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
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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
- He 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
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
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.
learned about how fertility and genetics can create environments
that can defend against pathogenic invasion.
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
has moved into agricultural consulting as well
11:00 - What is the scope of
- Most of
Michael’s work is working with soil health and soil
says soil health never used to be a big issue compared to
11:30 - What has changed with
noticed plants in old photos looked much healthier
asked: what changed from back then? He says it’s due to use of
14:30 - Production dropping on
has observed a drop from 200 bushels per acre to 70-80. Michael has
seen this across many farms.
16:10 - How do you go from
depressed yields to back up to larger numbers
advises to firstly figure out what is going wrong, and stop doing
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
does not cause the same damage as herbicides, anhydrous ammonia, or
high sulphur fertilizers
21:40 - What are the damaging
effects of herbicides on soil health?
thinks we haven’t paid enough attention to soil
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.
says we should think of oats as an excellent cover
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
- It 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?
says yes! It’s very hard to get disease to invade a perfectly
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
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
too much good soil
42:10 - Where is the biggest
opportunity in agriculture?
that are looking to improve sustainability of their
43:00 - What is the one book
Michael would recommend for growers?
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
has had total success with other farmers implementing
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