So excited because my guest today has this amazing green future grower story I KNOW listeners are going to absolutely love! So if you’re driving don’t worry I’ll make awesome SHOWNOTES because I know we are going to have a million golden seeds dropped with this amazing interview.
CEO of Advancing Ego Agriculture, John Kempf is on a mission to “produce healthier soil, stronger crops, and consistently higher yields!”
What I love about his story is how he started out and I can’t wait for you to hear it too! His passion for growing healthy soil and healthy plants for profit is contagious!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I love what I do I have fun!
I grew up in a family vegetable farm in snow-belt south of Lake Erie
Small scale market ~ fruits and veggies for wholesale markets
early 2000s we had 3 consecutive years
we lost majority of crops to a variety of disease and insects
In the 3rd year in 2004, we observed that
plants which were grown on healthy soil
were very disease and insect resistant
cantaloupe resistant to powdery mildew that was side by side
soil with he previous pesticide exposure for the prior decade of growing vegetables we lost the majority of the crop to powdery mildew, 80% of leaves
The new soil didn’t have pesticide exposure didn’t have any powdery mildew. Not 5-10% you couldn’t find any! ZERO! There was a knifelike effect right down the field.
really a major turning point
what was the difference between those two plants
resistant to powdery mildew when the next plant 2 feet away was susceptible.
asking that question and the things I learned
plant science and agronomy from asking that question were what led to founding
Was the idea that we can grow plants that are completely resistant to diseases and insects based on how we manage nutrition.
where we identified plants that are healthy
not only are they
resistant to diseases and insects but they regenerate soil health at the same time
process of this journey I was fortunate to be guided by
land grant universities
all over the world
realized this exceptional info that very wise people had was scattered all over the place
- difficult to find
- not recorded at all
- some experiences were not being transferred
Led me to starting the Regenerative Ag Podcast
with the intention and goal of interviewing
- leading farmers
- leading scientists
sharing their information with other professional agronomists and growers who wanted to produce in a regenerative agriculture context!
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
I grew up even from before I remember, we always grew our own food.
appreciate it as an adult
There were many years my parents purchased salt and pepper and spices and that was just about it
- maple syrup
- grew many of our own herbs
- 2 farmed ponds where we raised fish
- raised poultry
- grass fed beef
- family dairy cow
- grew a large garden
- small orchard
Lived an incredibly rich life from a food quality perspective
My parents started growing vegetables commercially in 1994, so I was still very young
My earliest memories are working out in the fields harvesting fruits and vegetables.
Awesome! I love millennials. I thought you were older then that.
So you have this amazing journey. I am curious it seems like you almost have this test plot like at Rodale’s, how did you have this plot without chemicals and the other part was getting sprayed with pesticides etc. Is that it right?
It was sort of an accidental test plot
land grant universities
pesticides were fine
didn’t know any better
Whereas the challenges and dangers of pesticides are now very clearly
as a result using a lot of pesticides on my farm
My dad was the original distributer
we were the first people to use to the newest products and cocktails so we could make recommendations to customers
I was a licensed pesticide applicator at 16.
As a result of this
farm we were farming on and managing
Had a history of growing very intensive vegetables
We started renting
corn, small grains
2 year of alfalfa rotation
So that soil did not have the history of pesticide applications it had
That soil was much richer and more fertile
field bordered up against our field and we started
one side intense powdery mildew infections and the other there was none present
This is fascinating?
That was the lightbulb. I wanted to know what was the difference between thee plants
what emerged after research and speaking to a lot of people
areas of plant science which are not even considered in mainstream agronomy
particularly in that point in time
Thanks to people like you…
Do you know who Liz Carlisle… she wrote the book the lentil Underground. It kind of asked the same questions. I think she was getting her phd from Stanford. She teaches there now.
What I learned in my research
that plants have an immune system and yet they don’t all work equally well
We know people who become ill
never become ill
two individuals is the way their immune system is supported over the course of their lifetime even before they were born
holds true of plants as well
We can support a plant nutritionally so it has a very functional immune system
aggressive immune systems
extremely resist to a broad array of pests and diseases
I feel like a lot of people ask me these questions you have a great way of breaking this down.
there are agriculture ecosystems
it’s challenging to communicate because there is a fundamental dissonance between the scientific method and ag
the scientific method is based on the single factor analysis
specific factor or addition
when you add something
agriculture and soil are so interconnected and interrelated so when you shift and change one piece everything else also changes
One of the gifts I have been able to bring is to communicate these interrelated concepts is to communicate them in a way to understand.
