Feed the Soil, the Plant and the Leaf: The Principles of Fertility


During my first year making fertility recommendations for gardens, I made a wrong assumption. I had witnessed the steady fertility gains made in row crops with relatively modest fertility inputs.

I copied what was working in row crops to the newly developed garden program and was surprised to find a failure in the making. The level of reserve fertility was in significant decline – especially calcium and trace minerals. To compensate, I had to dramatically increase the nutrients I recommended, and that fixed the problem.

Vegetables remove far more earth minerals that grains, pastures and fruit trees – by a factor of 2-10 times. This difference in crop removal has to be accounted for by increasing fertility inputs.

As I learned the principles of Reams teaching, I began to make a connection. Everything he taught in the abstract with detailed theory ultimately led to specific actions and inputs. What started in the theoretical always ended up with practical application. After more time listening to Dr. Carey Reams’ audio courses, it dawned on me that all these actions and inputs could be consigned to three basic ideas.

• Feed the Soil
• Feed the Plant
• Feed the Leaf

Feed the Soil is about optimizing soil toward an ideal pattern. Feed the Plant is about giving a helping hand to the microbe/plant root barter system. Feed the Leaf is about foliar nutrition to further enhance yield and to deliver trace minerals.

The greatest success in Reams Agriculture comes when all three “buckets” are used in a complete program. Without a doubt, the greatest quantity of inputs is needed to Feed the Soil. The other buckets take far fewer inputs. The rest of this article will discuss the inputs needed to Feed the Soil.

But first let’s address the question of why. Why use inputs? Because the proper use of inputs, with the help of plants and microbes, completely changes the pattern of the soil.

Imagine a chef commissioned to make the world’s best chocolate cake in less than four hours. What is he going to do? First, he is going to find the very best chocolate cake recipe, then he his going to assemble the finest ingredients, and lastly he is going to follow the recipe meticulously.

The highest-quality cake is made with very specific levels of ingredients in very tight ratio with each other. Anything added too much or little or out of balance with other ingredients can completely ruin the cake. Just triple the salt and baking soda and the cake is not fit to eat.

The same with soil. Instead of calling it a recipe, we call it a pattern. The pattern of soil is determined by the levels and ratios of available minerals. If we want a better output of high-quality crops or nutrient-dense foods, then we must create the proper pattern in soil. You can’t get a prize-winning cake with a lousy recipe, and neither can you achieve nutrient-dense produce with deficient or imbalanced soil. You have to meet nature’s requirements if you want top quality.

Let’s illustrate this with a typical soil test followed up by a decode of the soil pattern, shown in the image above. All nutrients are in pounds per acre on the Morgan soil test.

To calculate the ratio, take the lab result for the first nutrient and divide it by the lab result of the second nutrient. To calculate the calcium to magnesium ratio, divide 900 by 125 to get 7.2. This soil has a Ca:Ma ratio of 7.2:1.

This general pattern is found all over the south and the eastern third of the United States. But in many instances the soils have even less fertility than this example. So, what does this pattern tell us? Here is the decode.

  • • 16 lbs. of available phosphorous indicates low Brix and poor energy production in the plant. The energy cycle in plants depends on phosphorous, since it is the P in ATP.
  • • 290 lbs. of potassium signifies there will be a crop.
  • • Calcium at 900 lbs. means low yield, very poor root development, and inadequate feeding of soil microbes. Inputs to help the microbes are needed.
  • • Magnesium at 125 lbs. is a sufficient amount for leaf function, but still low.
  • • The P:K ratio of 0.05:1 indicates broadleaf weed pressure.
  • • The Ca:Ma ratio of 7.2:1 indicates a soil that is workable and not sticky.
  • • The extreme Ca:P ratio of 196:1 further highlights how critically low phosphorous is and suggests insect and disease susceptibility. If copper is also low and the year is wet, you might see a fungal attack.
  • • The Ca:K ratio of 3:1 is the other extreme. Such a high level of potassium relative to calcium indicates poor cellular integrity of the crop. This happens when potassium substitutes for calcium in the cell walls.
  • Altogether, this is the pattern of a depleted soil. This soil can not produce high Brix or nutrient-dense food or crops in the near future. Animals eating forages grown on this soil will not perform well. The good news is that this soil is easy to fix. The bad news is that it is not cheap.
  • Inputs to grow the upcoming crop and improve the overall soil pattern could include the following:
  • • Soft rock phosphate
  • • Low-magnesium limestone
  • • 11-52-0 mono-ammonium phosphate
  • • Calcium nitrate
  • • Epsom salt
  • What is not suggested for this year is an application of compost or manure. They should be avoided because potassium will increase, and it is already too high.
  • A complete feeding to the soil will impact roots and microbes. As the pattern changes toward ideal crop health, yield improves, and so does the nourishment of people and animals.
  • Next month we will cover the inputs to Feed the Plant and Feed the Leaf. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying a diet of nutrient-dense foods and that occasional slice of decadent chocolate cake.

Jon Frank is based in southern Minnesota. For more information, visit growyourownnutrition.com.

Why Healthy Soil is so Critical to Lettuce Production

Raising lettuce is like constructing a sturdy building: success starts with a solid foundation. In the case of agriculture, that foundation is, of course, the rich, biologically active soil into which your crops sink their roots.

Sponsored by Heliae® Agriculture

With all the challenges that growers face, it’s easy to overlook soil health. It’s common to think the soil will be there when you’re ready to plant, and you’ll simply apply fertilizers and pest control agents as needed to nurture the crops on your way to what you hope is a good harvest. Unfortunately, fertilizer alone isn’t enough to create fertile, supportive, productive soil for lettuce and other leafy greens.

To maximize your lettuce crops, their foundation must have the right balance of available nutrients, microbes, and moisture content. Achieving that balance benefits the crop in multiple ways. First, superior soil improves root health so plants can find and absorb the materials they need to thrive. Optimal soil balance also improves drought resistance and disease tolerance, minimizing losses from these causes.

Then, at harvest time, the benefits of healthy soil are seen in increased yields and longer shelf life. And from a relationship perspective, this means happier customers as well as loyal retailers who come back to you season after season.

Proven Results

Microalgae-based soil amendments are known for improving soil health and microbiome balance, with astounding results. One field trial showed increased head lettuce yield by 111 cartons/acre above grower standard in a Salinas, California, field trial. That’s a return on investment (ROI) of 7:1 on yield increase alone.

How exactly domicroalgae-based soil amendments deliver this type of improvement in crop quantity? There are many factors that come together to help growers enjoy higher yields. One is the product’s ability to enhance soil microbe growth. These products also improve soil aggregation, reduces dissolved solids run-off, and increases soil protein content. This causes improved soil water-holding capacity, ensuring plants have access to critical moisture.

