[video] Real clothes for the Emperor: Facing the challenges of climate change

I’ve struggled whether I should post this video because frankly its data and message is staggeringly daunting and depressing. But avoiding where we are in terms of climate change doesn’t make it go away or become false. Changes are happening much more quickly than many of us think. As Philip K. Dick once said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

The following presentation was given by Dr. Kevin Anderson November 6, 2012 at the University of Bristol, Cabot Institute. Dr. Anderson is Professor of Energy and Climate Change, University of Manchester and the Tyndall Centre in the UK. This is an intense presentation about where we are globally now and where we’re headed in terms of climate change. The data on emissions and emission trends, and what that means for projected global temperature increases by 2050 and through to 2100 is clearly, and without rose colored glasses, laid out. Its not good news but its information that every person on the planet needs to digest, understand and become part of the dialog and action to address. There are deeply profound implications for humanity whether we deal with our emissions or not and Anderson lays them all out. If you’ve been reading scientific papers, journals and blogs on climate change research you probably know how dire the situation is. But the realization that working climate scientists have that climate change is progressing faster and accellerating isn’t widely know or discussed. People who know the data are worried. I’m worried. Interestedly, along with Anderson’s presentation, just this past few weeks in 2012, three significant reports–from the World Bank, International Energy Agency, and the UN–all raise similar data and forecasts as well as alarm. Here’s the first line from the World Bank November 2012 report “4 Celsius: Turn Down the Heat”, by the World Bank President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim…”It is my hope that this report shocks us into action.” Please take the time to watch Anderson’s presentation.

Persistent herbicides in composts, manures, hays and grasses

George Monbiot posted an article a few days ago in the Guardian about the negative garden effects of a persistent herbicide called Aminopyralid. Aminopyralid is a broadleaf herbicide used to control “weeds” in turf grasses, pastures and rangeland.  Manures from animals eating these grasses still contain non-degraded Aminopyralid and therefore if applied to soil growing broadleaf plants will damage those plants.  I made a comment post on George’s article and I think it is worth repeating here. We all need to keep our eyes open when dealing with manure and compost feedstocks that may contain persistent herbicides:


Please excuse the long post but this is very important for those of us making composts and/or using manures as soil fertilizers. You might want to print this comment out and put it on your fridge.

The problem goes beyond aminopyralid and just manures.

First, people should know that Monbiot got his aminopyralid definition incorrect. Aminopyralid is not a pesticide; its a hormone-based persistent herbicide used to control broadleaf “weeds” on range, pastures and turf.

A persistent herbicide is chemically designed to have a very slow soil degradation process, lasting several growing seasons depending on the type of soil and climate where its used. Only having to apply the persistent herbicide every few years is its selling feature. Most herbicides are microbiologically broken down or degraded within a few days or weeks (like 2,4-D) in the soil and leave no lasting herbicidal impacts.

A broadleaf herbicide does not kill or affect monocot grasses. It severely stunts (leaf tip curl and whithering) and/or kills broadleaf “weeds” and every other broadleaf plant like a tomato plant and all the other annuals in our gardens. Aminopyralid often results in very deformed fruits, like small pear shaped tomates.

A couple of years ago (I think 2007-08) aminopyralid caused big problems first in the northwest US (Washington state) when grasses sprayed with it were eaten by dairy cows. The dairies couldn’t use all of the inhouse produced manures for field applications. Dow instructions for aminopyralid use are to apply the aminopyralid manures back on the same aminopyralid sprayed grasses. The excess manures HOWEVER, were shipped off site and used to make compost. One Washington farmer who used the aminopyralid contaminated compost lost over $200,000 USD in crop losses.


Persistent herbicides like aminopyralid do not break down in a composting process.

Though many of us talk about the amazing detoxifying capabilities of a humus and microbiologically rich compost (microbe rich compost IS an amazing soil bioremediator), some human made chemicals are persistent tough molecules and degrade slowly. Its important to know what you put into your composts and whether you have a persistent chemical.