On your website you have so many webinars my listeners would be interested in learning.
It’s hard to identify a single surprise.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the realization that this knowledge and understanding of plant immune systems and managing plant nutrition has not already been the mainstream.
I understand there are substantial economic forces that would be at a disadvantage if this information was more wildly known.
regenerative ag ecosystems have been around for 50,60, 70 years or longer
agricultural green revolution
refuted by some of the
Justice von Liebig when he wrote the law of the minimum
plant yields and development
Triggered the development of
What most people don’t know he published a 2nd book that completely reversed his position and said
it’s all about biology
150 year old example
leading scientists of the day
how to implement regenerative ag systems on a very large scale
don’t need new ideas of
simply need to implement what we know
Is it similar to what people are talking about no-till, permaculture or is it something you’re doing.
I think our approach
developed at Advancing Eco Ag (AEA) one key fundamental difference
in particular to other
agriculture the difference is are very soil centric
common mantra to regenerate that healthy soil creates healthy plants but we believe that the opposite is true
healthy plants create healthy soil
plants and photosynthesis
- soil biology
- soil environment
in our approach where we work with very large scale commercial
Focus is on changing soil across the entire farm is by growing really healthy plants!
Focus is to change the health and quality of those plants such that those plants will change the soil
We can build organic matter while growing
The only difference between regenerative and degenerative is how farm manager manages plant health
regen ag ecosystems
It’s all about how do you manage plant health
- tillage agnostic
- permaculture agnostic
Valuable ideas that have merit and appropriate
You are not going to grow carrots in a no-till environmental on a large scale
implement on large scale
don’t have in depth conversations
regenerate soil health in a tillage environment
continual annual cropping system
much prefer to focus on the results then the specific ideology.
Ok, so then how do you create healthy plants then?
Ah, the magical question, the perfect question?
functional food as medicine
to do that I tend to
How do you create healthy plants then?
if you’re emphasis is not on soil health
you need to have healthy soil to have healthy plants is not a fallacy you can do that when you have regenerated and rebuilt soil health
challenge most growers don’t have healthy soil
common prescription is to
- cover crops
those are valuable and useful tools don’t always make sense for a given farming environment
Incorporate when we can.
The most foundational piece is we need to drive a plants photosynthesis
What we have come to accept as common
photosynthesizing at 15-25% of their inherent
Plant 5xs more sugar
5x more yield
particularly on vegetative crops
won’t commonly see a
where did all the sugar go? The surplus gets sent out as a root source for soil biology as root exudates
sequester large volumes of carbon
The have the capacity to transmit tremendous volumes of sugar out through the rot system as root exoduses
many crops the quantity of exceeds the quantity of plant biomass
if you have a tomato plant
20 lbs of tomatoes and 20 pounds of biomass
40 lbs there is an equivalent
if it’s a healthy plant
in the soil
as long as you have a really healthy plants don’t do this
in a commercial setting
where we have compromised soils our approach is to use foliar application of trace minerals that are needed specifically for the photosynthesis process
give the plant the nutrients that it needs
to photosynthesize at a high rate
soil profile begins making extracts
foliar applications of nutrients are the jet fuel that get the plane growing
initial strong surge
not something that is necessary for the long term
can get things moving quickly on a much higher performance
where do you get the trace minerals?
We built a company called Advancing Eco Ag (AEA) to answer that questions
There are five key minerals that are necessary to increase it by several orders of magnitude
for all of our listeners
list of necessary nutrients. Your plants need to have enough of these
if any of those four is limited to any degree it will have an immediate blocking effect on photosynthesis
- fifth mineral is phosphorous
all the sugars that are produced
gardeners are also lacking other nutrients
We find that these initial nutrients when we apply them as a foliar spray can accelerate
Can you get those minerals from any other sources
nitrogen can be sourced in many ways
- urea organically
- dry powdered amino acids
Nitrogen is readily easy to source and supply
But we need to be careful not to do it in excess
magnesium can be
mag sulfate readably
iron and manganese
must be chelated and in the reduced form
should be able to source them from any garden supply store
Fifth element phosphorus is also readily available
Source from any garden store and address from each of those
I guess what I meant is can you grow them? Like beans for nitrogen or buckwheat?
short answer is if you want to take 10 years
30-60 in 3 weeks No.