However, improved soil quality does more than just increase biological productivity. The microbial “superfood” provided by soil amendments also reduces salt stress from irrigation water on sensitive leafy greens. In fact, the correlation between lettuce dry biomass and improved soil health and quality has been documented in a study by Knight, et al.

Increasing the Value of One of Your Most Important Assets

Beyond the many short-term benefits that microalgae-based soil amendments provide, they also help growers increase the value of one of their most important assets: their acreage. With the focus today on regenerative and sustainable agriculture, the product is a game-changer at both ends of the field lifecycle.

In newly cultivated acreage, these amendmentsenable them to produce robust crops. In older fields, the increased nutrient bioavailability and greater water retention give soil a “new lease on life” and extend their viability significantly.

Especially for growers that aren’t in a position to acquire more land or growing rights, keeping fields productive longer is essential to ongoing success. Pair that with the fact that those acres are producing more lettuce that is less affected by crop stressors, and it’s clear why growers with healthy soil gain a strategic edge in the increasingly competitive agriculture industry.

Sponsor Message

Switching to a new soil amendment—or any type of product for that matter—involves an element of risk. “Why move away from an approach that’s producing reasonably good results?” is a question that every grower wisely asks when hearing about a new product for the first time. Heliae® Agriculture understands and respects that reluctance. As a leader in supporting healthy soil goals, the company developed the innovative PhycoTerra® microalgae-based soil amendment to provide essential soil nutrients and benefits to organic and conventional growers. And to give their customers peace of mind, the company implemented the PhycoTerra® Product Performance Guarantee, allowing growers to trial PhycoTerra® products on their most challenging fields risk-free. If they don’t see a noticeable improvement, Heliae® Agriculture happily refunds the purchase price for enrolled acres up to the suggested retail price.

To learn more, or to get more information about soil amendment opportunities, contact the professionals at Heliae® Agriculture by calling (800) 998-6536 or visiting phycoterra.com/lettuce.

‘City Kids’ Meld Permaculture, Biodynamics and Common Sense at Perennial Roots Farm

By Leigh Glenn

What do you get when you cross a literature major with a philosophy major, 45 acres of land and a desire to grow good food?

You get Natalie McGill and Stewart Lundy, a couple who’ve blended permaculture principles, biodynamics and common sense to create Perennial Roots Farm in Accomac on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. McGill graduated in literature in 2010, following Lundy, who’d graduated two years earlier. The two wed and moved to McGill’s family land, where they planted a small orchard and market garden.

The arable portion, 25 acres, had been in conventional, no-till row crops for 15 years before their arrival, and they spent the first two years mostly observing: What was the land doing? What were the cycles?

The farm has been their classroom — the soil, plants and animals their not-always-forgiving teachers.

Natalie McGill cradles a Kunekune piglet in the pasture at Perennial Roots Farm, Accomac, Virginia.
Natalie McGill cradles a Kunekune piglet in the pasture at Perennial Roots Farm, Accomac, Virginia.

Today — with vegetables, the orchard, pastured livestock and medicinal plants — they say they would have made fewer missteps by interning a season with a farmer. And they now like to save others some grief by sharing their knowledge with farmers and farm apprentices.

Ten Years into Healing

In 2010, “the soil needed a lot of healing,” Lundy says. It was compacted and “rock hard,” according to McGill. But the initial interaction between weeds and animals helped. “Animals were the key to taking back the field and regenerating it,” she says.

The couple spread 20 tons of volcanic paramagnetic rock dust and 20,000 pounds of aragonite with some high-calcium ag lime. They also incorporated biochar and sea salt as free-feed options and let the animals do their thing. Lundy notes that according to Rudolf Steiner, animals eating whatever weeds are there produce exactly the kind of manure the land needs. “They can convert even poor forage into medicine for the land,” Lundy says. “It’s been a miraculous metamorphosis.”

Over time, they’ve witnessed the replacement of horseweed (also known as marestail) and ragweed with goldenrod, a plant that monarch butterflies eat.

When Lundy appeared on a farmer soil-health panel at the 2018 Delmarva Soil Summit at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, he noted that some 90 percent of plant nutrients are locked up in soil, but that bioprocesses could help unlock them; this, in turn, would reduce inputs. “Properly understood, it would revolutionize how we treat plants, soils and fertilizer,” he says.

Enlivening the soil stimulates the roots, helping plants dissolve parent rocks and unlock the nutrients. A familiar example: peel off a bit of moss growing on a rock, and underneath you’ll find grains and grains of sand where the moss has dissolved the rock into smaller pieces. “All plants can do that, if enlivened,” says Lundy.

“[Biodynamic farmer and researcher Ehrenfried] Pfeiffer recommended a full-spectrum quarry assay” with hydrochloric acid, says Lundy. High-phosphorous parent materials and low levels in plants meant the enlivening process was where to focus. Bound phosphorous is not an issue at Perennial Roots, but rainwater leaching of minerals is. The top layer of soil, Lundy says, has the fewest minerals, which are found lower down, in the subsoil. So, McGill and Lundy have taken a multi-pronged approach: in addition to integrating animals and their manures, they shatter the hardpan, apply minerals, utilize subsoil in forming compost and maintain a living, green cover.

For garden prep and pasture maintenance, Lundy and McGill prefer tools that turn, but don’t invert, the soil layers: a 12-inch broadfork, a 16-inch broadfork, a Yeomans plow and a power harrow. To prepare garden beds, they use the Yeomans deep-ripper at 26 inches. Then they broadcast compost, biochar and sea salt and incorporate these with the power harrow. Next, they cover the area with a silage tarp, which acts like a skin, preventing all the “vital gases” — as Alan Chadwick might put it — including carbon, from escaping.

The warmth underneath germinates the weed seeds, which die in the darkness. The tarp also helps the compost, even if not fully ripened, digest into the soil. The result is nearly weed-free beds that may require one to two hours a week of stirrup-hoeing. They sever the tops of the plants from their roots and let the earthworms consume the roots in place.

For the pasture, they use the Yeomans plow — at 20 inches deep in autumn 2019 — in offset strips to allow water, air and light to penetrate the soil. This needs to be timed right ― late summer or early fall usually works ― to allow the plow to shatter the hardpan underneath. Lundy notes that anyone doing this with clay soil needs to be careful, as wet clay smears and worsens the problem. 

Deep ripping helps cover crop roots reach nutrient-rich lower regions more efficiently. It sounds counterintuitive, but Lundy says deep ripping is the first step in developing a no-till system. “Even if you aren’t tilling with machinery, something else will be mixing your soil ― even if it’s just earthworms, pill bugs, and moles,” he says.

The last glaciation missed the area south of the Mason-Dixon line, says Lundy, and the ancient and acidic soil locks up nutrients. Rains washes away what’s unlocked. Applying rock dust — which, because it’s quarry waste, essentially costs only transportation — and mineral solids (SEA-90) has helped. Going by mycologist Paul Stamets, as well as Steiner and Paracelsus before him, Lundy says roots are like a neural network, and soil the collective brain, of plants. Fewer minerals and salts mean there is little connectivity — “no good firing of synapses.”