And, aminopyralid does not move or leach through the soil either, staying in place for the multi-year degradation. That means you either wait and plant nothing or remove the soil and bring in new uncontaminated soil.


It can still take 2 or 3 years for the persistent herbicide to degrade even after going through a composting process, THERMOPHILIC OR NOT. There are some human made chemicals designed to be persistent that do not degrade through composting. Whatever these persistent chemicals are designed to do will then be an effect of using the compost. As a result an aminopyralid contaminated compost becomes a broadleaf herbicide. So, when you use your freshly made microbe rich compost, you and your plants will literally get burned.

And, aminopyralid is only the one of a few persistent herbicides (and pesticides) we have to worry about and its not the latest. Here’s the list of persistent stuff you need to watch out for starting with the latest one, Aminocyclopyrachlor, just coming onto the market in the US this year (2011):

maker: DuPont
brand name: Imprelis, Perspective, Plainview, Streamline, Viewpoint

use: Hormone-based herbicide used to control broadleaf “weeds” on turf grass, bare soil, for road side weed and brush control. CURRENTLY, up for USEPA review for use on range and pasture.

status: US Composting Council sent a letter to the USEPA about the Dow label restrictions prohibiting composting Aminocyclopyrachlor sprayed turf grass. DuPont has partnered with Scotts to make and market for residential use (Imprelis is the common name).

maker: Dow
brand name: Chaparral, CleanWave, ForeFront, GrazonNext, Opensight, Milestone

use: Hormone-based herbicide used to control broadleaf “weeds” on turf grass, pastures and rangeland.

status: despite Dow label warnings about not exporting Aminopyralid off farms in contaminated hay or manure, aminopyralid, as Monbiot outlines above, continues to be a problem for veggie growers big and small.

FMC Corporation
brand names: Talstar, Maxxthor, Capture, Brigade, Bifenthrine, Ortho, Home Defense Max, Bifen IT, Bifen L/P, Scotts LawnPro Step 3

use: Sythetic pyrethroid insecticide used to control fire ants, termites and stink bugs

status: seen as everywhere in compost made from yard trimmings with fire ant prevalence, USDA Nat. Organic Program considers bifenthrin an Unavoidable Residual Organic Contaminant.

maker: Dow
brand name: Cloypry AG, Confront, Lontrel, Mellenium Ultra, Reclaim, Stinger Transline

use: Hormone-based herbicide used to control broadleaf “weeds” on turf grass (home use where legal), pastures and rangeland.

status: Crop failures in Washington state in 1999 traced back to compost containing Clopyralid. Also, found in California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Major composts inputs were grass clippings and hay. Some US states have banned Clopyralid for home use.

I understand that the Canada Composting Council has sent a letter to Health Canada about Dow’s Aminocyclopyrachlor. Aminocyclopyrachlor or Imprelis is currently not for sale in Canada but I think Dow has applied for some type of selling approval. Don’t know if Dow has applied for approval to sell In other countries. If you have a national composting council or organization you should contact them to ask about Aminocyclopyrachlor and Let them know if they don’t already about what’s happening in the US and Canada.

On that note, what I covered here is US and Canada stuff including the common brand names. You may need to do some checking in other parts of the world especially for what the common brand name is.

So, when you’re putting together a compost pile you really need to trace back your hay (grass) and ruminant (cow, sheep, goat, bison, etc.) and cecal digester (horse, donkeys, rabbits) manures to see if a persistent herbicide has been sprayed on the grass feed. You’ll need to make your own judgement about how far you trace back. Just remember that many farmers have been burned by contaminated hays and manures that were said to be clean. So do the checking you need to be comfortable. As more of thee products come out we’ll all have to be more vigilant.

Buena suerte.

