Regen Ray: Hello, soil lovers regen right here, another Secrets of the Soil podcast conversation, I’m super excited for you to meet our guest today, Christo. Welcome to the Secrets of Soul podcast. How are you doing today?
Christo: Good day, and thanks again for inviting me. I love anything to do with regenerating the Earth itself. Although this is for soil lovers, I’m going to turn the paradigm and thinking on its head.
Regen Ray: Love it. Let’s do it.
Christo: Now, interestingly, it’s quite clear to most people unless you believe the Earth is flat, that we have a crisis. This is a critical decade. There’s been many years lost since it was clear that we’re getting a warming planet, and there’s a few things that I really want to address to inspire hope not to give overwhelm , but really to give very carefully thought through process that I’ve been working with for 17 years. Essentially, if you take a plant and you dry it and you take the driveway for that plant, in other words, you take out the 70 percent of water from a crop. 95 percent of the substance. Actually came from the atmosphere. Clearly, carbon dioxide we know comes the atmosphere makes carbohydrates, nitrogen comes from the atmosphere as well. But even the trace elements, which are in very small concentrations that wrap around the Earth in the atmosphere, which initially come from the oceans, which has all the trace elements, plants have this unique ability to collect and concentrate those trace elements. For instance, Paterson’s curse is grows where there’s a deficiency of copper in the soil. Patterson curse actually concentrates the copper from the atmosphere and provides that missing trace element so weeds have their role if we learn to listen to what they’re trying to tell us about the soil. So if 95 percent of the substance comes from the atmosphere, we can take this a lot further in addressing the issue of climate change. There’s a few things I’m going to say which may not make sense because we have a narrative which focuses almost exclusively on carbon dioxide, and that has occurred since Keeling mentioned the, you know, the keeling curve where you get increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a very strong correlation with rising average global atmospheric temperature. That’s undeniable. But the analogy that I use is if you have a pot with water on a stove and you turn up the gas, and in this case, the analogy is the gases, the anthropogenic gases, CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, etc. Then we’re going to produce more steam. Given that the Earth’s surface is 70 percent water, the ocean bodies. What happens is with the increased temperature generated from the adaptogenic gases that creates more water vapor, which has a forcing effect. In fact, for every unit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, water vapor amplifies that effect five fold water. It’s about H2O, not so much CO2. This fixation on CO2 leads us to think that we need what we need to do is to go to renewables. I have no problem with that. But let’s assume at 2050 we reached net carbon zero and we don’t produce any more fossil fuels to burn whatever that. Parts per million CO2 peaks at will remain as a legacy for hundreds of years because CO2 is a style molecule now, by that time, we would have crossed the number of tipping points, unfortunately, which is already beginning the story of the tundra, the melting of the ice sheets, the rising of sea levels, the loss of some coastal lands and an even in islands been submerged through elevated sea levels, et cetera. So the real thing is, if we understand that water vapour accounts for between 60 to 97 percent of the greenhouse gas effect, would you be looking at the five percent of the greenhouse gases to make a change? Or would you look at the 95 percent, let’s say, why have we? Overlook water vapor, Keeling said water vapor is so ubiquitous, so ephemeral, is changing every millisecond and even the cloud cover. We know that when when there’s thick cloud cover, it’s warmer because that radiating heat, which came from the surface, the atmosphere is radiating back. But if you have seen cloud, it will disperse into the atmosphere. The top level of the cloud will reflect radiation as well. So it’s very complex and therefore almost very difficult to model what I believe is the point of agency, which will make a huge difference in our understanding. Before I go to that keeling said, look, it’s water vapor is so ubiquitous, it’s impossible for mankind to have an impact. And even if he didn’t say this, but other people followed on from that and said, Well, even if it is the major driver, what can we do about it? We can do a lot about it through the soil, so we’ll talk about the soil. Yeah, that. Microbes, build, soil structure. And I liken it to when you have aggregates and microgrids, the microgrids are built by bacteria, which make smaller pores and the the fungi make microgrids, larger spaces for roots to go through through water, percolate through and for gasses exchange and nutrient exchange. It’s very helpful in our thinking to consider these poor spaces as air sex like we have in our lungs. So I’m going to come back to that, but I want to go start again talking about the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and what I call thumb in the air. We need to reimagine greenhouse gases as resources. What I mean by that is that there too, there’s too much of a good thing in the wrong place, and through microbes and plants, we can draw down those greenhouse gases and through microbial transformations, convert those elements or or compounds CO2 into soil carbon. But we can do that directly, not just though plants there is particularly villainizing into feedik fungi. There are there, there are bacteria, the acid in the back to frundi , which actually bring down CO2 from the atmosphere directly. Example when I first heard about this some years ago was that someone had a