Apr 14, 2018
In this episode, I had an
awesome time interviewing Dr. Michael McNeill, who is an agronomic
consultant with several degrees in soil fertility, plant
physiology, and quantitative genetics. We discuss how fertility and
genetics impact plant response to disease invasion, what causes the
suppression of soil health, Michael’s experience quickly
regenerating soil, how farming has changed since the green
revolution, and how to develop a plant profile that protects
Mentioned In This Episode:
N. A. Krasil'nikov SOIL MICROORGANISMS AND HIGHER
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Podcast, Episode 3 Timestamps:
4:10 - Michael’s
- Michael’s seen the transition of his farm going
from all horses, to the GPS guided tractors they use
sees a need to bring back certain aspects of the type of farming he
learned from his grandfather, especially In terms of improving soil
health and maintaining soil fertility.
- Michael’s operation has gone completely
- Around 42,000 acres of organic crops in
Michael’s area, with farmers ranging from 320 acres to 15,000 acres
of organic area.
6:50 - Michael’s professional
- Michael left the farm for a few years for a
degree at Iowa State University, majoring in agronomy for a B.S.
degree in soils and soil fertility. Michael has a masters degree in
plant physiology, and a PhD in quantitative genetics.
university, Michael studied the impact of diseases as weapons and
how to defend crops against diseases.
- Michael learned about how fertility and
genetics can create environments that can defend against pathogenic
- Michael had experimented with GMO’s and moving
genes from different species into plants, which he chose to step
away from. This lead to focus on a quantitative genetic approach,
and more into soil fertility and health.
- Michael has moved into agricultural consulting
11:00 - What is the scope of
of Michael’s work is working with soil health and soil
- Michael says soil health never used to be a big
issue compared to today
11:30 - What has changed with
- Michael noticed plants in old photos looked
- Michael asked: what changed from back then? He
says it’s due to use of herbicides.
14:30 - Production dropping on
- Michael has observed a drop from 200 bushels
per acre to 70-80. Michael has seen this across many
16:10 - How do you go from
depressed yields to back up to larger numbers
- Michael advises to firstly figure out what is
going wrong, and stop doing that.
the food right” for the soil.
is no magic bullet solution
19:00 - What is causing the
suppression of soil health?
- Excessive tillage doesn’t seem to bother soil.
However, you must be careful with which tillage tool to
- Tillage does not cause the same damage as
herbicides, anhydrous ammonia, or high sulphur
21:40 - What are the damaging
effects of herbicides on soil health?
- Michael thinks we haven’t paid enough attention
to soil micronutrients
are important to plant growth, and easily chelated by
23:00 - What did Michael learn
from his grandfather would be relevant today?
rotation is lacking.
- Michael’s grandfather had to grow oats for his
horses, which are great at improving soil health.
- Michael says we should think of oats as an
excellent cover crop.
better fertilizer than animal manures.
26:00 - What did Michael learn
from studying diseases as a weapon?
- Diseases can continue to kill crops for many
- Antibiotic type products can strip soil
hard to fix contaminated soil. There is microbial life in soil that
will keep everything in balance, provided you can provide the right
29:40 - Is it possible to grow
crops that don’t have disease?
- Michael says yes! It’s very hard to get disease
to invade a perfectly healthy plant
unhealthy plant cannot convert sugars into complex sugars, which
disease can’t use.
33:10 - What has been something
that has puzzled Michael?
- Michael’s answer: The impact of lack of
micronutrients in crops.
- Minerals are being chelated inside the plant
tissue by herbicides
analysis correlates more with what plants are showing
36:20 - What are the things
Michael believes to be true that others don’t believe to be
- Michael believes soil can grow healthy and high
yielding plants with minimal additional inputs
37:10 - How to grow healthy,
high yield crops without fertilizer
- Creating healthy soil that allows plant roots
to go deep into the soil for access to needed minerals
40:10 - What does Michael not
believe to be true?
- Michael’s answer: Most people believe you have
to put a lot of inputs in to get decent yield. Most people don’t
understand how the system works and are trying to swim
41:20 - What technology or ideas
is Michael excited about?
involvement in food production
- Wasting too much good soil
42:10 - Where is the biggest
opportunity in agriculture?
- Growers that are looking to improve
sustainability of their operations
43:00 - What is the one book
Michael would recommend for growers?
- Mineral Nutrition and Plant Disease - Lawrence
E. Datnoff, Don M. Huber, Wade H. Elmer
relating to microbial life in soil
45:20 - What is the one action
Michael recommend growers take?
poisoning the soil”
- Transitioning vs. stopping all at
- Michael has had total success with other
farmers implementing this
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