Top-Down Ecological Agriculture: How healthy plants can reverse climate change and make you more money

July 21, 2017

 

The issue of the day is climate change. That is what we should all be thinking about. As cannabis growers we are growing the most lucrative, and possibly the most beneficial to society, crop on this planet and it is our responsibility to use this plant for good, not just gain. Its benefit extends beyond its end-use. The way it is grown can also be highly restorative for this planet.

 

The way we grow our plants can strengthen and add resilience to the ecosystem in which it is grown which then creates a cascading effect not only sequestering carbon but also creating healthier plants which in turn leads to healthier people and a healthier society.

 

Most of us have caught on to the idea that growing cannabis--and all plants for that matter--extends beyond the realm of plant nutrition. Taking on a whole systems approach means thinking about the ecosystem in which the plant is grown. It is common knowledge that growing healthy plants requires growing healthy soil--let’s refer to this as a “bottom-up” model of plant management. However, a “top-down” can also be a useful approach to soil health.

 

In bottom-up or top-down management we’re referring to the entry point of the practitioner to the system. In the former case, it would mean we influence the system by altering the soil. This would involve transforming the soil biology through compost, compost tea, or cover crops. In top-down management we’re influencing the system by helping the plant reach its peak photosynthetic capacity. The plant then has more influence over the biology of the soil via its roots. This is done primarily through foliar sprays.

 

The foliar spray mixes you use will be unique to your situation but the main purpose of doing this is to increase the photosynthetic capacity of the plant. When this happens the plant produces more sugars. Why is this good? Well, this is the main currency of the system. It is figurative gold. The goal is to enable the plant to produce MORE sugar than it needs. When this happens it is able to store its energy, much like animals do, which strengthens its immune system. So, in times of stress, like drought or disease, it is able to persist. This is very effective to prevent things like powdery mildew or various pest invasions. So if a healthy plant can defend itself against diseases and pests, why should we even bother to apply pesticides? Rather than focusing on which pests and which diseases you have and which pesticides to apply and how to apply it, why not focus on plant health? Well it’s not that easy as it requires a careful analysis of the nutritional profile found in the sap and a number of other factors. The specifics of this and how and why we should foliar spray and the specifics on how the photosynthetic rate is increased are addressed in my upcoming blog article.

 

When the plant produces an excess of sugars it then sends 50% of those sugars to its root system (the other 50% is going to the rest of the plant). What happens down there is a whole different economy. The plant communicates with soil microbes by sending out exudates in the form of sugars in order to receive water soluble nutrients. So the plant spends its “gold” which the bacteria then take up to use as carbon for their bodily structures. In addition to carbon, bacteria need food, or, minerals. The minerals only become water soluble after the bacteria are eaten by protozoa which then excrete a water soluble byproduct which the plant can take in for sustenance. This is called mineralization. With a healthy population of soil microorganisms we do not need fertilizers. The plants are purchasing and applying the fertilizer for you using their own currency--root exudates.

 

The plants then begin absorbing microbial metabolites (amino acids, organic acids, and essential fatty acids). This allows them to be much more energy efficient thus developing a surplus of energy. So this is when they begin storing that energy in the form of lipids. The lipids are then sent out through the roots. Bacteria cannot consume lipids so this offers an opportunity for another soil microbe: fungi. Fungi break down these lipids until they cannot be broken down any more. When this happens we have humus. This process is called humification and it is essential to storing huge amounts of carbon in the soil and mitigating climate change. Remember, by tilling the soil you're destroying these fungal networks and microbial colonies while releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.

 

So far, the path we have been on started with healthy plants which then leads to a healthy soil bacteria population, which then leads to a healthy fungal population, which then leads to storing carbon in the soil. So you could say healthy plants are essential to mitigating climate change.

 

When a plant is at peak photosynthesis and optimal health it produces protectants, or secondary metabolites, in much larger quantities. They produce these to protect themselves against UV radiation, diseases, pests, overgrazing, etc. As cannabis growers, the compounds we’re concerned with are terpenes and cannabinoids. So at peak health, a plant essentially becomes more valuable to the grower in terms of monetary gain. But it also becomes more valuable to the consumer in terms of medicine.

 

As farmers we play a vital role in the health of humanity and the health of the planet. The way I see it, we have a sacred duty to the denizens of this earth to produce high quality medicine, whether it’s broccoli, comfrey, or cannabis. It is all medicine.

 

So remember, growing healthier plants, reversing climate change, making more profit, and the true healthcare system are one in the same. It’s called regenerative agriculture.

 

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