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Earth Haven Farm BLOG
January 2016

How Will Your Farm Cope with A Changing Climate?

(excerpt) By Rod MacRae and Phil Beard

Global climate change is a reality. The vast majority of climate scientists know it is happening and that human activities are a primary cause, that what we are experiencing is not just a product of natural forces and not the typical variations we see from season to season.

Food production and distribution are two of the most significant contributing factors, responsible for up to 30% of all emissions connected to the main activities of the economy. And now, this reality is coming back to haunt farmers, creating moisture stress, damaging fields and infrastructure on and off the farm, compromising animal health, driving up insurance and other costs. Unfortunately, many farmers appear to be overly confident in their ability to adapt to a changing climate, remembering earlier successes adapting to periodic shifts in weather patterns. But the variability we experience now is often outside the range of “normal”.

           

The key question for agriculture is whether we can transform farming systems to eliminate dependence on fossil fuels and shift to crops/livestock that are more resilient to the impacts of a rapidly changing climate and produce the food/fibre society needs. And will this transformation be predominantly planned or reactive. Producer interviews and focus groups reveal that concern in the Canadian agricultural community remains relatively low despite the increasing level of negative impacts associated with climate change.

However, as this briefing note outlines, the transformation needed to respond to the effects of climate change will require a major redesign of farming systems. This redesign will be more difficult to undertake the longer a landowner waits to start making changes.
Many organic farmers think that they will be protected from the effects of climate change, and relative to conventional farmers, they will likely be more resilient. But the impacts of a rapidly changing climate will be so significant that all farmers need to re-assess their farming system.
 
Some stories of farmers who are on the leading edge of transforming their farming systems
Farmers have figured out how to make their farms more resilient, be less reliant on fossil fuel use and be profitable. We summarize the stories of five whose farms are located in the same or similar Eco zones as southern Ontario.


(For the whole article, go to www.biodynamics.on.ca, or contact newsletter@biodynamics.on.ca for a copy.)
 
Rod McCrae is Associate Professor for Food Studies at York University, and Phil Beard is the General Manager/Secretary-Treasurer of the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority in Wroxeter, Ontario. The original paper was commissioned by the Maitland Watershed Partnerships and published in this newsletter in 2008.

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Consciousness in Agriculture

Biodynamic farming in its essential being has to be discovered as a new art. This means we have to develop a personal relationship to bridge the abyss between our own spiritual being and the outside world. Whatever we practice in farming we should realize that it is at first hand a repetition of past achievement. If we build up a compost heap, for instance, we need to see that the decomposition and humus formation comes about in the right way. So in order to understand this process fully we should do it by hand now and then. It is not just something that happens out of itself, we extend our being into this process and thus build up a personal relationship. If we work with cow dung, this is even more the case. It is no good just to throw it somewhere in a heap, but we need to work with it consciously, throughout the year, to smell it, take it in our hands and observe the structure and color. Of course we must appreciate the scientific analysis of how much nitrogen, potassium, etc., is in it but this must be complemented by feeling it and touching it and learning to perceive it as a substance that contains mighty forces.”
 
by Manfred Klett
“Consciousness and Agriculture”
Principles of Biodynamic Preparations
pp18-19

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Convert Your Farm to Biodynamics

Biodynamics is "a totally different way of thinking about your farm than the way most farmers think about their farms today. It requires a change in thinking. What happens sometimes is that people convert to organic agriculture and all they do is to substitute natural inputs for artificial inputs and they still treat their farm in an industrial way. With biodynamic farming and good organic farming, the farm organism principle is at the core. You have got to change the way you think about your farm."

Thanks to the Biodynamic Association in the UK


Convert your Farm to Biodynamics
(From an interview with Timothy Brink - former CEO Biodynamic Association)

This originally appeared in The Star and Furrow - December 2013

There are a range of scenarios for conversion of a farm to biodynamics – a non organic farmer who decides to convert their farm to biodynamics, an organic farmer who is converting to biodynamics, an established biodynamic farmer who is moving to a new farm that is not a biodynamic farm, or an apprentice or student who has finished their training and is starting up on a farm that is not a biodynamic farm. In each case the farm will need to go through a conversion to biodynamic practice, and for each different matters will need to be considered and put into practice.