tray with compost and they went to a weighing station, perhaps as a big truck. They went to the weighing station and weighed x-tam . Then when they got to Sydney, they were again and the tonnage had increased by a certain percentage in kilograms. What happened is in that compost was microorganisms, which is fixing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So there’s a huge potential to draw down CO2 not only through the plant, but directly from the atmosphere from microbes. We have been doing this for a while with regard to nitrogen fixation and inoculating leguminous plants, the seeds with nitrogen fixing microbes, and they bring down free harvesting of the nitrogen, making it virtually unnecessary to use nitrogen fertilizers, which is a great saving. Because nitrogen fertilizers is probably the main culprit for adding to greenhouse gas radio enforcing and meaning warming in that for every unit of nitrous oxide is emitted from the oxidation of nitrogen fertilizers. You get it has 300 times the global warming capacity, than CO2, in other words, it heats up the atmosphere 300 times more, but it lasts in the atmosphere for 300 years. So doing away with nitrogen fertilizer, not only is it causing dead zones, eutrophication, mass fish, kill, etc. and loss of aquatic life. It’s it has a deleterious effect on the atmosphere. Getting off the nitrogen fertilizers is a really important thing, and to incentivize the change of practice, it is possible and we’re working with the team. It’s an international collaboration I won’t go on all the details, but essentially we can monitor the reduction of nitrous oxide by changing the fertilizing regime and that can be accrued as as carbon credit equivalents, which is worth 300 times that of carbon a ton of carbon sequestered now. Currently, the value of the carbon credits is $20 per ton per hectare per year. If you multiply that by 300 times, that’s $6000 per ton of nitrous oxide not emitted. If that’s going to change practice like nothing else will, it certainly is a huge incentive and nitrogen is free. We don’t need to put nitrogen on the ground so we can do the same with methane. We can use Methanotrophs which consume methane from the atmosphere, and they are important species which are also available. And we can do that with cows. We can change the feed seaweed inoculates like Lactobacillus plantarum. All these things will compete with the methanogens that produce methane in the gut of the cow or inhibit it by other means, or just reduce the production in the first place. So there’s lots can be done. And again, the reduction in methane is is methane is worth 20 carbon credit equivalents, which is 20 times 20, which is $400 a tonne not emitted. So it’s another incentive to change practice, which is great
Regen Ray: when you’ve seen that the carbon scheme has taken so long to get off the ground and understood. Are you hopeful that these others would follow suit or do you feel, you know, like it’s take? I hear that Australia is leading the charge with the carbon and we feel like it’s messing. It’s taken decades to get off the ground. Is there hope that the other things that you’re talking about will fast track or overtake that?
Christo: Yeah, well, there is. There is an initiative from the federal government to. Currently, the cost of auditing for carbon is $50000, which puts most people out of the game. It’s time consuming, it’s very cumbersome, et cetera. With far infrared imaging from satellites and minimal soil sampling, we can calibrate the infrared signature through algorithms to convert the information that’s coming from space. Everyone’s seen the infrared cameras for checking temperature to see if someone’s got covered or what. Well, that can be done from satellites. They can look at surface temperatures, but from the signature, you can also look at carbon. You can look at nitrogen nitrous oxide, you can look at water, you can look at and fossils, potassium. There are many metrics you can measure. So we are in the process of establishing a a trial which we have funding for now. Investment funding, where we will use a technology developed by the French is a team of 120 social scientists and software engineers from funded by the federal the French government, which is equivalent organisation to our CSIRO. So we’re talking about high powered platform has been developed, which you can carry in your hand as a map, and you can add the many features and functionality of it, including integrating weather forecasts so you can work out what what’s the rainfall going to be within a week and you can titrate your irrigation volumes accordingly? But many, many things you can measure. So we’re using and we’re setting up a trial to do that so we can monitor reductions in nitrous oxide methane as well as carbon dioxide sequestration. And critically, getting back to what I was talking about before about water vapor, it was said it was claim that there’s what can you do about it? Well, clearly when you build the soil structures through the microorganisms, not only do you create the lung like structures, the air sacs through the pores we spoke about before, but you’re also building primarily humus, which is a sponge like or it retains a lot of water. And these are the critical facts. A one percent increase in soil carbon will increase the amount of water that can be held in the soil by 140 4000 litres per hectare. Now, one liter of condensed water came for one point seventy six liters of water vapor. So for every one percent increase in soil carbon, you’re actually drawing down and holding what was previously two hundred and fifty three thousand four hundred litres of water vapor per hectare. Wow. So so for every one percent increase your you’ve got a significant amount of taking what is too much of a good thing water vapor in the wrong place and putting it in the right place to soil where it’s useful. Yeah. Decreasing that warming effect through the greenhouse gas.
