The biggest question that hung in the air at the end of this episode was, who is this guy? Mr. Johnson’s story was as compelling as all the others on the Regenerative Agriculture Podcast, but it was not possible to shake the feeling that the scale on which he was applying his regenerative approach was such that it should make a lot industrial ag sit up and listen. A quick search online and the size of the operation remains a mystery. But it’s definitely not a hobby farm. Lots of onions and cotton.

To hazard a guess, James is probably an idea customer for AEA (Advancing Eco Ag – John’s company). Not because of the above mentioned scale, but because of his approach to farming. For one, it is obvious he sees it as a team sport – there is a lot of mentions of consultants and workers etc. But this guess comes more from that he seemed observant, cautious, but wanting and willing to change and try new things. He also has a story about powdery mildew and its connection to nutrition that is similar to John’s own.

A couple of the observations that got my attention:

  • weeds seemed to have different expression within the area of the field in which cotton variety trials were grown the year prior. Down to the plot level – ie. it was variety dependent. No data on if it’s true, and no idea on the mechanism (maybe soil flora and fauna?), but that sounds like something worth following up on. By someone.
  • the difference in weed load in the areas at the start of the field where the boom spray hadn’t yet fully primed. The boom was full of soil primer. The weeds were 10x in the areas without the primer. Simple but reliable observation.
  • (the AEA) foliar ferts are as effective on insects as foliar insecticides. He said that his more-conventionally-minded consultants can even see this working and are starting to spread the good news.
  • timing matters. In one trial of an AEA system verse a conventional system, the AEA system was winning by so much he tried to swap the conventional system over. It was too late in the season for this to work, so the conventional system just didn’t catch up.

The final thing about James that was endearing (to me) was his adoption of robots in ag. Laser shootin’, weed zappin’, monsters from CarbonRobotics. Love it. He also thinks that now the robots have a future in harvesting onions which they didn’t previously have – better soils and healthier onions means they come up easier and are tougher.

So, the take-aways/ confirming of priors w.r.t. sugar beet production in Scandinavia:

  • we need to try the nutrition approach to insect management. John had a whole webinar on this.
  • I want to use the observational powers of our farmers more. We are already really good at this, but I would like to try more of the approach of Innovative Farmers field labs, in which the farmers are the scientists (and advocates).
  • This stuff isn’t going to work overnight, but the results will come, and probably quicker than expected.

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