Research Indicates Importance of Species Diversity of Soil Microbes in Plant Disease Suppression

This is worth reprinting.  It’s a very interesting article about a research paper that has just been published in the May 5, 2011 issue of Science Express entitled “Deciphering the Rhizosphere Microbiome for Disease-Suppressive Bacteria.” The research, using new technology called the PhyloChip (which is a credit-card sized chip that can detect the presence of 59,000 species of bacteria and archaea in samples of air, water, and soil without the need of culturing), found a complex web of bacteria, interacting and collaborating together and with the plant, to suppress plant pathogens and disease. Its not one or two species but many involved in plant disease suppression. This points to the need for us to foster a habitat for a wide diversity of soil microbes and not place our bets on one or two magic bullet store bought beneficial disease suppressing bacterial species.  Increasing the diversity of an ecosystem, including the soil ecosystem, results in more beneficial ecosystem services or functions; in this case, disease suppressing functions.

Reprinted from www.physorg.com

It takes a community of soil microbes to protect plants from disease

In a development that could lead to better ways to protect food crops from disease, Berkeley Lab scientists unraveled the community of soil microbes that protect sugar beets from root fungus. From left, Todd DeSantis, Gary Andersen, and Yvette Piceno in the lab where much of the research was conducted. Several PhyloChips are on the table next to them. Credit: Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab Public Affairs

Those vegetables you had for dinner may have once been protected by an immune system akin to the one that helps you fight disease. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the Netherland’s Wageningen University found that plants rely on a complex community of soil microbes to defend themselves against pathogens, much the way mammals harbor a raft of microbes to avoid infections.
The scientists deciphered, for the first time, the group of microbes that enables a patch of soil to suppress a plant-killing pathogen. Previous research on the phenomenon of disease-suppressive soil had identified one or two pathogen-fighting microbes at work.

But the Berkeley Lab-led team found a complex microbial network. After analyzing soil from a sugar beet field that had become resistant to a pathogen that causes root fungus, the scientists found 17 soil microbes fighting to suppress the pathogen. They also determined that all of the microbes work together to reduce the incidence of fungal infection. Their discovery that plants use a tight-knit army of soil microbes for defense could help scientists develop ways to better protect the world’s food crops from devastating diseases.

“Individual organisms have been associated with disease-suppressive soil before, but we demonstrated that many organisms in combination are associated with this phenomenon,” says Gary Andersen of Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division. He conducted the research with fellow Berkeley Lab scientists Todd DeSantis and Yvette Piceno as well as several scientists from the Netherlands including Wageningen University’s Jos Raaijmakers. Their research is published in the May 5 issue of Science Express.

The Berkeley Lab and Dutch scientists analyzed soil from a sugar beet field in the Netherlands. Something in the soil suppressed the presence of the pathogen Rhizoctonia solani, which causes root fungus in beets, potato, and rice.

The sugar beets’ health followed the typical arc of plants in disease-suppressive soil: they enjoyed a few good years, then they succumbed to disease, followed by healthy beets again as pathogen-fighting microbes were activated and the soil became hostile to R. solani. To return the favor, the sugar beets funnel about a fifth of their photosynthetically captured carbon through their roots into the soil to fuel the microbes.

Disease-suppressive soils are quite common, and scientists have identified some of the microbes involved in this underground immune system. But they don’t know all of the microbes that participate.

To find out, the scientists used the PhyloChip, which is a credit-card sized chip that can detect the presence of 59,000 species of bacteria and archaea in samples of air, water, and soil without the need of culturing. It was developed at Berkeley Lab to rapidly identify not only the most common and abundant organisms in an environmental sample, but also very rare types that are present in extremely small numbers. It does this by comparing a DNA sequences unique to each bacterial species with over one million reference DNA targets on the chip. The PhyloChip has shed light on many environmental mysteries, such as what’s killing coral reefs near Puerto Rico and what degraded much of the oil from the Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon spill.