Regen Ray: Yeah. And and I say that getting brown has done a lot of reporting on this as well, that once he increased his carbon readings, that he’s found no longer become a flood. It wasn’t bogging how that water. And he, you know, they talk in different metrics and imperial, and I don’t really follow, but you know, that’s putting. And now that extra layer that you’ve just explained of like getting atmospheric water and putting it into the soil and even retaining more of that, I think it’s really interesting. Another layer of interest of how complex the soil is and how exciting it is that when you actually start exploring that world beneath our feet, the opportunities that lies there.
Christo: Yeah. So we need to conceive of farming in a three dimensional perspective. We need to shift from a carbon centric view of climate change to a hydro centric view of climate change. And what I mean by 3D, we I mean, going right up to the stratosphere and right down to the aquifers below and the key metric, the key. What will make a difference in our thinking is to swap the keeling curve, which has some merit. It’s an abstraction. And the key relationship is the re coupling of the carbon cycle with the water cycle. It said that water follows carbon and I had like day follows night as sure as day follows night. So the key metric is as you get an increase in soil carbon, you get a rise in water that’s held in the soil. And that means you’re taking that water vapor out of the atmosphere through rain condensation and holding onto it. Now, once it’s in the soil, in a well structured so it doesn’t get sour or compacted or waterlogged because you got that aerated structure, you hold onto that water by having cover crops. The other key principle is you keep all of the soil covered all of the time because that stops that when there is rain and if it’s a poor compacted soil, it collects or pulls on the on the ground. And as soon as the sun comes up, it’s lost with. A green garment that covers the soil that holds onto that and reduces the amount of evaporation and loss of that, the most important commodity for the future in farming, you can have the best deal in the world with no water. You can’t grow a thing you know . You can take the worst soil in the world, which is probably standard desert. And with water and other things which we’re working on, we can start greening the desert. So I think it’s worthwhile looking at this. We have lost about a third of our land through chemical farming and ploughing, et cetera. I mean, the great dust bowls of the 1930s was a great testimony to the destruction of hmm destructive impact of the Plough. And we’re working with another it’s a wedding age, but it’s it’s got properties where the if you take a crystal of it and you add water, it will expand 300 times the initial volume. But it’s also got nutrients and its unlike a lot of wetting agents, it’s also tolerates heat of up to 80 degrees. There is a case study in the Sudan where they’re growing food in the desert using this polymer. The other option is to use the clay because clay humus and these polymers hold water. And that’s the key. So I’m working and I’ve developed. We’re just trialling making clay, Deflocculates In other words, instead of being laminated and being held together by electrostatic forces, the positively charged cut on the they can be charged and ions, which kind of keeps it together. I’ve looked at a way to displace that. So Deflocculates becomes like particles and the fluid. So you get a liquid clay and you can put that through irrigation pipelines. You can add microbes, and the microbes will adhere to the clay particle, the small clay clay particle as the liquid organic fertilizers. So basically, you’ve got a an Asian clay which holds water, nutrients and microbes, and you can then irrigate your soil and you can start growing food in desert. So that’s a really exciting thing.
Regen Ray: Yeah, super exciting. And so you mentioned before that you got in this space or you’ve been researching for 17 odd years. What got you thinking down this path and what got you super excited about focusing your research and efforts on soil?