We will probably cover the most ground if we consider the case of the non-organic farmer who is converting to biodynamic farming.

Adjustment

The attitude of the farmer is a key consideration. We could ask why we have a conversion period. Part of the reason is to clean the land of residues from agrochemicals. Another important reason is to allow for a period of adjustment – both for the farmer and for the land. In my mind there are several things. The farmer has to move from attitudes that are prevalent in agriculture today (especially in non-organic agriculture although they seep into organic agriculture as well) and change their thinking to the biodynamic approach. I think that the fundamental change in attitude is to think the farm as a living organism. This has huge ramifications for the crops that you grow, the livestock that you keep, the mixture of livestock and crops, and so forth. The farm organism principle is at the heart of the biodynamic approach. It is the first thing that Steiner talked about in the Agriculture Course. And the longer I work with biodynamic farming the more I see this as being the absolute core of biodynamic farming – The Farm Organism Principle.

To expand, the industrial model has taken over in agriculture in the past 100 years. It is basically an input-output model where productivity is the main factor that guides management decisions. E.g. put in so many tons of seeds, fertiliser, herbicide, pesticide, and lime, and you expect to get so much out. Optimum production is the guiding factor.

The biodynamic approach is completely different. It is about how to build up a healthy sustainable farm organism in which you grow a wide diversity of crops. The crops you grow are appropriate and belong to the place you are farming, the livestock you keep are appropriate and belong to that place. They do well in a natural system without being propped up with fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides for the crops, and veterinary interventions for the livestock. It is a different way of thinking about the farm. It is a way of organising your farm so that it is diverse, so there’s balance between different crops, there’s balance between the numbers of livestock and the amount of arable land, and a balanced diverse whole is mutually supported. The different parts of the farm organism benefit each other and support each other.

That’s a totally different way of thinking about your farm than the way most farmers think about their farms today. It requires a change in thinking. What happens sometimes is that people convert to organic agriculture and all they do is to substitute natural inputs for artificial inputs and they still treat their farm in an industrial way. With biodynamic farming and good organic farming, the farm organism principle is at the core. You have got to change the way you think about your farm.

The principle of the farm organism is there in organic farming as well. This is probably in part due to the influence of the biodynamic movement. It is there in the organic standards but it is much more consciously worked with in the biodynamic method.

Farm organism

This means seeing the farm as a living system with various parts that interrelate and that mutually support each other. In modern non organic farming it is typical that in different parts of the country farms specialise in one or the other enterprise. So in some parts of the country the farms are all arable and have no livestock at all. In other parts of the country there’s a lot of dairy farming. Other places there’s a lot of sheep farming. On arable farms it is common that the same crop is grown in the same field year after year. There is usually a rotation, but it is continual arable cropping and you often have the same crop in the same field in successive years.

To develop a farm organism you first of all have to have diversity. You have to have a mixed farming system. So ideally you want to have livestock and cropping. Some horticultural systems and some vineyards are all cropping – that’s a compromise. Ideally you want to have livestock and crops. Some parts of the country are not suitable to arable cropping, so you can’t achieve this ideal everywhere. But ideally you have some diversity of cropping so that through the crop rotation you have some crops that give back to the soil and some crops that take from the soil. A grass/clover ley is a very good example of a crop that builds soil fertility and structure. At least 3 years of grass/clover is usually a key part of the crop rotation on a biodynamic farm. By means of a good crop rotation you develop a sustainable system.

An appropriate mix of livestock and crops means that the manure from the livestock fertilises the crops and therefore you don’t have to bring in fertility from outside the farm. The ideal is that the manures from the livestock support the cropping and that the crops provide the feeds and straw for the livestock. The different parts of the system support and benefit each other. And with diversity comes health and resilience. The crops are healthier because disease organisms have a more difficult time attacking plants that live in a diverse situation. Nature is always diverse. We are working with natural systems and ways of working. Diversity tends to bring health to crops and livestock.

We also want to have diversity of livestock. A mix of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, horses, or goats that is in balance and appropriate for our farm. When we have diversity of livestock we tend to have healthier livestock. Internal parasites is a good example. Clean grazing systems help to make an environment in which the livestock are not under pressure from internal parasites.