In this case, soil samples from the sugar beet field were modified to exhibit six levels of disease suppression. DNA was isolated from the samples and sent to Berkeley Lab for analysis. The PhyloChip detected more than 33,000 bacterial and archaeal species in the samples, with all six having more or less the same types of bacteria.

But when the scientists looked at the abundance of bacteria in each sample, they found that each had a unique fingerprint. All of the samples in which disease was suppressed had a greater abundance of 17 unique types of bacteria. These included well-known fungal fighters such as Psuedomonas, Burkholderia, Xanthomonas and Actinobacteria. In addition, other types of bacteria that have no demonstrated ability to fight pathogens on their own were found to act synergistically to suppress plant disease.
Based on this, the scientists believe that an uptick in several bacterial types is a more important indicator of disease suppression than the presence of one or two bacteria that are especially good at killing pathogens.

“We now see that the complex phenomenon of disease suppression in soils cannot simply be attributed to a single bacterial group, but is most likely controlled by a community of organisms,” says Andersen.

Their research will help scientists pursue unanswered questions about disease-suppressive soil: Do plants actively recruit beneficial soil microorganisms for protection against infection? And if so, how do they do it? It will also help scientists elucidate the mechanisms by which groups of soil microbes work together to reduce the incidence of plant disease.

More information: The research is described in a paper entitled “Deciphering the Rhizosphere Microbiome for Disease-Suppressive Bacteria” that is published in the May 5, 2011 issue of Science Express.

Metabolomics and the Microbiome

A little tangent again from soil microbiology but relevant in that the study of human disease and health is absolutely linked, dependent upon, related to, the microbiology living in us. Humans are being described as a supra-organism, or a system of multiple organisms that may be considered a single organism. There is also an interesting discussion on what metabolomics is. Microbes can’t be taken out of the picture of human health or disease.
In episode 45 of MicrobeWorld Video, filmed at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting in Washington, D.C., Dr. Stan Maloy talks with Jeremy Nicholson, Head of the Department of Surgery & Cancer at Imperial College London, about his work with metabolomics and the human gut.

Maloy and Nicholson discuss the science of metabolomics, the systematic study of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind, and how gut microbial metabolites are part of the diagnostic pattern of results when looking at a host of diseases.

“Systems Biology” research on Gut Bacteria has interesting parallels with a “probiotic” soil microbiolgy agricultural approach

Here’s a recent podcast, episode #2, of This Week in Microbiology on how gut bacteria control body weight and metabolic activity.  The recent study discussed in the podcast takes a “Systems Biology” approach to researching gut bacteria’s positive impact and colony succession over time, on baby, child and adult mammal liver functions in particular, but raises questions about a “probiotic” (vs antibiotic) approach to human health.

My last post pointed out the very interesting research going on into microbes and human health and how some of it seems to parallel a”probiotic” microbiological farming approach.  The paradigm that microbes are essentially “all bad” and should be wiped out of the human body and our farm fields for human and agricultural plant health is giving way to another view: there are good guy microbes and we need to partner with them in our bodies and in our soils.  Also, the “Systems Biology” approach discussed in the podcast is a relatively new way to approach researching the complex world of microbes but it is opening up how microbial communities change over time (succession) and have many beneficial colony and host interactions.

You can listen to the Gut Bacteria section of the TWiM podcast here.

2010 Quivira Coalition Conference Symposium – Craig Sponholtz & Doug Weatherbee

Here’s a pdf of the symposium Craig Sponholtz and I presented at the 2010 Quivira Coalition Conference. The title of the symposium was “Bringing Life Back to Your Land: moisture, microbes, and climate change.” You can download the pdf here.

Bacteria Communicate through Nanotubes not just through Quorum Sensing – questions for Soil Microbial Pathogens?

This is very interesting. Back in 2009 I made a post on the pioneering bacteria quorum sensing work of Dr. Bonnie Bassler and her team at Princeton University over the past decade. I’m reprinting that post and video here as an introduction to some startling new discoveries on bacterial communication.