Ripped pastured at Perennial Roots Farm, Accomac, Virginia.

Ripped pastured at Perennial Roots Farm, Accomac, Virginia.

In 2014 and 2015, they focused on cover cropping for maximum diversity, seeding out 20 different varieties at one pound per acre (instead of 20 pounds per acre of one variety). “Regardless of where it lands, something will take,” Lundy says. “One hundred percent cover is the main thing for us — keeping a living, green cover year-round.” The plants take the minerals into the biological realm [and] recycle them through the top soil, which becomes richer as their roots work deeper every season.

McGill and Lundy also use some of the mineral-rich subsoil to layer into their compost. The thermophilic phase of compost fermentation helps unlock nutrients. Though they’d read suggestions to use topsoil as layering in their compost, they hadn’t heard of subsoil being recommended as a dusting; they’ve found this to be about the best thing anyone can do to create new, mineral-rich topsoil, though, says Lundy. 

Periodic soil tests show cation exchange capacity at 7 ― a result to be expected from southeastern, sandy soils. But organic matter has increased from less than 0.5 percent to more than 3 percent in the areas they’ve been working with, Lundy says. They’d probably have to sample at 6 inches to 10 inches deep to see other improvements, but they’ve moved away from sampling because the plants indicate what they need.

Geology’s influence will continue to hold sway, no matter how many amendments they add. The soil has darkened and loosened, producing more flavorful crops with fewer pests and diseases. They attribute that to “keeping a living soil covered in plants year-round,” Lundy says. “The manures from the animals do help alkalize the soil, and we are moving towards making our own quicklime out of the bones of the animals from our farm. Lime or plants that have a lime-like effect will remain necessary as long as we farm this land.” 

More (Bio)processes

Perennial Roots is mostly surrounded by conventional row crops — corn, soy and sometimes wheat or rye — as well as an older grandfathered-in poultry house, whose owner says that Perennial Roots bacon is the best he’s ever tasted. McGill and Lundy have incorporated large-diameter, construction-grade bamboo into one side of their land to buffer it from biocide drift. And they have tried to increase mycorrhizal signaling by integrating edge shrubs like elderberry and other trees into the field. The elderberries, they say, seem to be a good conduit for fungal species that can draw nutrients to the field.

Something else elderberries are known for — which points to a deep lesson — is surviving in soggy soil without succumbing to fungus. In much the same way, they help to dispel cold, dampness and congestion in humans when consumed. “The idea is, if you have a problem in the garden or a sickness in a plant, if you look out in nature for where that [issue] naturally occurs,” such as something waterlogged, for example, you should “find plants there that thrive at doing the thing you want your garden plants to do.” That is the medicine.

Elderberries can also connect annual field grasses with perennial trees in the nearby 15 acres of woods through endophytes, ectophytes and mycorrhizal fungi, signaling oncoming drought or doubling the size of the root area to boost nutrition. And a garden without elderberries is like a community without elders; there’s no gradation of wisdom, says Lundy.

Looking around the field, someone might be tempted to dig up that pokeberry. But McGill and Lundy wouldn’t intervene. They notice what it isn’t doing: it’s not wilting in the heat, says Lundy. Its leaves are high in potassium. The couple likes to ferment them and then apply them to winter squash to perk up the cucurbits and prevent them from wilting.

These were not phenomena the two noticed when they first arrived. At first they didn’t recognize many of the species on their farm.. But being on the same land season after season, “you just start to notice things you never did before. It’s incredible how your eye changes over time — it’s still constantly changing.”

And not only the sights, but the scents, says Lundy. He referenced Joel Salatin’s aphorism that the smell of manure is the smell of mismanagement. “Steiner said that every organism should retain its odor internally,” says Lundy. “Its stink shouldn’t be out.” Today, he can pick up the scent of a goat from far away. “It’s so clear when something is wrong,” he says.

Standing in a corner of the pasture in early February, Lundy described this land as a “parabolic mirror or bowl” facing the cosmos and collecting sunlight. It’s a closed loop, with the surrounding trees absorbing greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide as nutrients. The work they and the animals and plants have done — helping the roots penetrate deeply — allows the water to seep in during wetter times and allows plants to draw up water through capillary action in drier times. When fog blankets the pasture, it lifts as soon as the sun hits. Where a field is devoid of active plants, the fog hangs and can aggravate fungal problems, especially in a coastal region like this one. “You can actually see the vitality of a place by how quickly the plants breathe out and push, and that carries the fog up,” says Lundy. “Every plant is an exhalation.”

All-in, Together

The two apply the same level of observation to their animals, which today include sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and rabbits. Expense-wise, and in retrospect, Lundy and McGill probably wouldn’t have started with rabbits, chicken, ducks and Mulefoot hogs, but rather with small ruminants and geese, which demand less feed and provide milk, wool and eggs. Ideally, says Lundy, hogs would be there to consume the farm’s excesses, such as whey or food scraps, with their numbers pegged to those resources to “transform a waste stream into profit.”

The common regenerative grazing model segregates ruminants, birds and hogs, one following the other in rotation. Perennial Roots offers a different take, though: all of the species are together and are rotated as a group. This, says Lundy, is more like the Serengeti ― there are no hard lines between animals. They eat supplemental grain — local and certified organic — either fermented in water and sea salt or soaked for 24 hours. The pigs eat about 90 percent of that, the chickens eat some, the geese a little, and the sheep a bite or two before returning to grazing, he says.

Ruminants, pigs and birds range together in the pasture at Perennial Roots Farm, Accomac, Virginia.
Ruminants, pigs and birds range together in the pasture at Perennial Roots Farm, Accomac, Virginia.

Lundy and McGill chose long-ago-domesticated breeds — occasionally bred back with wild strains to boost self-sufficiency — that were already adapted to their climate. Their initial flock of Gulf Coast Native sheep had malformed horns; subsequent generations have formed proper ones. The ewes lamb on their own, and they let the rams mingle among the ewes to increase diversity. They chose Mulefoot hogs, which reportedly were resistant to fungal issues, but this has not proved true; they’re switching to Kunekune, which “can really fatten on grass,” Lundy says. “They’re slower-growing [and] eat less per day ― so much less that the profit margin is getting better even though they’re slower-growing.” And Kune sows are a lot calmer than Mulefoot mothers.

McGill and Lundy cull based on parasite load. Twenty percent of the sheep flock accounts for about 80 percent of the parasites, says Lundy, and have “messy butts” ― though they may be fine in drier climates. The couple believes that selection should be minimal. Who can predict whether certain traits in future environments will be more necessary than at other times? “Nature is not only more complex than we think,” says Lundy, quoting ecologist Frank Egler ― “it’s more complex than we can think.”