Where do you start?

The challenge is that everything interacts and so you have to start all together. You have different components.

  1. The soil
  2. The plants – the crops and grassland
  3. The livestock
  4. The Farmer

Right attitude

You have your own attitudes – and that is probably the place to start – with oneself and what it means to be working with the farm organism concept. So it is important to study biodynamics through an apprenticeship, through a full time course, an online course, etc.

If a non organic farmer converts to biodynamics the first thing they have to do is to introduce a good crop rotation with fertility building crops - normally a grass clover ley. So one has to establish a good 7, 8 or 10 year rotation and get it working. That rotation develops the soil life. That is the other critical thing that has to happen with conversion, because soil life and soil fungi are depleted through the use of agro chemicals – herbicides and fungicides in particular. The plants in a biodynamic system are fed by an active healthy soil. So the crop rotation needs to get established, all use of artificial fertilisers has to stop because we don’t want to suppress the soil life. And we have to start to use the biodynamic preparations.

Biodynamic Preparations

The next thing after attitude is starting to use the biodynamic preparations as these will help to stimulate the biological activity of the soil and to balance and harmonise the various processes that take place within the soil and the life of the plants.

Manuring

Good levels of organic matter need to be built up in the soil through at least three years of soil building crops in the rotation. The organic matter holds nutrients for the plants in an accessible form, holds water in the soil and makes the soil friable. This is the foundation for healthy plant growth and development. Then we must choose crops that belong to the farm. In non-organic farming it is common to choose plants that don’t belong to the environment and then to prop up these crops with the use of fertilisers, herbicides and fungicides. The only fertilisers we use are our own livestock manures. In some situations, as a temporary measure, some brought in manures may be used from extensive farming if necessary. However if the plants are appropriate and belong to that farm then we should get to a situation where our own livestock manures are sufficient to fertilise those plants and that the soil is sufficiently alive biologically so that the plants can actually get the nutrients they need from the soil. They will be healthier because the rotation is correct and there is diversity. And also because the plants actually belong there and are suited to that environment - therefore they are not weak and vulnerable to disease and pest problems.

Animals

When converting a farm you will probably already have animals. You then have to think of the animals that you have. You have to decide if the types of livestock, the breeds and the numbers you have are appropriate or not. For example if you have a dairy farm with dairy cows, you may decide to bring some sheep into the mix. The sheep and the cattle work well together, they complement each other. If you only have dairy cows your cattle are going to be more vulnerable to disease for whole variety of reasons and then you use more veterinary medicines to prop them up. Veterinary medicines, herbicides and pesticides are all propping up a system that is not inherently healthy and is out of balance.

In addition to looking at whether you have the right diversity of livestock, you also need to think about whether you have the right breeds. It is very common for farmers to keep continental breeds of beef cattle which don’t belong in the environment of many parts of Britain. A farmer converting to biodynamics may consider changing their breed to a traditional native type of cattle like Angus, Hereford or Galloway which are well adapted to the climate in the UK and to the soils and plant life. They will be healthy because they are suited to the environment.

In the past every region has its own breed of cattle and sheep. Those livestock were bred and acclimatised to the environment as they lived there for long periods of time.

In non-organic agriculture the main factor determining decisions is often productivity. Many farmers have thus brought in large muscular continental beef cattle into grassland areas of Scotland, Wales or North of England where few if any arable crops are grown. But those cattle need to be finished with large amounts of concentrates which are arable cereal and protein crops. The traditional UK beef breeds don’t need finishing with concentrates. They can be finished on grass which is far more appropriate to many parts of the UK. Bringing in concentrates to feed these cattle works outside of the Farm Organism principle. With the Farm Organism principle you know what belongs to that place and you know its potentials, so you select crops and livestock that do well there without the use of inputs from outside the farm (feeds, fertility or vet medicines).