If you want to grow really healthy crops quickly
It takes a very long time to regenerate
The challenge is this, when you are growing your cover crop of buckwheat but it is only photosynthesizing at 20%
capable of what it is releasing
If you focus on managing the nutrition that cover crop and increase it’s photosynthesis you are going to get much more rapid release of nutrients in the soil profile
more nutrient availability
10 years to produce and effect or do it in 60 days
A fundamental difference and why we took different approach
need to deliver an immediate economic response. When a grower applies a product it needs to pay the bills this growing season
promise many soil amendments
Cover crops take a long time and they make the other soil amendments work
So is the place to start a soil test?
I have to be the controversial person here and stir up a debate
you can take a soil analysis
We use soil analysis on all the farms we work on, we recommend it.
The question is if you do take an analysis, what are you going to do with that recommendations?
- rock phosphate
- whatever the list contains
that’s the wrong answer in my perspective.
My most recent webinar was on managing nutritional priorities
I described the sequence
make an immediate impact
how do you decide whether a
- soil amendment
what is the right place to start?
In my opinion
I believe the place to start is with the photosynthesis and growing really healthy plants.
When you have healthy plants can change the soil analysis really fast when there is an underlying geological profile.
is a farm we were working with in Nebraska commercial soy bean production
we put on one application on
30 acres of a 60 acre field
split the field and had soil analysis on both sections before the treatment
second analysis followed one year apart
on the treated section before the applications the
calcium base saturation on the treated field where we put one foliar application
calcium levels jumped
ph’s were 6.2-6.3
We added no calcium no limestone
What changed is the plants put such a large volume of sugars out through the root system they were able to reach out to an abundant food source
obviously this doesn’t work
in all soils
soil’s underlying foundation had to have adequate
I don’t want to suggest you can do this across the board and biology will fix all imbalances but I do believe that soil amendments aren’t always the right place to begin.
What’s the difference between a foliar application and a soil amendment?
foliar application is sprayed onto a plant leaf to accelerate plant healthy
large quantity of material to soil itself
100k pounds per acre 10s of pounds per 1000 to almost. feet
Truth be told, I feel like Patti Armbrister has said a lot of the same thing but perhaps differently.
I invite the dialogue and the debate, it’s an intriguing debate.
shift the perspective
conversation should be framed as from the soil up it should be from the sun down
photosynthesis the engine we can harness that drives the entire system
the only way you have of building the new energy to ecosystem
have this conversation with commercial farmers but for gardeners
when you do the math
of the quantity of carbon that can be sequestered and fixed into a soil
written history of agriculture the agronomists of 60s and 70s engaged in converstations
fastest way to build soil organic matter is to grow corn.
idea that corn extracts organic matter, it’s true that it does but it’s not the fault of the corn plant
1/2 of a percentage point of organic matter on a commercial scale on the same soil growing corn and corn and corn
when you do the math
a corn crop can transmit as much as 15000 pounds out of the root system to feed soil biology
On a farm that’s 7.5 tons per acre
A farmer can not afford to do that in compost
economics don’t exist in or less true in a garden because you justify dozens of tons of compost per acre
ultimately the fastest way to build soils to focus on building plants
emphasizing very strongly and specifically on plants because I feel that it’s a side of the conversation that has been missed and not been well described
soil and plants are on the same ecosystem
healthy plants create healthy soil creates further supports further generations of health soils and the goal we should be striving towards
key to hacking the system is to focus on growing
Does it change over time? After you get those healthy plants you get healthy soil?
YES! It’s a self perpetuating
When we dive into the science of agriculture ecosystems we can make it complicated but it was designed to work
in that sense it’s actually simple when you get really healthy
It’s a perpetual motion macine
plant in abundant quantities
abundant nutrition they become even healthier
self perpetuating cycle
minimal or perhaps even no inputs
large scale commercial farmers
don’t need them anymore
ultimate goal is to have a truly sustainable system
lots of conversations
We should have no desire to sustain our current model
no desire to sustain where we are today
grow food that is so nutritious that can function as food as medicine. When we have achieved that much higher performance can we have a conversation about growing food as medicine
I believe that the use of
- foliar applications
- soil amendments
- cover crops
I thought that sustainable agriculture meant they wanted to create agriculture that sustained our planet.