One of the new additions to the farm is an automatic fodder system that supplies barley grass and black oil sunflower seed sprouts to the Red Satin rabbits. The rabbits also receive alfalfa pellets. They live in hanging cages, through which their droppings fall to be used for vermicompost. For other animals, the barley is supplemental.

The barley and sunflower seeds are soaked in barrels that include sea salt. This creates a kraut-like effect and removes phytates. The first six days in the fodder system, the sprouts live off of the mother seeds ― sort of like an umbilical cord, Lundy says. At day six, they pull out the barley. The couple is also using the fodder system to germinate seeds, McGill says. The sprinkler runs for 18 seconds once per hour, so they needn’t think about watering. When half or more of the seedlings are peaking up, they move them to the greenhouse and then need only water once or twice a day, Lundy says. They also are growing out cuttings, such as willow, elderberry and fig, to propagate new plants. In the future, they may grow mushrooms in the bottom space of the unit.

Biodynamic Adventure

In 2013, Lundy and McGill had traveled around Italy visiting farms, including biodynamic ones. But a story in Acres U.S.A. about moons and harvest times, and how the moon affects tides and water in plants, piqued McGill’s interest, and she passed it on to Lundy. They read six books about biodynamics but still weren’t convinced. Then they read Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, whose experiments changed their minds. They dove in.

They studied with Hugh Cortney, who’d studied with Josephine Porter, who was a student of Pfeiffer. They learned how to make preps and began to make all of theirs on-farm. Their first batch of horn manure was terrible; Lundy realized that there were quality standards ― if he could do the preps badly, he could also do them well.

“The best place to put 500 [horn manure] is buried under the compost pile, and always surrounded by rich, organic matter. You get 100 percent conversion that way,” he says.

The horn manure prep is meant to stimulate root hair growth, which helps increase carbon capture and sequestration. Silica-related preps — which are analogous to nerve endings at the surface or skin — are meant to increase sensitivity to light and to help enliven the soil and foster nutrient transport.

They had overwintered, in-ground, a couple of terra cotta canisters — one packed with stinging nettles, one packed with plantain. In early February, they opened them to find them greatly concentrated. The nettles smelled earthy and smeared well between thumb and finger. They’ll use nettles for compost and foliar feeding. Lundy says stinging nettles contain 20 amino acids, including the essential ones, and that Pfeiffer said it was one of the plant preps that helped consistently improve flavor.

Farmer Stewart Lundy opens a terra cotta canister of overwintered plaintain to show farm apprentice Austin Pearle-Ojala at Perennial Roots Farm, Accomac, Virginia.
Farmer Stewart Lundy opens a terra cotta canister of overwintered plaintain to show farm apprentice Austin Pearle-Ojala at Perennial Roots Farm, Accomac, Virginia. They will test the prep on lettuce heads from which they remove the leaves as well as places on tomato plants from which they’ve removed suckers to see how quickly and well the plants recover.

The scent of the plantain is too subtle for those with inexperienced senses of smell. It’s a prep Lundy will experiment with. Just as plantain poultices help with cuts, scratches and skin health, Lundy’s instinct is to gauge its stimulating effects for harvesting lettuce. They harvest by the leaf and plan to spray the plantain to help the lettuce recover from harvest. They also will try applying it to tomato plants after removing suckers.

Beyond the preps, McGill and Lundy look at the farm biodynamically, or as McGill likes to say, “holistically.”

“Everything is interrelated — the animals, vegetables, orchard, soil life … it’s a whole-farm organism, a farm individuality.”

“Ecosystem” did not exist when Steiner was writing, Lundy says, but he thinks of “farm individuality” and “farm ecosystem” as similar terms. “As a farmer, you’re collecting sunlight, and we’re prejudiced — plants don’t discriminate between starlight and sunlight. Farming is about condensed starlight to create nutrition and energy for living beings.”

In biodynamics, “the moon is reflected sun forces, in the sense of reflected sunlight,” says Lundy. In soil, moonlight relates to humus, “the starlight of yesteryear,” or what the sun helped to build. Sunlight offers direct photosynthesis. The farmer stands between these two forces, and the farmer who succeeds balances them.

To Market, to Market

Lundy and McGill sell two hours north in Lewes, Delaware, two hours south in Norfolk/Hampton Roads, and 10 minutes away in Onancock. They continue to sell different products and assess their profits to determine their niche.

Predator losses, high feed bills and poor margins for poultry, including Thanksgiving turkeys, means they now raise layers and meat birds only for themselves. Since 2014, they’ve sold all their cuts of pork. This year, they’re shifting to sausage and bacon only because offering all cuts was stressful, and they were always “left with bits.” Customers are still welcome to buy a whole animal and have it cut to their specifications.

Two surprising niches have been medicinal plants and Rosa rugosa. Last year, tinctures of 20 to 30 medicinals made up half their revenue. Lundy doesn’t recommend any and doesn’t give medical advice. Instead, he shares anecdotes from others who’ve used them. And they’ve overcome the thorniness of the divinely scented of Rosa rugosa. From May to the first frost they utilize the petals for jam (and sell them to chefs); they use the hips for tincturing and as pectin for chutney (and sell them to brewers); and they provide some mild stress to the plants by letting the sheep graze them.

Caddy-corner from the roses lies the orchard. Nanking cherries, Asian and European pears, Asian persimmons, crabapples and eating apples, figs, medlar, strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries all produce high yields with little tending. The orchard is off-limits to livestock, but the couple keeps it mowed.

McGill and Lundy, who maintain a Certified Naturally Grown designation for Perennial Roots, have launched a Certified Delmarva Grown label for farmers on the Eastern shores of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. It’s meant to signify that the fruits, vegetables or other crops are grown right there.

A consistent presence on Facebook and Instagram lets them share their story and draws customers. Photos of rose hips or persimmons, tomatoes or sausage may prompt people in nearby Onancock and down toward Virginia Beach to show up at a market. Lundy suggests it’s a way to maintain transparency. “The more you can show and the more honest you can be … the more responsive customers will be.”

With various restrictions spawned by COVID-19, McGill and Lundy are having to rethink how they do business. Through social media, McGill has gauged interest in on-farm, drive-through, pre-paid pick-ups during set hours, versus coordinated drops. And Perennial Roots is offering a CSA veg share with a meat option this season.

Lundy says part of him delights at not having to do markets because of the time involved. When people buy on-farm, he and McGill can continue to be productive. Sensing increased desire among people to grow more of their own food, they’ll offer more plant starts this year. They can market some things, like tinctures, online. They’re also resurrecting their newsletter. And in lieu of on-farm classes, they may offer hands-on webinars, where people can follow live instructions to make biodynamic preps, Lundy says. “This year, we’re going to be okay.”