Manure

Manure management is another very important point. This in fact needs to be changed early on in conversion, because very often there is no respect for the manure. It is considered a waste product. This is part of the attitude change as indicated earlier. Manure is not a waste product, it is our fertiliser. It is a key component of fertility. It is not the only one as the grass ley also brings in fertility. Growing clover brings nitrogen into the soil and when the ley is ploughed the breakdown of the root mass also brings fertility. But manure is a key fertiliser in the biodynamic (and any organic) system. Our manure is precious! So we have to treat it with respect, so instead of just heaping it up in a field somewhere, biodynamic farmers put their manures into heaps which will compost quickly and effectively. We add the compost preparations to the heaps which facilitates the decomposition process. We thereby minimise losses - otherwise a lot of the fertility in manure can be lost if we are not careful. For example nitrogen goes into the air through a process called volatilisation. If we are in a rainy area the nitrogen and other nutrients can leach out. This is not only a loss of fertility for the farm, but is also a danger to the environment by bringing nitrates into the water courses.

We set the manure up into heaps. Many biodynamic farmers also cover their heaps with a semi permeable layer that lets in air but keeps excess moisture out. They turn the heaps once or twice to bring oxygen into the heap and add the biodynamic preparations so that they compost quickly and effectively and the nutrients are stabilised.

How you bed your animals is also important. Bedding straw is part of what becomes a fertiliser in well composted manures. You need to have the right balance between the manure and the straw which is the carbon/nitrogen ratio. That balance needs to be right.

Buying in straw is a compromise. An ideal farm has both arable crops and livestock. Thus one of the products from the arable crops is straw for your livestock. But in grassland areas farmers have to buy in straw. Unfortunately it is often not possible to obtain biodynamic or organic straw as most biodynamic or organic farms have their own livestock and thus keep the straw. Therefore it is permitted in the Demeter Standards to buy in non-organic straw. In good thorough composting residues are broken down, so for bought in straw the farmer needs to be sure that the manure is well composted (at least 6 months and often 1 year). Well set up heaps and turning helps this. You can see by the results as the finished compost is like humus and no longer smells of manure.

Self-contained

Another aspect of the biodynamic farm organism is that it is as self-contained as possible. It is never possible to be completely self-contained since there will always be something coming in (e.g. seeds, plants) and something going out of the system (e.g. sales). It is more of an ideal principle that the farm should be as far as possible self-contained. This may take some time to achieve. Sometimes in the beginning one has to bring in manures from other farms. That is also allowed as long as it is from an extensive farm. Ideally it should be from an organic or biodynamic farm, but that is difficult as biodynamic farmers don’t want to part with their manure.

In non-organic farming it is very common to bring in livestock on a regular basis, whether that is breeding stock, store cattle or sheep, or weaner pigs for finishing. Livestock are even moved around the country with Somerset dairy calves going up to Scotland for rearing and finishing. This is a great way to move diseases around the country. The biodynamic farm works towards the ideal of a closed herd or closed flock. This is part of the ideal of being self-contained. Ideally you have your own breeding animals (cows, bull, ewes and rams) and produce your own young stock that are born and reared on the farm. You are not moving livestock all over the place, but you have a closed herd and a closed flock. Many biodynamic farmers even raise their own chicks for layers and table birds.

Breeding

How do you avoid problems?

I had a powerful experience of this when I converted the farm at Loch Arthur together with some colleagues. We had to buy in to start with. After about 3-4 years we managed to achieve a closed herd and flock apart from the male sires. We experienced the health of the livestock increased dramatically. This is because whenever you bring in livestock from outside the farm those livestock have to adapt to the disease challenges on the farm - whether it’s internal or external parasites, or mineral deficiencies in your soils. They may even need to adapt to the climate or the buildings you have that might have a risk of some types of disease.

You establish your own closed herd or flock. Just as breeds adapt to a locality over centuries, the herd or flock in the same way adapts to your farm – to the plants that grow there and the conditions you have on that farm. They adapt and become able out of their resources to live a healthy life because they have adapted to the environment.

Do you get in breeding weaknesses?

The one exception is that the male sires are often brought in – i.e. bull, rams or tups. If you bring in male sires that brings in diversity. The ideal would be if there was another biodynamic farm nearby from where you could bring in a bull or ram. But because it is very difficult to find a bull or ram of the breed you keep and from a biodynamic or organic farm, the Demeter standards allow you to bring in sires from non organic farming when necessary.