Christo: Yeah, well, I went to the first carbon conference in Australia in 2004, and at the time I was, I didn’t have sufficient funding to continue my medical research work and prior in medicine. I was worked in a to make market. And so I went to this and I was fascinated by some of the statements, which seemed incredulous at the time and still, to me, a somewhat incredulous that if we increase that, we can on 10 percent of the land, if we used regenerative agriculture, we can wipe out our current CO2 emissions, and I could almost become obsessed about that and try to work out what actually is that and what are the fluxes? It’s not that straightforward because we need the label carbon, because the the Leaf has the martyr or nostrils underneath. So when the microbes in the soil expire, CO2 through respiration, like we do, that carbon dioxide makes the underside of the leaf and that carbon dioxide absorb. So we need that labor component. But there’s the then there’s the more stable components, which humus, which has a much slower turnover. And then there’s the aggregate formation so that the the the carbon is locked up in the aggregate, either through slime, from the microbes or from the glomalin and the soil from the fungi. So we’re holding on to that carbon and locking it in. And so I but I. I have written also three volumes of a book series called ground for Hope, and that’s what I became aware of. The 95 percent of the substance came from the atmosphere, dry white substance. And then I started to think we need to become 3D farmers, not flat-Earthers to 2D farmers. But really, we need to go deep into the ground, understand what’s there, and we need to go right up to the atmosphere. And so I realized it wasn’t just CO2. It’s water vapor primarily, but also methane and preventing nitrous oxide emission and sequestering carbon dioxide through the plants, et cetera. So that’s that’s really something that has taken my attention for some time and will do for some years to come. Yeah.
Regen Ray: Also, I love the way that you articulate things I know even when we’ve chatted before. You have a great way of putting analogies in a simplified version of what is a very complex. And even though you use some complicated words, which I appreciate. I think you also join the dots to make it really visually easy to understand. And you know, I bumped into a friend last week and he was excited to tell me that he realizes that plants take out and minerals from the air. You know, this old school thinking that roots is the only communication line to the plant is becoming more common knowledge, you know,
Christo: and you as I said I don’t have much time as left Ray . One thing I really want to say is to acknowledge that Rudolf Steiner has been a huge influence in my life. He was the father of biodynamics, and he gave warnings that he said that the time the chemical farming started to come about. And he said this will have grave consequences for the future of humanity and the planet itself. And we’re seeing that now quite clearly irrefutably. But the positives were the following. I mentioned that the the soil when will structured is like the lung started using these two interesting images, which I’ll share with you and your audience. One is that when you walk on the surface of the soil, one can cultivate the feeling that you’re actually walking on the diaphragm of Gaia of a great mother. What that means is that that muscle that we have in our us, which helps the movement and passage of air in and out of our lungs, is also this interface between the atmosphere and the soil below. That’s one image. The second image is that he talks about the plant being an upside-down man, and I’ve traces through and it’s amazing how much insights it yields. In other words, the roots belong to our brain, but we now know that the the particular fungal threads that would connect plant to plant are communicating to each other. They’re sharing resources and sharing nutrients, but they’re sharing information through chemical messengers just like in our brain. And when we’re using ploughs, we’re breaking up those threads. It’s like doing a lobotomy. We’re dumbing down the soil. So that’s the first thing. Obviously, the lung and the leaves, there’s a reciprocal relationship. We breathe that CO2. The plant breathes in CO2 and releases oxygen, which we then breathe in. There’s a connection there. But the other interesting thing is he talks about when you walking on the farm, you’re walking in the belly of the farm, the belly of the farm. That means that all its above ground with the plant shooting up towards the Sun. That’s the nutrition, the nutritional sphere. That’s the metabolic sphere. That’s the digestive sphere. So as we absorb nutrients from our intestine in our metabolic realm. Similarly, the plants are doing so. So this picture and turning the world upside down and farming the air and seeing the plant as an upside-down person is very relatable. And you know, if you look at plants we know, secrete or exceed glucose. Same as our brain feeds on glucose, so the microbes feed on the carbohydrates. There are so many relationships, so we need to see what we do do. So we do to ourselves what our soil is, our gut. Mm-Hmm. And we we now know that the if we grow food with a diverse microbial populations, we’re actually inoculating our own gut with this diversity in our gut. We know that restricted numbers and diversity of microbes in the gut is related. To ill health and the opposite occurs both in the soil when we add like soil inoculants at like probiotics and so similarly for our gut, when we have submitted foods, et cetera. And we need the fiber to feed the microbes in the gut. Similarly, we need the agricultural residues in, you know, cover crops or compost or whatever. We need the fiber and nutrients in the soil conditioning that happens with that. So there are many, many parallel I talk about as a parallel parallel universe and what we do to the world outside is what we do to our world inside, which is our gut.