Interview: Bryan O’Hara Digs in Deep on No-Till Vegetable Production

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from an interview with Bryan O’Hara from the April 2020 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine. To read the full interview, purchase a digital or print copy of the April 2020 issue, or subscribe to Acres U.S.A. magazine for monthly coverage of similar in-depth interviews and educational articles on eco-farming. 

Bryan O’Hara intensively farms three acres of market vegetables in Lebanon, Connecticut, at Tobacco Road Farm. He began his career in 1990, and over the years, through observation and experimentation, has developed a very successful no-till, pesticide-free system.

O’Hara is the author of No-Till Intensive Vegetable Culture: Pesticide-Free Methods for Restoring Soil and Growing Nutrient-Rich, High-Yielding Crops. The book is a manual for all aspects of market gardening, with a particular focus on no-till techniques.

Bryan O'Hara
Bryan O’Hara

Named the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Farmer of the Year in 2016, O’Hara is a frequent speaker at conferences and events in the Northeast and around the country. In this interview he discusses the factors that led him, over many years, to his innovative no-till system, as well as his thoughts on plasticulture, cover crops and protected growing.

O’Hara is an excellent “demystifier,” as he says, of biodynamics, and he offers his take on the fundamentals for Rudolf Steiner’s principles. He also discusses the realm of the possible, both in terms of finances and labor, for young farmers.

Interviewed by Paul Meyer

ACRES U.S.A.: The book is called No-Till Intensive Vegetable Culture, so obviously it focuses on the no-till part of your operation. You were tilling at the very beginning, though. Describe your evolution toward no-till. At what point — what year exactly — did you become 100 percent no-till, as you would define it?

O’HARA: Well, here’s how I define no-till. This is what’s appropriate for us; there are a lot of different definitions out there. What we’re talking about when we say “no-till” is that we don’t use tillage equipment to create a seed bed, or any other soil disturbances in terms of prepping soil.

So, there’s no soil disturbance, except for things like planting equipment — furrowers for planting potatoes or transplanting furrowers. So, there is some soil disturbance with planting equipment, but not for the actual preparation of the planting surface.

ACRES U.S.A.: What about using a broadfork or a tilther? How would they fit into your definition?

O’HARA: Tilthers and broadforks are reduced-tillage implements. They’re heading away from tillage.

Our movement away from tillage equipment went in phases — from intensive tillage to reduced tillage to a no-till system. Originally, when we started growing vegetables, around 1990, we used the organic method, which is just compost application with some minerals, limestone and things. We used a lot of tillage to prepare the land — to move from one crop into another. So we purchased all kinds of tillage equipment: plows, harrows, rototillers and hand tools.

We were cropping vegetables, a lot of them short season — sometimes there were three, four or more crops on a given piece of land in a single year, and there’d be tillage passes and bed-shaping between every crop. I basically just hopped from one tractor to another with different tillage tools and bed-shaping equipment. It all proceeded under a pretty intensive tillage regime. Everything was nice and straight and tidy, set up for cultivation.

But the soil was deteriorating in terms of its aggregation and structure. We had excessively loosened soils, even though we worked to compress them with rollers and various equipment. But we weren’t getting the crop growth that we had previously — say, ten years earlier, when we started out.

That was a combination of the intensity of the tillage, combined with the deterioration of the environmental conditions here — we’re under a lot of pollution and other detrimental impacts. The vitality of the whole system, even beyond the fields — all the forests and the fields — are suffering extensively from insects and diseases.

The combination of the tillage and the environmental run-down started giving us difficulties in growing crops, particularly with fungal diseases. So we started to address those — because, of course, we don’t apply pesticides — with various cultural approaches. And no-till was a great leap forward for us.

We did a lot of other things, too. We adjusted our fertilization, our composting, our foliar feeding programs. We got into biodynamics and Korean natural farming for biologicals and for a greater understanding of the whole system. But the biggest, quickest improvement really was switching into no-till.

Our journey into no-till started with experimentation. It was a process of many years; we didn’t just switch overnight. We had a slow, careful approach, using various experiments and techniques at a time.

The first step was to reduce tillage. To do that, we set up permanent bedding systems so that the wheels of the tractors or equipment would consistently travel over the same ground from year to year.

That alleviated the need for releasing or correcting the compaction from equipment. Simply by laying out the permanent bedding system, it got the equipment off of any areas that would be growing crops in the future.

There are basically three profiles of tillage. There’s surface preparation with light tillage tools. There’s working the plow layer, essentially from a couple inches down to, say, ten inches deep; this layer is commonly worked with the plows or harrows, or even rototillers. Then you have subsoiling tools, like chisel plows and subsoilers, that reach beyond the plow layer.

By setting up the permanent bedding, we eliminated tillage tools in the middle layer. We stopped the deep rototilling or plowing, or deep harrowing, but we continued with occasional chisel plowing to rip through existing plow pans and alleviate previous compaction issues.

So, we went with occasional deep chiseling, mixed with just surface bed preparation in the top couple inches, which is very similar to what using the tilther for surface preparation and the broadfork to get down into the plow pan. That was classic reduced tillage, and a lot of growers are switching to that — surface preparation and occasional deep working of the soil with gentle tools like the broadfork, or an occasional rip with a chisel plow.

ACRES U.S.A.: That’s similar to what’s described in some of the market gardening books — Eliot Coleman, J. M. Fortier, etc. They’re using techniques pretty similar to that, correct?

O’HARA: Right, yeah. Exactly. And we got improvements using that system. What we soon found, however, was that those chisel plow rips became less and less necessary because we weren’t re-compacting the soil with equipment or other tillage tools.

So we went from that to eventually just surface preparation. For surface preparation, originally we used very shallow rototilling. But then we tried to get into just using field cultivators and light disc harrows and tined arrows, because a rototiller, of course, really creams the aggregates on that surface. So we started using even gentler tools as much as possible, and mixing in some hand labor to kind of shine the beds up, because those tools aren’t as effective at giving you a smooth seed bed as the rototiller was. We used a little less aggressive tillage tools and a little more human labor. That was the next progression. Until, finally, we got into complete no-till, when we discovered solarization.

ACRES U.S.A.: Can you describe the difference between solarization and occultation?

O’HARA: Sure. That was the big breakthrough for us — when we figured out how to use solarization. It really fit into the speed of our production system.

Read the rest of this in-depth interview on no-till production in the April 2020 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Assessing Proper Recovery Time in a Holistic Planned Grazing System

Knowing when to let a paddock rest is a crucial part of a Holistic Planned Grazing program.


Holistic Planned Grazing is defined as a pillar of regenerative agriculture. It is one of the most beneficial actions to improve ecosystem function, and soil health, on a farm or ranch.  However, it is not quite as simple as just adding graziers to the system and expecting beneficial results to be the natural outcome. 

