have sprayed them right away, but this time I waited and a bunch of wasps came along and killed them. Once I saw that, I started getting really excited.”
When he stopped using the chemicals, he said farming got “much more fun.” For instance, he didn’t have to wait three to seven days after he sprayed his tomatoes. “The other thing is, when I used to mix these skull-and-cross-bones chemicals to put in my sprayer, I’d have to be suited up,” he said. His children now feel safe to enter the fields now. Growing is a more peaceful experience for his family now.
He learned to handle pests, like spider mites, by supplementing the soil with trace minerals like iodine and “a whole line of ultra-micronutrients.” By analyzing the sap of the plants, Zook can determine what is and isn’t being produced by the plant. One problem that attracts the bugs is excessive ammonium nitrates. “If ammonia builds up in the plants, it’s bug food, so we need to figure out a way to convert ammonia fast,” Zook said.
He continued, “I just spent two days with John [Kempf], and he came up with an enzyme cofactor which we’ll use to stimulate that ammonia conversion.”
Understanding the plants’ individual needs
In their beyond-organic farming practices, both Zook and Kempf have become more at one with the plants they are growing, using their sense of smell to detect the immune system health of the plants. Zook commented, “There’s a real science to walking through a field and pausing to feel what the plants are feeling. There’s a huge difference between walking in this field and walking in one that has had six fungicide applications. The plants just don’t radiate that same vitality.”
Zook said that fungicides actually suppress both the fungus and the plant, making the plant more susceptible to the disease again in the future. He concluded by mentioning how important it is to read the leaves. He showed that rippling of a leaf of one plant usually indicates excess nitrogen. Specific asymmetry in the leaves’ patterns might indicate zinc deficiency, whereas spots on another plant might show a phosphorus deficiency.
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