January 27, 2020


Hyatt Regency Hotel Redbud Ballroom

The Above and Below of Soil and Plant Health

Join John Kempf for the above ground half of the day and Michael Phillips for the below ground half of the day to truly advance your knowledge of plant biology, plant nutrient cyles, plant-fungal interactions, soil biological process benefitting crops and much more. 


Michael Phillips-Biological Alchemy

Working with the Soil Food Web to Grow Healthy Crops

Trillions upon trillions of soil organisms make up the Soil Food Web. A vibrant biology is every farmer's dream team, and our most fundamental job as captain (a bold assumption, indeed!) is simply not to screw up our team. Rousing every grower to think deeper begins with appreciation for how soil biology abets healthy plant metabolism. Mycorrhizal fungi distribute nutrients and moisture throughout a plant community by means of fungus-root synergy. The deep nutrition delivered by the common mycorrhizal network in turn makes for productive crops. Soil aggregate formation by the fungi addresses carbon flow. Building regenerative soil is quite frankly a fungal act. What was once referred to as good tilth can be viewed as the physical manifestation of practices that limit tillage and other choices harmful to soil biology. The myriad of bacteria work in collaboration with fungi to fix nitrogen, make locked-up minerals available, and enhance plant energy reserves with partially-built nutrition in the form of bacterial metabolites and growth hormones. Appreciating relevant (read holistic) science side allows us as growers to know many of these organisms up close. Grower intuition and imagination in turn allows us to see a bigger picture. Diversity of plants is key to biological quorum sensing. Interplanting row crops, cover crop cocktails in the fallow season, mob grazing, roots mingling with hedgerows and other wild areas on the farm contribute to this overall harmony. We will also explore what happens when biology arises to crop surfaces in creating an arboreal food web. As below so above, one might say in carrying ancient wisdom to a next level of understanding. Reinforcing biology can be done in conjunction with nutrient sprays. Ultimately, effective stewardship of the land involves keeping the organic matter flowing, as it’s only through actively recirculating carbon that we honor fungal ways and plant wisdom. Tomorrow can be redeemed by honoring this fundamental earth pact. No-till farming lies at the heart of changing American agriculture for the better.