In other articles that I have written for Acres U.S.A., we discussed Holistic Planned Grazing and how proper planning of animal impact at the optimum phase of a plant’s life cycle will create cascading and compounding beneficial effects. Just as important as selecting the correct time to move your graziers to a pasture, we also need to plan for the recovery of those plants. 

Allan Savory’s work in developing Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG) focuses on grazing from the plant’s perspective, and planning for adequate recovery of the forage species in the pastures under management. This is fundamental to good grazing management, and is often misunderstood.  

When you ask graziers what is most important in good grazing management, most will first explain that high stock densities are needed to get adequate dung distribution and even trampling of biomass. This is true. Then, they will explain that you need to allow the pasture to recover until animal impact is used again. The question that I find that many graziers have is, how long is the proper recovery period? What happens if I come back too soon or wait too long? How might this differ if I am grazing cattle stockers compared to pairs or grass finishers? What about other livestock species? So let’s learn how to assess proper recovery times, and how a Holistic Planned Grazing sheet (when properly filled out) can take the mystery out of all this.

But first, let’s discuss how grass grows.

How Grass Grows

When the soil reaches the correct temperatures, and adequate moisture is present, grasses awaken from dormancy. They are doing so with the energy they constructed last fall, and stored over winter. This emergence is the beginning of Stage 1 growth on the growth curve. At this stage, it is important that we allow time for these plants to grow and develop. Planned recovery begins now. This is because we must continue to allow for proper recovery from the grazing last fall, and allow grasses to photosynthesize enough to build up their carbohydrate reserves in the plant.

Once we are in Stage 2 growth, the plants in our pastures will be strong enough to benefit from grazing pressure. Grazing any sooner than Stage 2 will cause a plant to slough roots and you will be overgrazing the perennial grasses in your pastures. Stage 2 of the grass’s growth curve also coincides with the best mix of proteins and carbohydrates in the forages itself. If we allow too much time to go by before grazing the plant, it will continue to develop into Stage 3, this is characterized in grasses by the emergence of the seed head, or the grass flower. If the grasses in your pastures have reached Stage 3, then photosynthesis is shutting down, as the plant’s priority is shifting from creating and storing carbohydrates to reproduction. At this point, the leaves will begin to lose vigor and nutrition as the plant prepares itself for the weight of a seed head full of heavy seeds. For the grass plant to keep the flower upright in the wind, evolution has adapted it to lignify its stem and leaves. When the plant reaches Stage 3, many farmers call the plants in the pasture “rank” or “woody.” Total digestible nutrients (TDN) drop very quickly during this transition, and forage quality can drop in what seems like overnight as plants transition from soluble carbohydrates to structural carbohydrates.  

So, it is important to manage for keeping plants in Stage 2 growth as long as possible. Many grazing zealots are either so afraid of allowing the grasses in their pastures to reach Stage 3 that they move too quickly through their rotations, and graze/overgraze plants in Stage 1. Or conversely, many graziers are so afraid of impacting grasses too soon that they let their fields go rank, resulting in lost photosynthetic potential, and forage quality, because they allow for a recovery period that is too long. If you find yourself in one of these camps, relax. With a bit of grazing period planning beforehand, you can take a lot of the guesswork out of effectively managing your pastures.  

Plant R&R

As any proper consultant will tell you, “it depends.”   It depends on the time of year, the types of forages in the given pasture, what your management objectives are, etc.    

Time of year matters. At the beginning of the growing season, you can almost watch the grass grow. It is happening so fast. Later in the summer when the daytime temperatures get warmer, growth might slow down considerably. Then in the fall of the year, plants grow at a more moderate rate before going dormant for the winter (non-growing season) months. When planning your grazing periods, you estimate what your average recovery times will be for each month of your growing season. For my ranch in Fort Bidwell, California, I can safely estimate that, in the months of May and June, a plant that is grazed will take about 30 days for it to completely recover from that grazing, in normal growing conditions. Once the dog days of summer hit in July though, I expand my recovery times by a couple of additional weeks, or about 45 to 60 days. In fall, management objectives shift again as I focus less on maximizing growing conditions and more on stockpiling my fall feed, or dormant reserves, as plants begin “fall tillering.” Fall tillering is the final push of photosynthesis for grasses. They work to construct and store their winter supply of carbohydrates so that they can emerge strong the next growing season. 

Let’s consider management objectives. Are you attempting to, for example, frame up yearling, finish cattle on grass or run a maternal herd in your herd?

This is an important consideration when deciding how to graze your pastures. If your objective is to run stocker cattle, and you want to maximize gains and frame development before you sell those calves, you may want to shorten those recovery periods by a couple of days. By choosing to graze your pastures at the shorter side of your optimum recovery periods you will keep the forages at a higher rate of protein, than if you graze with maximum forage production as your goal. The grasses at this stage have shiny leaves that are still pointing their leaf tips toward the sun. This higher rate of protein coincides with higher total digestible nutrients, and your calves will develop muscle and skeletal structure. Now this comes at a bit of a cost as you will be sacrificing tonnage of forage produced. There is the risk of overgrazing, which results in lost roots, and lost potential. 

If you finish cattle on grass, and your objective is to consistently produce finished, tender and buttery delicious beef, you will want to add a few days to the optimal recovery periods. Cattle should graze grasses that show the development of seed heads beginning to emerge. This more mature forage coincides with lower levels of protein, and higher levels of carbohydrates in the rumen fill. This ration of higher carbs will allow your cattle to maximize fat development, simultaneously increasing tenderness and decreasing that “gamey” flavor that so many people associate with grassfed beef. The gamey flavor results from beef not properly finished on grass. 

Most cow-calf producers are managing for maximum photosynthesis to hold the herd as long as possible. If this is you, you want to graze grasses that are fully developed in Stage 2. Most often, you will notice the plants have a healthy shine, and the leaves droop over. This is the prime time to graze the plants, as they are high in protein and carbs. They are photosynthesizing like crazy! When you graze these plants, your cows will be fat and milk heavy, and your pastures will begin to recover and grow additional forage quicker.  

Why Plan Grazing?

So, why is planning grazing so important? Why can’t a good grazier wing it, and manage their pastures by looking at the stage the plants in the field are currently in?

Ah, here comes the rub in all of this. Yes, you need to be able to see what is happening each day in your pastures to be an effective grazier. However, if you constantly graze for current conditions, future growing conditions will come back and bite you in the backside! This point may best be explained through an example.

Let’s assume you have 11 pastures and grasses are growing fast. You plan to be in each pasture for three days, allowing 30 days of recovery for every other pasture on the ranch. Let’s assume that you are grazing at the end of fast growth and things are starting to slow down. If you don’t have a planned recovery period that accounts for the slowdown, you risk not noticing the slow down in grass development in time to adjust, resulting in your maintaining a 30-day recovery, when a 45-day recovery is more appropriate. It might take you a week or so to catch the mistake, but it is too late to easily adjust. 

