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Regenerative Agriculture Podcast

Apr 17, 2018

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tom Dykstra, the founder and laboratory director at Dykstra Labs, who also has advanced degrees in entomology and has worked with Dr. Phil Callahan.

In this episode, we talk about plant and insect communications, and how plants can only see and feed on plants who are unhealthy (insects are only attracted to unhealthy plants)We also discuss Dr. Dykstra’s current day work in bioelectromagnetics, entomology, and agriculture. This episode is a truly amazing glimpse into these very fascinating areas and how they relate to plant physiology.



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Episode 4 - Dr. Dykstra - Highlights

3:00 - What memorable moments lead Tom to where he is today?

  • Getting fired at the University of Florida leading to the path he’s on now
  • Work with flea larvae leading into Tom’s PhD project
  • Insect bioelectromagnetics


5:40 - What is the potential impact of Tom’s work on agriculture? What might farmers be able to apply?

  • Optimizing photosynthesis to optimize Brix level - leading to healthier plants


8:30 - Photosynthesis thoughts. How much is it possible to increase photosynthesis beyond what is normal? What tools can optimize it? 

  • You can increase it substantially
  • Most plants between 4-8 brix. 12 serious insect damage stops. 14 is a genuinely healthy plant
  • Plants are not working up to anywhere near their potential
  • It’s a matter of getting the photosynthetic rate up
  • Need to not be putting up blockages - ex. pesticides
  • Brix is by far the easiest thing to do to measure plant health
  • Need to be weaning off pesticides immediately


17:30 - What can we do to increase energy flow in the soil profile?

  • How much can you afford to lose? Start here
  • Allow weeds to grow here - put out sugar as often as you can
  • This is the cheapest and simplest way to clean out soil as fast as one season
  • Switching over immediately can be a little painful, but anyone can transition slowly
  • Cover crops can also help, but not quite as fast
  • Erosion has recently become a problem


25:00 - Cover crops or applying sugar directly

  • Cover crops take time and can help soil more over time  - directly applying sugar is a massive dose
  • Variety of cover crops is better than just one


27:30 - Why has erosion become such a challenge?

  • Because microbes are gone - leading to fluffy soil that is easily washed away


28:40 - What has been something Tom has puzzled over for a long time?

  • How insects smell - Tom’s own research
  • 10-15 years where Tom was unable to put the pieces together
  • In Nov 2016, they were able to decipher details in how insects smell


31:20 -  Why some insects are attracted to certain regions while others are not?

  • Insects smell with antenna and palps
  • Certain insects are “tuned” into certain smells
  • Some plants will advertise themselves as unhealthy - insects will not attack healthy plants
  • Insects are only looking for digestible plants (unhealthy)


35:20 - What are some of the compounds that serve as insect attractants we could manage and monitor? 

  • Ethanol is a universal odorant advertising plants as unhealthy - a lot of plants will release some sort of alcohol
  • Every insect has its own brix cutoff where it will not attack a plant
  • Massive brix level drop before a storm - temporary measure in plants


42:30 - Are nitrate nitrogen and ammonium nitrogen insect attractants?

  • Indirectly, yes!
  • High nitrogen is not a direct attractant, but the imbalance in the plant causes the plant to advertise itself because it’s stressed


48:10 - What are the possible detection distances for these insect signaling compounds?

  • They can be detected by great distances! Tremendous. No matter the distance.


50:20 - Why do some people seem to attract mosquitoes, and some do not?

  • Like plants, this is the difference between healthy and unhealthy people. Mosquitoes seek people who advertise themselves as having disgestable blood.
  • Mosquitoes have a choice, and are going to choose the most digestible blood available


54:10 - What are the differences between healthy and unhealthy mosquitoes?

  • Not all insects are going to have the same diseases. They have states of health and unhealth


57:00 - What has been something that has really surprised Tom?

  • How different insects are smelling the same molecule - Tom’s focus in his research
  • Insects have multiple receptors for smell
  • Tom has learned throughout his life how little we know so far on these topics


1:01:20 - What does Tom believe to be true about agriculture that many others do not believe to be true? 

  • Insects are only attracted to unhealthy plants 
  • Because of this, pesticides are unnecessary


1:06:30 - What is a book or resource Tom would recommend?

  • Going out there and talking to farmers directly
  • Tom likes giving direct advice



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