“Here’s fascinating presentation at TED by Dr. Bonnie Bassler, Princeton University, posted in April 2009. Over the past several years Bassler and her team discovered that bacteria “talk” to each other. They do this by using a chemical language that lets each bacteria species coordinate defense and mount attacks when their specific species numbers relative to other bacterial species give them an edge. This has implications for how we understand disease causing bacteria in our soils and on our plant surfaces. We often think we have to kill, using pesticides, all soil or foliar disease or pathogenic microbes. Its not that we have to eradicate the pathogens but rather suppress them from expressing diseases in our plants by keeping their numbers low relative to the non-pathogenic bacteria. We have to increase the good-guy microbial numbers. Bassler’s work points to how pathogenic bacteria are scanning their environment, seeing how many of their specific species are around and how many of the other total bacterial species exist. Only when the specific pathogenic bacteria species has a chance to be successful relative to the larger bacterial numbers, will it “switch on” and attempt to take over.”

So back to the present…. From Science Daily, March 2, 2010:

“A pathway whereby bacteria communicate with each other has been discovered by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The discovery has important implications for efforts to cope with the spread of harmful bacteria in the body.

Bacteria are known to communicate in nature primarily via the secretion and receipt of extracellular signaling molecules, said Prof. Sigal Ben-Yehuda of the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) at the Hebrew University Faculty of Medicine, head of the research team on the phenomenon, whose work is currently reported in the journal Cell. This communication enables bacteria to execute sophisticated tasks such as dealing with antibiotic production and secretion of virulence factors.

Ben-Yehuda’s group identified a previously uncharacterized type of bacterial communication mediated by nanotubes that bridge neighboring cells. The researchers showed that these nanotubes connect bacteria of the same and different species. Via these tubes, bacteria are able to exchange small molecules, proteins and even small genetic elements (known as plasmids).

This mechanism can facilitate the acquisition of new features in nature, such as antibiotic resistance. In this view, gaining a better molecular understanding of nanotube formation could lead to the development of novel strategies to fight against pathogenic bacteria, said Ben-Yehuda.”

Doug here again – There’s a lot of focus on bacterial communication for the control of pathogen and implications for human health, whether it be quorum sensing or nanotube cytoplasm exchange. These mechanisms, at least Dr. Bassler has said about Quorum Sensing, are ubiquitous across all bacteria species. That would include soil bacteria. So does nanotube cytoplasm exchange occur amongst soil bacteria? If so, does this point to more ways pathogenic bacteria communicate to give their virulence outbreaks a fighting chance. The work of plant disease suppression of well made composts since the mid-seventies has pointed out that plant diseases aren’t necessarily a problem until the disease causing organism has enough numbers to make a successful go of it. Quorum Sensing and perhaps now nanotube cytoplasm exchange are giving a us a window into exactly how the bacteria communicate and coordinate their species efforts. This seems to point again to the importance of how we as farmers and ranchers need to stack the deck with as many beneficial microbes as possible (making good aerobic compost anyone) so they become the loudest and most frequent talkers in our microscopic soil caverns.


Part 2 of the Sustainable World Radio Interview with Doug Weatherbee posted

Back in December I had a great chat with Jill Cloutier of Sustainable World Radio about soil and microbes. I posted Part 1 of the interview a few weeks ago. Jill has just posted Part 2.

Go to Life Within the Soil- Part 2 of an Sustainable World Radio Interview with Doug Weatherbee to listen to the podcast.

Sustainable World Radio Interview – Life Within the Soil- Part 1 of a 2 Part Interview with Doug Weatherbee

A few weeks ago I had a great chat with Jill Cloutier of Sustainable World Radio about soil and microbes. Jill has just posted Part 1 of our discussion on her Sustainable World Radio podcast site. Jill will post Part 2 in the near future. I had a great time talking with Jill and I hope you enjoy our discussion.

Go here to listen to the podcast.