Plant and seeds

Brought in seeds should be from biodynamic or organic production. The biodynamic movement is a leader with the seed work, and even more so with the new seed project that is being launched. Only when seeds are not available from a biodynamic or organic source are non-organic seeds allowed, and only with derogation from the certification office. These are relatively few. Most biodynamic farmers do not use non-organic seeds. Some producers keep their own seeds, but normally that would be for certain crops and not for every crop. Some biodynamic farmers keep their own grain seeds for many years and they do very well. The crop begins to adapt itself to the conditions. This goes against conventional thinking that seeds must be brought in every year as the seed quality and production will decline. But that is not the experience of many of our biodynamic farmers who have kept their seeds for many years and do very well.

How long does conversion take?

Normal conversion to biodynamics under the Demeter Standards is three years for a farm that has been farmed non-organically. There are reduced conversion periods for farms that have been farmed extensively and haven’t had intensive use of fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides. The conversion period can then be reduced to two years, but only if the biodynamic preparations have been used correctly and comprehensively during that period. A one year Demeter conversion period is possible for an organic farm that has been certified for at least three years, and if biodynamic preparations have been used correctly and comprehensively.

Having said all that, when I started farming I was told it takes seven years for a farm to become really biodynamic. And having converted the farm at Loch Arthur it certainly seemed like a reality to me. I found that for the first two to three years the farm had a huge adjustment to go through. The plants had to change from being fed by artificial fertilisers to gaining their nutrition from the soil as the soil life began to develop. In the first year the yields were pretty good because there were still residues from the fertilisers in the ground. But in the second and third years the yields were very low and I could see that the land was going through a big adjustment to the new system. Then the system began to work, the soil started to become more active, we started to get a rotation working and to grow appropriate crops. I could see that by the fourth year the crops were beginning to do better. The same was true with the livestock. We had brought in a lot of livestock at the beginning to establish our herds and flocks. We also experimented with different breeds. We didn’t find the right breeds all at once, so we got to the point of a closed herd and closed flock after about three years. Then there was a great improvement in livestock health. By about seven years I experienced the farm organism was beginning to work and be healthy, and the farm was really starting to do well.

One thing I have sometimes seen is that farmers think of the biodynamic preparations as something extra – like icing on the cake. They think they have to do all the ‘important things’ first, and then they get around to applying the preparations. When Jimmy Anderson visited us at Loch Arthur for our first Demeter inspection, he helped us to see that the biodynamic preparations are fundamental to everything we do. That is what gets the system working. So the preparations have to be there from the very beginning. 

Source:  http://www.biodynamic.org.uk/farming-amp-gardening/converting-your-farm-to-biodynamics/

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Mycorrhizal Fungi run the Largest Mining Operation in the World

Up to 85% of plants depend on fungi to survive. Plants and fungi depend on each other for nutrient cycling and water absorption.


Photo: Amanita gemmata by Courtney Celley: US Fish & Wildlife Service

"If you sift the mineral particles from conifer forest soil, wash them, and examine them under a microscope, you will discover a startling detail: tiny tunnels, three to ten micrometers across" 

 "The tunnels curve and branch and sometimes more than one pierces the same particle. What could have created these microscopic boreholes?" - Jennifer Frazer

Image: Landeveert 2001 - Thin-section micrograph of a tunneled feldspar  Scale bar = 100 micrometers

There was a nicely done article which came out on the journal Scientific American by science writer, Jennifer Frazer, who has degrees in biology, plant pathology and Mycology. I thought the beauty of post was that she has taken on the unseen microbial subject down onto a microscopic level to help the average reader understand what is going on in the complex sophisticated microscopic world where mycorrhizal fungi mine the soils not only for the basic food nutrients for plants we are familiar with like nitrogen, phosphorus, etc, but also those hard to come by trace elements [Zinc, Copper, Manganese, etc] which plants need for strong immune system health and survival against a potentially hostile world of pathogens. Oddly enough many soils are rich in important nutrients, but they are often locked up in a physical form which makes them unavailable to most plants. That's where the fungi come in. She references this photo here below to compare chemical weathering etches scar patterns [which she compares to an earthquake graph] into a mineral called Feldspar with the contrasting mycelial strands which have a twisting tangled pattern which fungi normally make.

