Erosion of nutrient density

by Mark Edwards

The post–World War II, Green Agricultural Revolution increased crop yields, but half our global population currently suffers from caloric and micronutrient deficiencies. Many people consume thousands of empty calories, yet remain malnourished and obese because their diet is deficient in essential vitamins, minerals and micronutrients.

Calories are empty in the sense that the foods have high levels of sugar and starch while delivering few other nutrients per calorie consumed. Consumers want to consume foods that deliver more nutrients per calorie rather than less. In The End of Food, Paul Roberts describes how and why nutrient erosion degrades the sensory qualities of food, especially color, texture and taste.

MIA’s focus on increasing yields has caused slow, yet systemic erosion in the nutritional quality of our food. The levels of essential nutrients in the food supply has declined in each of the last few decades, with double-digit percentage declines in iron, zinc, calcium, selenium and other nutrients essential for human health. Farmers grow produce with higher yields by weight, but with more starch and sugar but fewer total nutrients and lower nutrient density.

Consequently, each calorie delivers more sugar and starch with fewer vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. The erosion of the nutritional value of food diminishes human health and contributes to a litany of diseases, especially obesity, diabetes and heart problems. Higher yields make farmers more money but create the hidden costs of lower nutritional quality with amplified health risks.

Genetically engineering seeds to grow bigger produce causes the plants to devote energy in head or seed production at the expense of deep roots. Industrial agriculture causes roots to atrophy because plentiful chemical macronutrients, (but not micronutrients) are readily available in the topsoil. Modern fertilizers act like Twinkies, junk food for plants.

Aggressive use of chemical fertilizer and tillage increases soil erosion, degrades local ecosystems, increases water demand, and dilutes nutrient density. Lack of micronutrients makes crops weak and vulnerable to pest and disease vectors.

Microflora serve plants and animals at the bottom of the food pyramid and remain the most undeveloped biological system on earth. Nature places millions of microorganisms in the roots of every plant, similar to their placement in the human gut, to support natural processes that improve digestion. Smartcultures simply cultivate and amplify nature’s nanocultures to improve crop production and produce quality.

Microalgae and their microorganism symbionts form the foundation for the soil food web and provide bioavailable nutrients for higher-level plants and animals. These nano-communities work as a team to improve soil structure and fertility. Algae represent nature’s oldest energy production and storage system and they attract vibrant communities of microflora that are beneficial to plants in many ways. Algae communities grow quickly and can restore soils that have been depleted or destroyed by MIA.

Algae provide an efficient organic nutrient-delivery system for crops. Algae biofertilizer delivers the full spectrum of nutrients plants need, including micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, which moderates or eliminates hidden hunger. Smartculture algae biosystems permit microfarmers to cycle nutrients for biofertilizer.

Smartcultures, Sustainable Micro-Algae Regenerative Technologies, are SMART, in the sense that they follow nature’s path. They reduce farmers’ costs while they improve produce yield and quality.

Smartcultures algae biosystem

Rather than paying high prices for chemical fertilizers, and using them once, farmers can continuously recycle and reuse nutrients from the farm’s waste stream. Rather than systemically extracting soil nutrients and organics, farmers can cultivate algae and microflora to add nutrients and organics to their cropland. Rather than using chemicals that destroy soil microbes and soil structure, smartcultures cultivate microbial communities that improve soil structure. MIA degrades soil, promotes erosion and creates severe pollution, while smartcultures improve soil structure and reduce nutrient waste, erosion and pollution.

Smartcultures represent a set of biotechnologies that mimic nature to provide enhanced soil structure and nutrients to plants. Every farmer and gardener know plants thrive in amended soils; they grow faster, stronger, and larger, and they have better color, taste and texture. Smartcultures enable farmers to minimize the high cost of fertilizers by recovering nutrients from the farm waste stream.

Smartcultures leverage the power of nature’s tiny biofertilizer biofactories. These microbial communities rebuild stronger soils by gathering and delivering nutrients and growing rich organic material that produces heavier, healthier and hardier plants. Target nutrients carried in algae biofertilizers can be delivered in precise amounts at specific times during a crop’s growing cycle simply through the irrigation system.

Algae biofertilizer stimulates natural plant growth hormones and acts biologically to condition soils. Plants germinate earlier and grow faster, larger and hardier with smartcultures. Stronger plants are better able to withstand the stressors of heat, drought and pests.

Smartcultures add nutrient recovery and microalgae biofertilizer delivery to the actions associated with sustainable organic farming. Success in developing a reliable food supply will require the cooperation and integration of industrial, organic and abundance farming methods. Fortunately, these diverse farming methods are compatible, and smartcultures can accelerate the adoption of ecofriendly practices by industrial and organic farmers.

Farmers may use smartcultures regardless of altitude, latitude, longitude or geography, as long as their farms receive sufficient light to grow crops. Smartcultures are easy to use and require only a few hours a week of a farmer’s time during the growing season. In most cases, smartculture technologies require no heavy lifting, operation of large equipment or exposure to agricultural chemicals or poisons.

Nature provides very little for free, and smartcultures are no exception. Smartcultures leverage nano-biofactories that can capture N2 from the atmosphere and solubilize P and other nutrients locked in the soils. These biofactories can bioaccumulate nutrients from waste, brine or ocean water. While these actions are not free, they create only a modest expense and can be accomplished with minimal or no consumption of fossil resources.

Click to enlarge.

This portable smartculture unit (left), grows algae in vertical tubes, using the farm’s waste stream nutrients. The algae may be harvested for a host of bioproducts or metered into irrigation water to carry nutrients to crops. Special nutrients may be added to the culture at various stages of crop growth to improve yield.

The nutrients needed to support crops must come from an organic or inorganic source. Smartcultures favor organic sources from waste streams. However, in circumstances where insufficient organic material is available, farmers may resort to inorganic chemicals to grow algae biofertilizers. Farmers may choose to operate one or both nutrient recovery and/or delivery systems. A nutrient recovery biosystem with an accessible irrigation system may service a large area of cropland. Farms without irrigation can leave the algae in liquid concentrate and spread the biofertilizer on the fields.

Large farms may site their recovery biosystem on one part of the farm and place several delivery systems near the fields. Another model uses one centralized smartculture unit for biofertilizer production. Tanks on trailers take the biofertilizer to various locations where it is metered into irrigation water or, without irrigation, sprayed on fields.

The configuration for nutrient recovery operations is site specific depending on the type of farm. An animal production facility may set up nutrient recovery near the manure source. Crop-based farms may site nutrient recovery at a location where water tends to run-off the farm. Smaller farms may operate as cooperatives for community nutrient recovery.