What is The BFA?

How do you explain to friends and family what the Bionutrient Food Association [BFA] is about?  Or are you new to the Hartford-Area Chapter and not quite sure what we are about?  Here is a great overview, thanks to the Southwest New Hampshire BFA Chapter.

The BFA is an educational non-profit organization that teaches a set of principles and practices that support growers in building a high functioning biological system in the soil that grows their crops. We identify five key components that must be present and functioning and assist growers in understanding which aspects are current limiting factors in their systems.  These key components are minerals, soil life, carbon, air and water.

When we understand that it is the functional capacity of the soil that determines the vigor, vitality, yield potential, pest and disease resistance and nutrient level of the crops, then the next step is to identify what components are inhibiting this capacity and to address them.

We recommend that growers start with a comprehensive strong acid soil test that identifies current mineral levels in the soil. In our courses, we recommend the Base Plus test performed by Logan Lab in Ohio, as it provides analysis of more nutrients at a lower price than any other lab we have found thus far. This soil test will report levels of Sulfur, Phosphorus, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, Cobalt, Selenium, Molybdenum, Silicon, Organic Matter, Exchange Capacity, pH, and Electrical Conductivity. These are all important components and their levels in the soil are determining factors in overall function of the living soil system.  Addressing deficiencies in these mineral levels is a first step in removing limiting factors to the biological system.

The next step we recommend growers identify and work with is seed inoculation. Our understanding is that in the same way that newborn animals need colostrum to set their digestive tracts, plants need to have numerous species of bacteria and fungi present in the immediate environment where they germinate in order to set their functional digestive tract.

We use the analogy that the symbiotic relationship plants have with soil life functions in a very similar fashion to the flora in the gut of an animal, and that suggests that establishing this component at germination is one of the most powerful and inexpensive things growers can do to raise healthier plants. Different inoculants come in different forms, and directions should be followed as to how to apply them. Some growers also source inoculants from their immediate environments.

Following this we recommend that growers source the largest and heaviest seeds possible in order to get the best results. The seed industry currently sorts seeds by size and weight, and by asking around growers may be able to find larger more viable and vigorous seeds than they are currently working with. In the same way that the runt of a litter will never catch up with the larger animals in size, vigor and productivity, small seeds, which are common in the industry impede overall function in the field. Seed saving may be a necessary step for many growers until larger more vigorous seeds are more readily available in the marketplace.  

After addressing seed sourcing we recommend that growers make sure to understand the components of the potting media that they may be starting their seeds in. For annual crop production, many plants are started in some sort of potting soil or other media, and the nutritional and biological makeup of this material is of great importance in the life long vitality of the crop being grown. Ensuring that comprehensive mineral and biological levels and communities are present in a potting media ensures that plants have access to all of the nutrition that they need in this critical point in life.

Tillage is another important component of good biological soil management, and strategies that minimize the destruction of soil life are critical to create an environment where plants thrive.

Seedling on left is very root bound – this stunts growth and limits your plant from reaching full potential; plant on right is still in full growth mode as the roots have not hit any barricades.

Planting and transplanting into the field is another key point.  When plants are stressed as they sometimes can go into shock when transplanted,  an environment where soil conductivity is sufficient, along with good soil temperature, presence of a broad cross section of bacterial and fungal species, and sufficient mineral availability will help plants out dramatically in this major step in their development.

Plant growth habits pertaining to leaf shape and color, sap color, overall plant structure, stem and calix thickness and numerous other visual parameters are very helpful in assisting the grower in identifying health and vigor during growth of plants. We also suggest that growers use soil conductivity monitoring, brix and sap pH monitoring, weak acid soil tests and tissue tests in following plant growth during the season and staying on top of nutrition in a proactive fashion.

These parameters all lead to a much more functional living system that correlates with overall plant vigor, pest and disease resistance, increased yields, better flavor and nutrient levels and shelf life.”

From the perspective of crop production, soil fertility at its core is determined by soil life. Conventional agronomy as it is taught in most formal university settings does not prioritize soil life as the central force, and it could be argued that this is causal in the drastic decrease in agricultural soil fertility worldwide. Conventional fertility and management protocols are in many ways very destructive to soil life, and due to this have affected desertification, erosion, pollution of waterways, aquifers, and the environment in general. The following analysis does not accept conventional agronomy as sufficient. 