Although, interestingly, Fungi do manufacture a number of chemical acids and other enzymes which do indeed breakdown and weather rock in the soils. The photograph below she used for illustrative purposes only is Mold, growing in a Petri dish from a sample of dust and debris which was taken from some repair work in the bathroom of an apartment. To take this picture, the photographer, Bob Blaylock put the entire Petri dish on the stage of my microscope. The mold is growing in EasyGel nutrient from Wild Goose Science. The mold strands beautifully illustrate the same design patterns we see in the common mycorrhizal fungi hyphae which are clearly different from the chemical etching done on mineral rock if we were talking mere chemical reactions on stone. 

"The tunnels seem like they were made by something … alive. They are the spitting image of hyphae – that is, filaments – of fungi."

Image: Landeveert 'Feldspar' 2001

She then provided another beautiful illustration of something that the average person can actually see feel and touch. Something they may have commonly stumbled upon if they have ever gone for a walk in the woods. Most granite rocks and boulders in forests will be colonized by lichens and mosses. Most folks also understand the degradation and weathering effects that such organisms have on buildings like bricks, rock, rood slates or even the gravestones in a cemetery. 

"But why would a fungus tunnel into a rock? There’s no food there, and it no doubt takes a sizeable capital investment to assemble and secrete the acids necessary to eat raw rock."

"There is a precedent: lichens. The crusty creatures, a combination of fungi, algae, and attendant bacteria/archaea, are the first and last word in Earth-based rock colonization. Wherever naked stone is found, lichens will be there."

Image by Bob Blaylock (Mold - August 2010)

Sure enough. I've previous written articles on Biological soil crusts (Lichens, Mosses, Cyanobacteria, etc], from desert areas and also from here in Sweden within the shallow soils of some of this regions Boreal Forests. Such ecosystems are fascinating and foundations for any future life development. I wrote the Boreal Forest example specifically because most people find deserts boring and the soil crusts which exist there are probably not even remotely noticed by the average person. Hence the Boreal forest example has bigger and better examples of mosses, lichens and fungi which most people find more exciting and sexy when it comes to the visual. But it should be noted that Desert Biocrustal systems are equally important. I'll post the links below. But it is interesting that the microscopic deeper soil layers of this subject are not effected by the surface work from these living organisms.

 Photo: "Caloplaca thallincola" by Jymm - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

"They cover almost 10% of Earth’s land surface, and if you are paying attention on your next forest or tundra hike, you will be astounded to note just how much real estate they have staked out – not just on rocks, but also on tree bark and soil."

"The fungal half of lichens are the drilling specialists, excreting acids that break down rock and enable the fungus to get a hypha-hold in micro-trenches, cracks, and etch pits (small lens-shaped cavities formed by the action of water). The acids are derived from the food that the algae provide to the fungus." 

"But the shafts in the photos at the top of the page were found nowhere near a lichen or a boulder. They were inside little bits of stony soil. What other fungi could be driving these tunnels ?" 

An interesting feature of the illustration below which you really don't see are those hormonal substances that the mycorrhizal fungi  manufacture or produce which hinder or suppress the plant's root  from growing root-hairs and might even encourage actual dichotomous branching from the root tip itself which will further enhance performance. So this tangled looking fungal mantle which covers this area of the root and inserts itself in between the cortical root cells is where all the interactions of nutrient, water and sugar exchanges take place between the fungi and the plant. This allows a much enhance performance of root area absorption than it had previously or if it were under and industrial science-based management as recommended by Dow Agro-Chemical and/or Monsanto. See how superior nature is compared to imaginary human improvements influenced by nothing more than bottom line profiteering ???


Reference: smith se read dj (1997) Mycorrhizal Symbiosis (second Adn) Academic Press

The illustrated image above also comes from her referenced resource material from the Department of Forest Mycology and Pathology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences here in Uppsala, Sweden. See how she describes what is going on in the above image:

"The fungus forms a root sheath called a “mantle”, and from this mantle, it sends hyphae both into the soil and into the root. The hyphae that invade the root do not actually invade the cells there. Instead, they weave a web around them, a structure known as the “Hartig Net”. Why would a tree put up with such a flagrant home invasion? To start, the net is a secure place where the fungus and the tree can exchange goodies.