Regen Ray: Yeah, without the amount of research that’s coming out. And and it’s not just about the research and letting that catch up. It’s about that. Just does it feel right, that common sense, that intuition and I feel like more and more people are starting to feel connected to the Earth and the rhythm of the planet, and seeing that by polluting the oceans and the water streams and and our soils, it’s polluting our mind and our lungs and our our gut back bacteria as well.
Christo: How much more time we got
Regen Ray: at least another 10 or 15 minutes. We can say all good things about soil.
Christo: I believe so. I have been focused for the last year or so on what I call 15 pathways to draw down greenhouse gases from sky to soil. And just recently, in fact, yesterday I was in communication with a team that has developed a what’s called melanizing as in melanin, which makes the hair go black and thus you’re going gray and makes us skin go dark. When we go to the sun, that’s carbon Melanizing in the acidic meaning interdigital through the roots of the of the plant. So you got a direct connection between soil and plant through the roots through the in the tides, the inner fight for the intrusion or infiltration. And then you’ve got the fungi. So the melaninizing, housing and a Endophytic fungi are being developed by this company. I spoke to their one of their lead researchers. It’s a non-profit but also commercial lung was setting up in our carbon sequestration trial for one of simplicity. It’s more than that. We’re going to be using the end of Endophytic fungi, and they’re now at the stage with a developing specific species which work best with particular crops. In other words, alfalfa needs a particular variety of Endophytic fungi. Canola a different one, et cetera, et cetera. So we’re trying to see what particular things are rolling out first, and they we’re working with the the most voluminous crops of the crops are grown most and Lucerne is one. I like Lucerne because although it tends to be monoculture, it it’s high in protein, it’s nitrogen fixing and it has deep roots. So it is a great rotational crop when you lift it out. It’s great further. It’s got lots of nitrogen for for the feeding. So we’re hoping to inoculate the the seeds of the alfalfa before we plant, and then we will use that as part of our trial to see how much more the degree to which you increase the carbon is 17 percent more compared to other Endophytic fungi. That’s big. That’s big. The other thing we’re doing is we know that silver pastures. In other words, integrating tree stands of trees with pasture actually is one of the fastest way to sequester carbon. If you look at all the different possibilities and the ideal ratio is 30 percent tree cover to grasslands, and we’ve had this concept that we just get rid of the trees. Well, firstly, the animals love it because it shades them from the heat. It conserves moisture. It brings up nutrients from it, from the ground. It deposits carbon free of leaf foliage, which eventually branches come down, et cetera. It creates fungal networks that which extend into the soil in the grasslands. It’s a no brainer, and it also we know trees make rain. The the the bacteria that are released from from trees, leaves actually seed rain. Without that ceiling of of of what do they do, we don’t get droplet for me when I get right. And we know that there’s lots of rain in the Amazon because of the burning and cutting down of the forest. There’s less rain. There’s a reason why we call it rain rain forest because they actually generate rain.
Regen Ray: Sometimes it’s so obviously in front of us, you know? So we
Christo: do. Now, one of the species we’re looking at is what’s called blue Mallee. Or it’s polybractea, polybractea Eucalypto , which is a very deep rooting eucalypt, which they make the eucalyptus all from, but it lasts for six thousand years. And if there is a fire, unlike the normal response of a eucalyptus, that’s where you get a lot of shoots along the trunk. It actually starts shoots from below in the roots zone, so you get all these little saplings coming up, which increases the carbon and biomass production. And so we’re hoping to inoculate, well, we probably won’t do that because it probably got to that stage who was definitely going to be planting the the blue Mallee. And we’re also going to use the polymer so that we virtually reduce the tree mortality to zero by inflating the crystals so we wouldn’t be growing the seedling when we take the ceiling out for really for transplantation. We inoculate it with microbes. We inflate the crystals with water and then we put it in the ground and we can cut. We can pass it up with so volcanic ash or something like that. So it’s kind of like a little pod which can then go into the ground. And that means we’ve got we get up to 40 percent more root development. Those roots will go deep searching for water and nutrients, and you’ve got they’ve got a really supply of of water and nutrients. So the mortality is virtually zero. We’re hoping to reclaim desert or degraded lands using the strategies. And then once you’ve got those stand of trees weaving through criss cross, then you can start the establishment of pasture and regenerate landscape and then get all the good things that happen with rotational soil grazing, which we need to do, which is also a very quick way of turning over carbon, but more importantly, water.