Video on the Quivira November 2010 conference, A Carbon Ranch

This video is a short piece on the Quivira November 2010 conference, A Carbon Ranch: Using Food and Stewardship to Build Soil and Fight Climate Change – an event described by attendees as “encouraging,” “life changing,” and “inspiring.”

Microbiological Restoration of Palms – Case Study Interview

Laura Allen and Carl Vidana of Birdwing Gardens Landscaping in Delray, Florida had a number of very expensive Medjool Palms failing in 2010. These Medjool Palms are between 25-35 feet tall living inside of large concrete planters at a commercial mall in Miami , Florida.  For those not familiar with 25-35 foot tall Medjool Palms, losing one Palm would cost $25,000 USD to replace. Wow. Then Laura and Carl’s client would also have the extra $ costs of cranes and planting work.  Florida Palm experts were brought in to give the Palms conventional treatments but the Palms continued their downward slide.  Then in mid 2010, Laura approached me for help. I worked with her and Carl to design a microbiological restoration program that is having excellent results. I sat down in November 2010 to talk with Laura and Carl while they were in Mexico.

SoilDoctor Microbiological Restoration of Palm – Birdwing Gardens, Delray Beach, Florida from Doug Weatherbee – Soil Doctor on Vimeo.

Quivira Coalition 2010 Conference, New Mexico – The Carbon Ranch – Using Food and Stewardship to Build Soil and Fight Climate Change

THE MICROBE REVERSAL . . . November 17- December 1, 2010

This is the first thing that has given me hope.”
Attendee speaking to 400 plus people at The Carbon Ranch conference

I am just back from presenting in New Mexico at the 2010 Quivira Coalition’s annual conference, this year entitled:  “The Carbon Ranch – Using Food and Stewardship to Build Soil and Fight Climate Change.” Craig Sponholtz, of DrylandSolutions.com, and I presented a 3+ hour symposium entitled “Bringing Life Back to Your Land: Moisture, Microbes and Climate Change.”  Each time I sit in a room with Craig I am more in awe of how he works with water.  I am very grateful to be collaborating with him and can’t wait to get back to New Mexico to do more work together.

First, I want to say that this was the most inspiring conference I have ever attended.  Quivira and Courtney White’s choices for speakers as well as the dozens and dozens of extraordinary attendees I spoke with out of the several hundred conference goers, have filled me with hope.   In one moment I’d be talking with a working rancher from New Mexico, then in another listening to John Wick and Jeff Creque of the Marin Carbon Project, California, then the next discussing with a US Forestry person soil microbiological strategies to deal with invasive weeds and mountains full of standing dead pines from pine beetle infestations, then I’d have an inspiring conversation with one of the young 20 something farmers associated with TheGreenHorns.net. Everyone was profoundly engaged.  We might just turn this thing around with the activities and energies of all attending and speaking at the conference.  If you get an opportunity to attend the conference next year or beyond, do it.  This might be THE conference to go to in the United States.

ClimateToday.org has a post with links to the presenters’ slides posted on a new Quivira Wiki.  You can find the post at:


Dramatic Harvest Yield Data In…Mexico, Summer, 2009

Worst Mexican Drought In Over 6 Decades – Growing Corn with a microbiological Soil Foodweb Approach

Control cob on left ...... Biological cob on rightControl cob on left …… Biological cob on right

Well, we just harvested the corn in Mexico and the yield results are quite dramatic.  Remember, during the summer of 2009 Mexico has seen its worst drought in 68 years.  Dryland-farmed corn has failed in many parts of the country including the area in which this yield data is based.  Here’s a little bit of information on how our corn did, we’re working on a short video documentary that should be released sometime in the new year.  For now, some yield data comparisons between the ‘control’ field and the micro-biologically managed field.

Yield Data Chart Biomass

Biological sample yield on left ...... Control sample yield on rightBiological sample yield on left …… Control sample yield on right

Yield Data Chart Cobs

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