"But fungi are also particularly good at seeking and absorbing (you might think of them as biological “Bounty”) owing to their diffuse bodies, which comprise a vast network of tiny tubes that max out surface area. Since fungi live in their food and secrete their digestive enzymes directly into it before resorbing the digested slurry, they are effectively one giant inside-out intestine (to those of you who dislike mushrooms, I apologize for putting you off them forever now -- though if it helps, mushrooms themselves generally do not digest anything, being strictly reproductive structures. That doesn't help either, does it?)."

She next provided the readers with an illustrative photo example of a soil penetrating root with end cap and it's fine root hairs without the colonization of the mycorrhizal fungi. The purpose really is to illustrate just how limited any plant is without the extra aftermarket add on parts I described in past posts where I previously compared a plant to a factory stock car out of the showroom and multiple species of fungi & bacteria comparison to all those after market performance enhancement auto parts, like a set of Hooker Headers which further enhance a stock automobile's high performance which makes it a true muscle car. Here is her description followed by the image:

"Unassisted, trees are limited to their own relatively meager collection of root hairs, found only near the tips of roots. The rest of the root is just a conduit. Fungi, by contrast, absorb across their entire bodies. Furthermore, root tips are vastly larger than a hypha. Even root hair cells – the finest filament available to roots, which sprout from the side of root tips -- are around 15 micrometers in diameter. That’s one and a half to five times as large as a hypha. You can easily see them with the naked eye."

Image: Oergon Caves, by AnimalParty - Wiki Commons (2011)

Now what I find interesting about this image above is that it also beautifully illustrates the limited nutrient and water uptake infrastructure of a farm crop grown which is common with the  maintenance recommendations of the conventional industrial business model we have today. If we just focus strictly on how the synthetic fertilizer inputs and all other synthetic pesticides actually cause a sterile soil system, the dosage concentration must be high enough so that a certain percentage will be actually used by the crop plant. It's a numbers game. The plant has certain specific requirements for proper growth. The industrial practices deliberately limit how much rooting absorption area will actually exist in the soils. So the chemical potency needs to be high enough to ensure that enough uptake from the limited root infrastructure will provide such requirements to the plant's above ground food producing  factory. Such high potency of chemical inputs also assure that the mycorrhizal fungi will never colonize these crop plant root systems. The high synthetic fertilizer potency triggers an epigenetic switch within the plant's DNA to actually turn off production of the chemical signaling which sends a message to fungal spores or hyphal strands to colonize the root. If the mycorrhizal fungi already exist, the shut off switch will trigger the fungi to detach from the root system. In any event, the root absorption area becomes far limited and the soil changes from a mycorrhizal soil to a bacterial one which actually favours weed (ruderals) competition. 

This is because a mycorrhizal system will outcompete the weeds for available phosphorus. If there are any weeds that do germinate, they will be greatly stunted in growth. This also benefits the Agro-Chemical companies who want to sell the farmers more synthetics to kill off those weeds. The conventional Agro-system remains flawed, inferior, but this at the same time allows the industrial business model to remain intact and more powerful. It's extremely important for everyone to understand where the problem lies, what makes it flawed and why there are such powerful lobbies to keep the status quo. But there is more in understanding how this root structure operates by illustrating things we see and use in our world. Look at the illustration below. This is a core boring and cleaning device with water jets engineered into the head for cleaning out a bore hole.

Image; Stone Age Gopher Water Injection Bore Hole Head

Like an industrial water well drilling bit designed with jets to soften, lubricate and cool down the material ahead of it so that the drill head can more easily bore a round core through rock and other challenging material, a plant's root system also can itself bore through many challenging materials. The illustration at right shows that such technologies may also be used in branching off a main bore hole shaft and going horizontally, just as plant roots do. As I have written about previously, there are several shrubs and trees which have an incredible ability known as hydraulic lift & Redistribution of water from deeper layers to the surfaces which also may be shared with other shallower rooted plants. But the reverse is also possible and it's known as hydraulic descent where water is taken from the surface during rain storms and stored into the deeper layers of the sub-soils. The plants have a tough root cap which can expand it's growth further into tough soil materials with the help of water and other enzymes it itself may produce. But the plant is limited and this is where the fungi also manufacture enzymes and biologically created acids to dissolve minerals pushing ever further into newer soil regions that the plant wouldn't otherwise have access to and on a microscopic level. 