Now you are faced with a lose-lose decision: Do you park the herd in a sacrifice area to allow for time to catch up with your oversight, or do you make adjustments and go on? If you choose to sacrifice a pasture to hold the herd, you will certainly negatively affect the “sacrifice pasture,” and potentially the weight gain on the cattle will also suffer. On the other hand, if you adjust and keep trying to live with the consequences, you will certainly not have enough recovery time and you will negatively impact all the pastures. You can get away with that once, but what will likely happen to you, is you will overgraze the plants in each subsequent pasture. This will ensure that your plants will not recover as quickly as they could have and forage production will suffer. Since production and forage growth is degraded, you will have to move even quicker the next time through your pastures, as there will not be adequate forage available for the livestock. This is a common problem that people find themselves in. 

The best way to ensure that you graze cattle or livestock to create maximum benefits to your herd, your pastures and your profit margin, is to use the time-tested and proven planning procedures of Holistic Planned Grazing, outlined in Jody Butterfield and Allan Savory’s book Holistic Management, 3rd Edition. Serious graziers should have a copy of this book, as well as the Holistic Management Handbook, in their library. 

Spencer Smith is a Savory Field Professional. Savory Global Network hubs provide accredited Holistic Management training and support across the world. Abbey and Spencer Smith manage the Savory Global Network hub serving Northern California and Nevada, called the Jefferson Center for Holistic Management. They live in Fort Bidwell, California on Springs Ranch where they produce grass-fed beef, provide Holistic Management training, consulting, Ecological Outcome Verification enrollment, and manage contract grazing on the ranch pastures. Visit www.jeffersonhub.com to learn more.

Spencer Smith to speak at 2020 Healthy Soil Summit

The 2nd annual Healthy Soil Summit will take place this August 25-26. The event is online-only, meaning you can join from anywhere! Among the presenters will be expert rancher Spencer Smith, who will take you through “The Value and Practice of Integrating Animals in Your Operation.” View the presenter agenda and speaker info here.

Understanding Soil Organic Matter and its Impact on Soil Health and Microbial Biomass

By Dr Judith Fitzpatrick, Ph.D.
Sponsored by microBIOMETER®

We are often asked what is a good level of microbial biomass (MB). There is no one answer. It depends on your crop needs, your past soil health practices, and geographic considerations. We do know that increasing your soil’s microbial biomass is an important step in improving your soil and crop health. 

The level of MB you can reach is dependent on soil organic matter (SOM). Soil organic matter is a mixture of Carbon (C), Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Sulfur (S) and all the other minerals that microbes and plants need.   

There are 2 types of SOM: Stable SOM, often referred to as humic matter; and Fresh SOM. Stable SOM is composed of small particles of well-decomposed organic matter (plant and microbial). This portion of the SOM is protected by soil particles and is difficult for microbes to access.

Fresh SOM is composed of recently decayed organic matter that is not yet tightly sequestered in the soil and so it is more efficient at releasing nutrients to soil than stable SOM. Fertilizers, amendments and litter quickly become fresh SOM. Fresh SOM does not last as long in the soil because it is quickly consumed by microorganism and fed to plants.  Agronomists in intensive organic agriculture often use soils containing lots of fresh organic matter. The microbial biomass of these mixtures can read as high as 2,000 ug MBC/gram of dry soil. As the microbes and plants in this rich soil die, they become fresh SOM and if there is surplus fresh SOM it is converted to stable SOM over time.  

The amount of stable SOM that soil can store depends to a large degree on the type of soil because storage requires mineral surfaces for attachment and aggregates for protection. If your soil is inherently poor at storing SOM or if your soil has low stable SOM because of past practices that removed the prior organic matter from the soil, you can compensate by providing lots of fresh SOM like compost and amendments. However, the key to the efficacy of fresh SOM is that it needs to be nutrient balanced – it needs the correct balance of C,N,P, and S. That is where understanding soil chemistry and using the right additives makes a huge difference in improving your soil health and crop output. 

Soil organisms are essential for keeping plants well supplied with nutrients because they break down organic matter and when they die release these nutrients to the plant. These organisms also make nutrients available in both fresh and stable SOM by freeing them from organic molecules. Some soil bacteria fix nitrogen gas from the atmosphere, making it available to plants. Other organisms, like mycorrhizal fungi, dissolve minerals and make phosphorus more available. If soil organisms aren’t present and active, more soil additives will be needed to supply needed plant nutrients.

Soil organisms are essential for keeping plants well supplied with nutrients because they break down organic matter and when they die release these nutrients to the plant.

You can increase your stable SOM by making sure your fresh SOM is balanced and contains enough microbes to make the nutrients in the soil available to your crops. For calculating how to balance your fresh SOM, see the reference below. Your microbial biomass levels will depend on many factors: your soil type, the stable SOM, fresh SOM, crop health, and time of year. Microbial biomass rises as a plant begins to grow and slowly falls throughout the growing season. We consistently see a significant drop in microbial biomass as a plant goes into flowering; at this time the plant cuts back on exudates and puts all its energy into reproduction. Frequent testing of soil for microbial biomass will allow you to watch the trend and see if you over year you are adding to your soil health or depleting your soil.  You can also use testing to assess how well your amendments and additives are at increasing microbial biomass. 

We highly recommend that you read the review referenced below to better understand SOM.

Coonan, E.C., Kirkby, C.A., Kirkegaard, J.A. et al. Microorganisms and nutrient stoichiometry as mediators of soil organic matter dynamics. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 117, 273–298 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10705-020-10076-8

Sponsor Message:

Test your soil microbial biomass and fungal to bacteria ratio using the microBIOMETER, the first infield test read by cell phone.  A 10 test started kit is $135.00, with refills available.  Learn more here.

5 Keys of Content Marketing

By Jorge Abrego
Advertising Director of Acres U.S.A.

Many marketers understand the value of content marketing by leveraging native advertising in various forms and want to incorporate this philosophy into their plans, but they face one daunting challenge – producing the content. Creating new content can undoubtedly present challenges (hence the benefits of outsourcing your content development), which is why getting maximum value from each piece of content matters so much.

Consider re-purposing options from the start

You may only be able to produce four to six pieces of content a year, so be smart about which topics you decide to tackle by selecting those that can be re-purposed most easily.


As a multi-platform publisher, our e-newsletter is populated with content from various sources including articles from Acres U.S.A. magazine. Given that our audience engages with this content in print, you may wonder if they value it enough to engage with it in an e-newsletter. But based on the audience metrics which enable us to examine click-through rates and time spent reading, we can actually verify that readers will engage with good content, which helped us appreciate the value of re-publishing content. Of course, you want to be smart in re-using content in this manner because you can risk losing your audience by constantly publishing the same story, but don’t be afraid to try this approach (and use metrics to measure!).