Regen Ray: Yeah, I love that. And it’s such a shame that we’ve labelled farmable land as cleared land, removing all the trees and banking models and every other model talks about, you know, farmable land and it’s cleared. And it’s such a shame. And I love this now movement of agro forestry and syntropic farming tropical. I mean, and what you’ve shared as well, with 30 per cent tree cover bringing back so much of wildlife and biodiversity and rain. And it’s super exciting.
Christo: One of the things why we’ve have more fire prone is that the fuel load is no longer turned over by animals. Previously, there were animals like bush turkeys, etc. you know, kicking up the soil, getting the microbes onto the branches and the leaves, et cetera, but also the nitrogen that from the manure that nitrogen feeds the fungi, which which ultimately break down the lignans and the more difficult parts of the woody substance, et cetera. So that actually is a is a strategy to reduce fire risk, and we’ve lost that too. So bringing back the tree belts will create those animal habitats, which will encourage, you know, populations of animals, which will start that whole nutrient cycling, which you just mentioned.
Regen Ray: Yeah, I love that. I want one question. I really want to ask you and I ask all our guests is what does regenerative mean to you? You spoke about it quite a lot today. What does it mean to you personally?
Christo: Yeah. Well, as I said, to give emphasis to what we talked about at the beginning, we need to regenerate the atmosphere. That’s prime. So it doesn’t stand alone. Obviously, the soil and particularly humus is the interface between water air and soil. And by building humus, the soil carbon sponge through microbial transformation and structuring building the lung of the soil, we can then make our cells breathe again. What’s happening with our current paradigm? Chemical farming with machinery is where where the soils are suffocating, they’re on life support and they give given intravenous nutrition, you know? And that’s just bad news. I mean, it’s very expensive to in the long run and. It’s very counterproductive on every level, including economic levels, so we need to change the paradigm. We need to regenerate the land and it’s possible with the forces and law, the lawfulness of nature.
Regen Ray: You know, I love the fact that you take it one level up to what even I’ve always thought about. And it’s like from the top of the atmosphere all the way to below the soil and everything in between, including us as regenerative humans on on the planet. One final question, which is our signature question If our soils had a voice and you were that voice, what would you tell the humans on the planet?
Christo: OK, what? I would say the soil. So as a soil, I would say cultivate a sense of humus and change the paradigm of the paddock between the ears.
Regen Ray: Yes, love that that keeps coming up this whole paddock between the ears. And I think it’s just golden. So thank you very much for sharing all your wisdom today. You’re a bucket of knowledge, and I love chatting with you all the time and all the emails that you share with us internally. Totally appreciative. Hard to read at all, but definitely appreciate it coming in and you get little gold nuggets here, there and you read the headline and you see the comments and really appreciate the work that you’re doing and the effort. If people wanted to hang out with you more or learn more or see what you’re doing, how can they get in contact with you?
Christo: Yeah. Well, there is a website which was with a consortium of people around the world called Biodiversity W WW Dot bio diver D I V E R Air Dot City Biodiversity or email directly growing and g b d at gmail.com. There are two ways, and if anyone’s interested in becoming part of trials which we want to do more and more to show what I’m talking about can be validated through data and through the consortium of people we have around the world, which also includes not only monitoring but the militarization of the sequestration of carbon and the decrease in methane and nitrous oxide. Please contact me and we can make those services available to such farmers at low cost and I mean, low cost. All right.
Regen Ray: Awesome. Well, thank you very much and soil love as they have another view of what you can be doing to dig deeper into your soils. I appreciate you listening and tuning in today’s episodes. I’m regen Ray from farming secrets.
Christo: Thanks Ray.