"Taken together, these traits mean fungi can probe and penetrate crevices that roots and root hairs cannot. Thus by partnering with fungi, trees can make use of a much larger soil volume than roots alone could do, and can consequently absorb more water and nutrients than trees without fungal partners."

"Ectomycorrhizal fungi hold up their end of the deal by secreting acids that dissolve mineral particles from a distance. Via special digestive proteins called enzymes, they can also access organic forms of nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil (like amino acids, peptides, proteins, amino sugars, chitin, and nucleic acids) that plants wouldn’t otherwise be able to exploit. But there is a lot of other competition in the soil for these nutrients -- from other fungi, from bacteria, and from protists." 

"And the tunnels in those mineral particles sure looked suspicious."

"Scientsts began to connect the dots. What if ectomycorrhizal fungi were not just passively sopping up whatever nitrogen, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron they could scavenge from the soil? What if ... what if ectomycorrhizal fungi are actually mining hard rock for their trees?"   

"One clue can be found by looking at thin sections of fungus-enveloped root still embedded in soil. In this sample, probing hyphae sprouted from the mantle have wrapped mineral particles in a fungal embrace."

Image: Landweert et al 2001

In the photograph to the right, notice the thin section of an ectomycorrhizal root tip showing root (r), fungal mantle (fm), mineral particles (m), and ectomycorrhizal hyphae (h). Scale bar = 50 micrometers. Scanning electron micrographs of these particles show the fungi not only grasping, but invading them. In the photograph below again notice the scanning electron micrograph of branching hyphae that embraced and penetrated a mineral particle. Fungi seem to enter the particle at upper right and center right. Scale bar = 10 micrometers.

"As you saw in the image at the top of this post, thin cross sections taken from tiny pieces of feldspar and hornblende – common minerals in conifer forest soil – reveal tunnels inside with rounded ends, curving paths, and constant 3-10 micrometer diameters that also seem to finger fungi as their drivers."

"Scientists speculate that secretions of organic acids at the tip of the hyphae driving the tunnels release potassium, calcium, and magnesium ions from the mineral, simultaneously excavating the tunnel and releasing these valuable elements for absorption."   
"Could anything else be responsible?"

"Scientists have also observed that the tunnels are found most commonly near the soil surface, and much more rarely deeper down. That definitely seems to implicate something alive."

"And as mentioned above, the tunnels look radically different from the etch pits and saw-tooth cracks that are the hallmarks of purely chemical weathering. As a result, scientists now think ectomycorrhizal fungi have *two* ways of shanghai-ing nutrients for their trees, summarized below."

Illustration: Landweert 2001

"Fungi can access organic sources of phosphorous and nitrogen that would otherwise be unavailable to trees via enzymes they make, but also by mining soil minerals"

"Fungal mining has many advantages. Some feldspars contain pockets of apatite, a major source of phosphorous in forests. By excavating these otherwise locked nutrient chambers, fungi are able to access a phosphorous source that would be unavailable to plant roots alone."

"Fungal tunnels and the acids used to make them also speed up mineral decay and increase mineral surface area available directly to plant roots. Futher, fungal mining cuts off competition from other soil microbes for nutrients by accessing minerals in seclusion directly at the source. And it provides trees access to minerals even in acidified soil (the product of decades of acid rain), which can make grabbing them straight from the soil more difficult chemically."
 
"The speed with which fungi drive their tunnels is not blinding, but not glacial either, considering the miner is just a few micrometers across. One estimate suggests that the tips of fungal hyphae could be pushing their leads at the rate of 0.3-30 micrometers per year. If so, the authors calculated that 150 meters of pores are formed each year per liter of “E horizon” soil – a type of forest dirt leached of many minerals. In this same relatively small volume, 10,000,000 hyphal tips would be tunneling into sand grains at any given moment."

"Spread across the soil of an entire planet, the extent of fungal mining surely dwarfs anything  undertaken by humans. Its scale, and the volume of soil that fungi have helped create over what may be half a billion years of delving, beggar belief."

Source: Scientific American & Jennifer Frazer (http://creating-a-new-earth.blogspot.ca/2015/11/mycorrhizal-fungi-run-largest-mining.html)

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