BioFarming: the Middle Ground

Editor’s note: This is the last article in a three-part series to appear in the Legacy on drought and other challenges farmers face that can be mitigated through a nutrition-based management approach. Our primary contributors to this series are: Dr. Thomas T. Yamashita (“Dr. Tom”) has a Ph.D. in plant pathology and over 30 years of research and experience on the topic and Duncan Smith, Agricultural Scientist at Sunburst Plant Disease Clinic, Inc.

California is underutilized for food production due to urbanization and lack of water allocation to grow food given its prime climate and infrastructure.  A stable, peaceful society requires a healthy diverse food supply of fruits, vegetables, and nuts – all grown in high quality California soils.  California produces the diversity of food people need to be healthy, but the healthiest foods entail the use of fewer pesticides. Fewer pesticides commonly come from organic production and genetically modified food.

However, organic production produces far less product yield than conventional production, can be cost-prohibitive to the consumer, and has health risks. Recent outbreaks of Salmonella and E. Coli have been sourced to organic produce production. The industry is doing all it can to prevent future outbreaks and the current systems has many checks along the way for prevention, but alas the risks remain. Unfortunately, organic production alone will not yield the amounts of food needed to provide our growing population the fruits and vegetables necessary for a high quality and healthy lifestyle.

At the other end of the spectrum, the drawback of conventional farming production is the use of chemicals, such as pesticides, to increase production yields to meet demand. However, conventional agriculture has many tools in the use of mineral nutrition products and pest control measures which organic producers are not allowed to use.

In summary, organic production meets the desires by many consumers to buy food produced with no chemicals and conventional farming methods meets the demand to grow enough food to feed our growing population and global markets. But is there a way to produce the highest quality food, at the highest possible yield while using far less pesticides?

This is a serious dilemma facing agriculture today when you compound the problem with drought and sustainability issues of soil and water quality. Along with preserving farmland and water for farms to grow healthy, nutritious food, the agricultural community needs to produce more safe and sustainable food per acre than ever in history. Remember, our population is still exploding!

If society relied on all organic production we would run the risk of not having healthy food for everyone to eat. If we continue to rely on only conventional farming methods we run the risk of further degradation of soils and the market is calling for less pesticide use. In California, with the threat of less farmland to meet the needs of a growing population, it then follows: How will we produce more food on less land, with higher quality?

There is another way to farm that can meet societies demand for nutritious and healthy food. It is called “BioFarming” also known as Compensatory Balanced Nutrition (CBN). This approach implements advanced nutrition strategies to grow more food on less ground with less pesticides and less risk of disease outbreak.

BioFarming/CBN is the strategy of creating a healthy plant to ward off pests and disease and drive yields beyond what was thought.  In BioFarming, elevating plant physiology is primary versus the use of conventional pesticides.  This strategy entails promoting unnaturally high microbial activity, balancing soil chemistry, superior foliar nutrition, feeding the plant over feeding the soil, and counter punching stress events with advanced plant nutrition techniques.

It can be likened to strengthening a humans’ own immune system to ward off disease or the effects of stress. A farmer can begin to transition to this style of farming by first ensuring that he/she is focusing on all factors within their control. For example, they cannot control location or water availability, but there are many other factors they can.

More directly, some initial steps a farmer can take include: Implement balance in fertilizer applications and follow a crops mineral use curves; Increment fertility as much as possible.  In the case of perennial crops, apply additional minerals with balance incrementation to support not only the current seasons crop but next year’s crop.; Choose fungicides wisely and adopt the mindset that plant nutrition has a strong correlation to disease incidence. Many fungicides have a negative impact on plant physiology. Like humans when our physiology is compromised, that’s when we catch a cold.  When a plant is not operating at an elevated physiology, disease incidence increases.  This is especially true of diseases like Botryosphaeria.; “Counter Punch” stress events with mineral and carbohydrate based nutrition.  Heat or temperatures greater than 95 degrees denatures enzymes which ruin the most famous reaction in the world, photosynthesis.  In the case of heat stress calcium and sulfur are critical. Also, minor and more exotic minerals, those minerals on the periodic table but not associated with crop production like selenium, cadmium, nickel, etc., stabilize the reactions so they continue operating during heat waves.

If farmers adopted more complexity to their plant nutrition it would ensure a more consistent supply of local food even when bloom or planting weather was not ideal for bumper crop.  It also adds insurance to outbreaks of epidemic plant disease.

Additionally, the increased microbial activity aids significantly in cleaning the soils of toxic compounds (including pesticides and petroleum based products), which would otherwise be leached into ground water or taken up and concentrated in the plants we eat.

Often times, the middle ground has the best of both worlds. Possibly, BioFarming is the wave of the future of crop production in California?