Update the “old stuff” 

Beyond simply re-publishing a story from last year, another option is to go back through your previously posted stories and look for opportunities to update them with the latest information about your company and/or product.  Stories announcing new products can be updated to incorporate testimonials from customers. Research-based stories can be made ‘new again’ with new research data.

Adapt into another format 

Oftentimes, producing one piece of content means you’re 80% of the way to producing a second piece. For example, consider how easily a video script can be adapted into a story or a blog post. Or think about how easily a data-heavy research report can be adapted into an info graphic. Different people prefer different types of content, so re-purposing one piece of content into two different formats can easily help you reach more prospective customers.

Turn one story into two 

Making time to write a story or blog for your website can lead to going all in on that topic and creating something long enough to let you break it into two or more shorter stories.  Having more posts rather than less and posting more often are two ways to boost your search engine ranking, so be on the lookout for those longer stories that could be split up into multiple posts.

Learn more about advertising opportunities with Acres U.S.A. here.

Jorge Abrego is the Advertising Director for Acres U.S.A.and has 26 years of advertising agency and B2B media experience in the agriculture, energy and technology sectors.

Why Media Integration Is More Important Now

By Jorge Abrego
Advertising Director of Acres U.S.A.

While integrated marketing is not new, B2B agricultural audiences are now being exposed to a greater number of channels and their media consumption habits continue to evolve. At the same time, farmers and ranchers are looking for more specific content and ideas that can bridge the gap from “good to know” to “need to implement” for improving their operations.

As a marketer, you need to pull all your brand’s message points together into one cohesive whole to ensure that the message is not disjointed and confusing. Especially today when your audience is bombarded right and left with news and information of every ilk, integrated marketing enables your company to relay one clear message, regardless of the channel.

Promoting a message through multiple channels that work together and reinforce one another provides the best opportunity for breaking through with expanded reach, increased frequency and with greater resonance amid the noise and distractions. Communication is considered most effective when messages are conveyed with minimal disruption and have the greatest clarity. 

Understanding Your Target Audience

When developing an integrated marketing plan, it is important to thoroughly analyze and understand the target audience in two key areas – their media channel consumption habits, and their level of knowledge relative to your product’s subject matter. For the purposes of this article we will focus on the former by delving into which content delivery channels are most useful from the perspective of farmers and ranchers.

The Ag Media Council’s 2020 media channel study was released in May and it provides important insights on the media consumption habits of farmers and ranchers and the implications of those findings. As is the case in all B2B media studies, print, digital and in-person resources each play a point-specific role in the purchasing process in the ag market even as more options are being added to the mix of channels that farmers and ranchers are engaging with.. Here is a summary of some of the more important findings.

The first survey question asked, “How often do you usually read, view, visit or use the following type of media or information source?”

The media choices provided numbered eighteen (18) ranging from magazine, enewsletters, websites and mobile apps, to radio, TV, email, direct mail and farm trade shows. Interestingly ag magazines/newspapers ranked number one at 93% of respondents on a monthly basis, with ag enewsletters and ag websites at 81% tying for number two.

The answer to the same question on a weekly basis was ag magazines/newspapers coming in at number one again at 73%, with ag enewsletters coming in second at 66% and ag websites coming in third at 63%. Interestingly, when this same question was asked of those farmers and ranchers who self-describe as Daily Digital Users – 73% said they use print on a weekly basis.

When the survey asked, “What are the top two choices from where you first learn about new agricultural products, equipment, services or suppliers?” With the same media choices provided, the number one answer was ag magazine/newspapers at 63%, with ag enewlstters and ag websites again tying for second at 18% respectively.

Finally this question was asked, “Which of these information sources do you use at each point in the decision-making process for agricultural products, equipment, services and or suppliers?”

Now for this question there were four stages or points of decision that respondents were asked to answer about:

  1. Start Thinking About Purchase – ag magazines/newspapers were number one at 52%.
  2. Begin Researching Options – ag websites were number one at 30%.
  3. Narrow Down Choices- ag websites was number one at 31%.
  4. Make Final Decision – ag dealers/retailers was the number one choice at 40%.

The full contents of the Ag Media Council’s 2020 Media Channel Study are available at this link by becoming a member. Alternatively I can provide a PDF of the study by contacting me at jabrego@acresusa.com.

 Some Key Findings

The agricultural market is dynamic, and yet consistent in many ways. Farmers and ranchers use a wide range of media to find information on how to manage and improve their operations. But while the use of digital and mobile channels continues to steadily increase over time, traditional media such as ag magazines/newspaper continue to be a top source even among those who are heavy digital users.

Marketers looking to drive traffic to their website should leverage a variety channels, but ag magazines/newspapers are still the leading channel for driving new visitors to websites. In agriculture, the purchase cycle is supported by all media channels; print, online and in-person and therefore each should be considered for engaging potential customers at each stage.

Ultimately, ag marketers should consider a diverse but integrated media strategy for achieving maximum market penetration, breaking through with clarity across all touch points, and driving engagement at every stage of the purchasing funnel. As a result, they can gain a real competitive edge by building brand momentum and growing sales in a more efficient manner.

Learn more about advertising opportunities with Acres U.S.A. here.

Jorge Abrego is the Advertising Director for Acres U.S.A.and has 26 years of advertising agency and B2B media experience in the agriculture, energy and technology sectors.

Tractor Time Episode 43: Rebecca Burgess on the Farm to Closet Movement

Rebecca Burgess is the co-author of the new book Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile Economy. Her previous book was Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes.

If you listen to Tractor Time, then you likely care about where your food comes from and how it’s grown. But if you’re like us, clothing doesn’t always get the same consideration. We often talk about farm to table, but not farm to closet.

All of us buy clothing. We buy for comfort, for style, for status, for functionality. We have the brands we stick with. And, yes, sometimes we’ll spend a little extra for a garment made of something we feel virtuous about — an organic cotton t-shirt, maybe, or a pair of hemp slacks. But mainly, we look for things that look good, won’t wear out too quickly and protect us from the elements. But what is this often-opaque global supply chain of fast fashion really doing to our world and to us? What Rebecca describes in this interview and in her book is truly stunning and might just change the way you think about clothing forever.

As you listen to this interview, I suggest you do some laundry, or at least take a look in your closet. Are you as conscientious about your clothing as you are about your food?

In this conversation, Rebecca opens up her closet, somewhat literally, to us, and shines a bright light on a system that takes an enormous toll on our environment. She isn’t just exposing a broken system, however — she has a bold and hopeful vision for what a regenerative clothing system could look like. And it isn’t just about persuading big clothing brands to do the right thing. Her Fibershed movement is well underway, with more than 50 communities already participating.

Rebecca is the executive director of Fibershed. You can find out more about it at fibershed.org. Rebecca is also the chairwoman of the board for the Carbon Cycle Institute and a skilled weaver and maker of natural dyes.