Soil fertility from the growers perspective correlates with the ability of the crop plant to get its nutritional needs met, and to flourish. To understand how this works the first central point that must be understood is that all plants in nature, and in healthy environments have well established multi-speciated symbiotic relationships with soil and leaf life. In nature, plants produce sugar through photosynthesis that is then fed by the plant to numerous species of bacteria and fungi that use that sugar to reproduce and access minerals out of the soil and air environment that are digested and then fed back into the plant as soluble organic compounds. This symbiotic relationship is at the core of soil fertility, and must be understood as the central force at work. 

With this symbiotic relationship understood, then soil fertility management becomes a process of understanding what components are critical to the crop system at hand which are not present and then addressing them. In many cases key minerals that are enzyme cofactors and critical for biological system function are not present or insufficiently present and become limiting factors. Many soils are low in boron, or sulfer, or perhaps cobalt and molybdenum, and because these minerals are missing cirtical biological functions are inhibited. As stated above, the BFA recommends that growers use a comprehensive soil test that tests these minerals as part of a systemic fertility plan. 

Soil life species are another important limiting factor in fertility management, and due to historical environmental factors many critical species are simply not present in agricultural soils. Microbiologists estimate that there may be as many as 1,500,000 species of soil fungi, and 3,000,000 species of soil bacteria. While not all of these species are found in any one area, or needed by any one plant, the fact that most agricultural soils have no more than 5,000 species present in total in many cases means that critical biological pathways that ensure overall system health are broken. The BFA recommends that growers use biological inoculants on seed, and at planting and transplanting in an effort to address these system issues. 

No-till on left has larger soil aggregates and signs of soil life; soil on right has been tilled.

The next step critical to soil fertility function is to ensure that the environment that soil life need to thrive is established in the cropped area. Heavy or deep tillage is a highly destructive process when it comes to soil life establishment and should be minimized in an effort to not regularly destroy soil life populations that may be building up in soil on a seasonal basis. 

Other key components that need to be attended to are sufficient carbon or organic matter in the soil which serves as habitat for soil life, and air and water in the soil. The species of soil life that are the critical plant symbiotes are in many cases aerobic, which means that they need air to breathe, and they also need water for their systems to function. It then becomes incumbent upon growers to ensure that after the minerals and biological species  are present, that they have the air, water and carbon they need to thrive.  

Dan Kittredge, Founder and Executive Director of the Bionutrient Food Association leads a 2-day workshop on soil health.  To find out the current schedule to see if there is one in your area go to:  http://bionutrient.org/workshops

Videos from a few of the 2 day BFA workshop are available free on line. You can find them at http://bionutrient.org/library/videos, and  at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8A7jrDaMQZxbjZTW60lcvg.

After reading the short synopsis above AND you wish to go further, a beginner book customized specifically to this approach and the Logan Lab soil test results is: “The Intelligent Gardener” by Steve Solomon.  It is customized for the Logan Lab results, and how to interpret Logan results.  

Alternately, the simplest method to find out what to add to your soil is to  run your Logan results through an independent website that will customize what and how much of which amendments your soil needs to re-mineralize your soil microbiology to grow nutrient dense crops. There is a minimal annual fee [$10] to use the soil test interpreter at www.growabundant.com .  Look for the organicalc link.  This page when opens asks for your results, in exactly the same sequence as your Logan results—easily done even for beginners.  It tells you exactly how much of what to add based on your square footage.  This is an easy, simple, and quick beginner tool.  A drawback of these organicalc recommendations is a tendency to favor some soluble mineral forms (sulfates) that are bio-available for that season but will not significantly build up deficient minerals over time.  You can also contact  Mark Cegielski of our Hartford Area Chapter by emailing hartfordbfachapter@regenerativeag.net and asking for assistance.  Or, you can take advantage of the free agronomy calls hosted by David Forster, the head agronomist for the BFA.  Go here to sign up for email notification of the agronomy calls as they are scheduled:  http://bionutrient.org/growers/agronomy-consulting

 

Fall is the ideal time of year to begin re-mineralizing , to allow these nutrients to start working into the soil microbiology. Our local BFA chapter places a Mineral Depot order once each fall, and again in the spring. Access to these discounted wholesale minerals is open to all BFA members at the level $50 annually.  If you are starting this process in the spring or summer it is still a good time to amend your soil and to work on improving your soil health.

To your soil’s good health, and to yours as well!

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