There are people belive that sustainable agriculture with our current levels of soil health and plants
There are people who believe that the definition does not exclude insects and pests
you don’t have insects and pests
I’m perfectly healthy and I have this little touch of heart disease
They are either resistant healthy or not
sustainable ecosystem as long as we have unhealthy plants
That means we will constantly be required to
So even things like Japanese beetles that you have to pick off. One year we had all these broccoli plants, that one was infested, people talk about squash bores.
That’s one local example but I am really referring to
it is possible for plants any plant to have such a high functioning that they are 100% to all diseases
- Japanese beetles
- tomato horn worm
This is not hyperbole this is something we have effectively done on a large commercial scale for over a decade.
I think one of the reasons my podcast is so successful I am very curious, and I’m not too embarrassed to admit a lot of this conversant and science is over my head, but do you have any advice for listeners where do they get started?
We have released to get started
make it accessible to everyone
- inspiration for webinars
- youtube channel
For all the videos we have hosted, we are always hosting additional webinars
challenge of course is
if you want to dig deep into the science
launching an online academy
can already go to the website
academy will be a series of in depth courses
science to manage pests or diseases
concepts and principals of regenerative ecosystems we use on a large commercial scale
Those would be the obvious place I would point to
I also in the podcast which I host
regen ag podcast
I always ask the guests for resources they would suggests. They have offered up an incredible wealth of resources.
We list those resources on the podcast transcripts lots of valuable places to go.
whenever we speak of the science
We have a couple of fundamentally different approaches to thinking about agriculture that aren’t currently mainstream
think that diseases and insects do not occur at random but an expression of a nutritional imbalance
survival of the fittest
then mainstream ag which see diseases and pests occur at random
because of these science and ideologies are dispersed and scattered all over the place
We have been attempting to do is bring all these pieces of information
I’d be remiss not to ask you these 2 questions?
What do you think about hemp?
I love it.
let’s farm hemp instead of corn.
Because it would habe bigger leaves right?
there are many positive favorable arguments to be made for hemp
It obviously has limited disease
sequester carbon and build soil health at a volume and rate
positive attributes and never should have been disallowed.
What was the other question. So anything else you want to tell listeners, I appreciate you spending a lot of time with us. I feel like you have answered a lot of questions that a lot of people have had. I guess I am stuck on photosynthesis, which makes me think we want to grow more squash plants because they have big leaves. Am I totally off there?
really healthy plants have really large leaves
wider and shorter in ratio to each other
overall leaf then an unhealthy plant
have a different ratio
increase leaf thickness
not about the leaf surface area that a given plant has it’s about that plant’s overall archetype how it photosynthesizes as a complete unit
3 ecosystems that sequester faster then all others
- early growth stage coniferous forest
- perennial grasses insensitively managed by grazing
- growing corn
corn can sequester carbon faster then any other annual crop
different C4 pathway
warm season grasses
produces a lot of biomass
similar to what you would think of for a cover crop
produces biomass production as being an analog fro the quantity of sugars to transmit to the soil profile
challenges with a squash plant yes it looks large and substantial but once you lose all the water content it shrivels up to almost nothing.
It’s interesting because we even bought a chipper one year because
my understanding it can sequester carbon faster then hemp but corn has other side effects attributes may be less ideal
forty percent of all the corn grown
is used for fuel which is complete idiocy
What is it used for fuel?
It’s being turned into ethanol.
Oh right… this is going to prove my total lack of understanding but does this relate to solar panels?
I don’t believe it’s possible to increase of solar panels but it is my understanding that there’s developing tech that is more efficient absorbing solar radiation
The one thought that I would share
the only difference between a regenerative farming ecosystem and a vibrant healthy farm or garden and a degenerative system
soil health is the farm manager
manage an ecosystem to be constantly improving or constantly degrading which gives you tremendous opportunity and responsibility for your greatest benefit and it’s benefit.
It’s also important to remember to have fun!
this is why they are in gardening
- love your plants
- communicate with them
- have fun with what you’re doing
that simple connection
can overcome many foundational nutritional challenges
plants desire to serve people and when we anticipate that and engage in that fashion we can produce some extraordinary
Check out Advancing Eco Ag (AEA)
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