Gary Lewis, a Southern Alberta farmer who is growing mustard, wheat and yellow peas on nearly four thousand acres this summer isn’t using traditional fertilizer, in fact, he hasn’t used any for the last 20 years. Lewis, a fourth-generation farmer, and father to five says he’s more than once come close to financial ruin in years when the crops have failed and over two decades ago he began to question the amount of fertilizer he was using. Now, as prices for inputs have held above normal for an extended period of time, others are starting to do the same as they turn to alternatives including manure, biologicals and cover crops.
But there’s another solution that is slowly gaining some traction across the globe, one that was designed by Lewis himself. With a mechanic’s training, Lewis became intrigued with the idea of taking the carbon exhaust from the tractor’s diesel engine and feeding it into the soil, and according to his wife, Barb, around the same time, he also became obsessed with plant science. I’m told in the early years of Lewis’s tinkering he would make plants in egg cartons, putting in seeds and dropping emissions from the exhaust of vehicles then watching them grow.
After plenty of trial and error, Lewis built his own carbon capture and sequestration unit where hoses connect his tractor’s diesel exhaust to a system that cools the gas before the filtered carbon water is spread along with the seeds or piped through his irrigation system. According to Lewis, there was an almost immediate improvement in his crops and soil, so much so that he hasn’t purchased a pound of N, P, or K since.
Bio-Agtive is the trademark for this new technology and N/C Quest, the parent company has traveled across the globe, to learn that the soil is similar to its mineral makeup most everywhere, but the big difference is how much carbon the environment/plants have been able or allowed to store and how much carbon has been lost to modern practices. Because of excessive reliance and over-application of nitrogenous fertilizer which is destructive to the soil’s carbon or humus base, Bio-Agtive hopes it will continue to gain adoption as we move deeper into a “greener industry.”
We are all aware that crop residues represent one of the greatest opportunities to return carbon to our soils as the organic matter left behind in the form of crop residues, stubble, and roots need to be broken down for the benefit of the soil matrix. Nature’s dedicated soil decomposers are perfectly suited for the task, and principally, this job is carried out by naturally-occurring fungi, something that Bio-Agtive’s technology helps to stimulate while at the same time reducing the risk of nitrogen tie-up for the upcoming planting season.
Keep in mind, as you continue to build your soil carbon bank, you’re gaining free nitrogen for your crops. In fact, when you support the plant to nitrate feed, you support photosynthesis as the principal energy source, and in so doing, the plant supports microbes in the soil to uphold the critically important role of nitrogen fixation for one. I’m told Bio-Agtive’s Carbon Water encourages the natural microbial culturing with the minerals in the solubilized soot in the on-tractor cooling tank before the stimulatory solution is vaped back to soil, meaning, you’ll be optimizing surface area coverage of tiny but effective inputs for your crop production system.
If you’re like me, I’m guessing you’ve had the same question pop up in your mind regarding potential damage to the soils from the exhaust materials. From what I understand, over a decade ago, highly respected soil scientist Jill Clapperton was brought in to determine that fact and found that it wasn’t doing any damage. She did add that though Bio-Agtive’s yields didn’t match up to those using fertilizer but in subsequent research, she took part in as a consultant with Montana State University-Northern in 2012, seeds treated with Lewis’s system were found to have fewer soil-borne fungal diseases. I’m also told that the yields are now right up there with their fertilizer-using counter parts.
Everyone is looking for answers to the high cost of producing a crop and even with the $90K price tag for one of the larger scale units, this may be an option worth exploring. I’m told they are available to purchase anywhere in the world and the company has multiple users here in the states. You can click HERE to learn more about Bio-Agtive. You gotta love it when a grower takes matters into their own hands and creates a workable solution. (Source: cbc.ca, bioagtive.com)