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Tropical Agriculture Conference Topics Range from Greenhouse Gas Management to Soil Humus, on Day 2

BELMOPAN, Belize — Perhaps it was better when the power went out. The lack of microphones forced Ronnie Cummins with Regeneration Agriculture to start Wednesday’s Tropical Agricultural Conference shouting over the passing trucks.

The extra volume didn’t hurt the critical nature of his message.

Crowd at the Tropical Agriculture Conference

Crowds listen to speakers rotating between five stages, talking about regenerative agriculture.

“Thank you for what you do every day, and I’m going to thank you in advance for what you’re going to do in advance every day,” Cummins said. “The next 10 years, what you do, what I do, what we all do around the world, we either move in a regenerative direction, or it’s going to get very, very difficult for our children.”

When Cummins finished, the power had returned, and the sessions started around the national agriculture facility, with more than 300 attendees from mostly around the region — Belize, Guatemala, Columbia, Mexico — rotating between five active stages. A local market fed attendees with fried donuts, jerk chicken and local juices. The scene was appropriate for the theme of the conference — how to channel the vast amount of pristine natural resources into food, into a regenerative agriculture economy, and how that economy could set the world standard for using agriculture to reverse climate change.

Christopher Nesbitt took the yellow stage, a 100-yard walk from the entrance. Nesbitt, a farmer who emigrated from the United States to South America in the 1980s, taught his methods for permaculture farming and energy management. He’s tall, with a big beard, and refused to use the microphone, even though the power was working. He preferred to project his voice over the passing trucks.

Farmer Christopher Nesbitt speaks at the Tropical Agriculture Conference

Christopher Nesbitt teaches a class on permaculture growing techniques on Wednesday morning. He grows hundreds of species, including vanilla and cacao on his farm. “On my farm, if a market goes bad, I’ve got 499 other things to sell.”

“I can be louder than you,” he taunted them.

“I’m only 57-years-old, and I started doing this when I was 22,” Nesbitt told the crowd. “It is a question of time, but you can do it much faster than I did. There was no internet, no Google, no YouTube videos … you couldn’t order books about this. But I made tons of mistakes. I did this during a period of my life when I had zero money. I was destitute and penniless and off in the jungle waiting for Western Civilization to collapse.”

In the 30 years since, despite the remaining existence of Western Civilization, Nesbitt has developed a system of growing more than 500 species on his farm, dabbled in pigs (but doesn’t eat pork), and runs a permaculture school now on his farm. He teaches a three-stage method for regeneration that helped him build his farm today. His advice:

  • Start with a dominant, pioneer species. “What we’re doing is mimicking nature after a disaster. We’re using bananas. They don’t change the chemistry of the soil, but they do change the structure.”
  • After the dominant plants take hold, then plant high-yielding species. He suggested a variety of nut trees, annuals and perennials.
  • Finally, plant high-value crops. He focuses today mostly on cacao and vanilla, while also growing more turmeric now that its value is rising quickly around the world.

And what does all that look like? A bit of a mess to untrained eyes. He said the best, and most common, compliment he gets is when visitors arrive on his farm and tell him that it doesn’t look like one.

“It’s backhanded, but I like it when they tell me that,” Nesbitt said. “If you only have one crop, if you have 50 acres of citrus, if the market goes bad, I sure hope you like drinking orange juice. And if you’re in debt, you’re in real trouble.”

Taylor Walker speaks at the Tropical Agriculture Conference

Taylor Walker leads a class on edible gardening and trees. “Jackfruit is a breathtaking tree to see. I’ve heard of trees in India reaching 180 feet.”

The ultimate rules, he said, are succession and entropy. Succession tells us that when things die, others take over. Entropy tells us that when things die, they start to break down. The two systems working together build organic matter and soil life, and using those rules to build your system will eventually lead to a time when you can spend much less energy on the farm managing and more time harvesting.

Nesbitt showed a funny line graph that he admitted was “not scientific,” but got the point across. It showed how his “energy spent” line declined over time, while “energy harvested from the land” shot a line through the top of his chart.

He quickly brought it back to the theme of the conference.

“Why would we want to do this?” Nesbitt asked. “Right now everyone is talking about climate change. We’re seeing weather patterns that don’t behave like they are supposed to. Right now it’s drier than it should be. We want to sequester carbon, and build and retain tropical soil.”

He also noted one significant fact specific to Belize.

“We can do this,” he advocated. “After all, the motto of the country is ‘Under the Trees we Flourish.’”

The Tropical Agriculture Conference concludes on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Read about Day 1 here.

Ryan Slabaugh is the GM and publisher of Acres U.S.A. He’s on assignment this week in Belmopan, Belize.

First Ever Tropical Agriculture Conference Brings Regenerative Agriculture Experts to Belize

BELMOPAN, Belize — Belize Ag Report Publisher Beth Roberson sat in the second row, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Belizean Senator Godwin Hulse. The country’s minister of everything from agriculture to environment to immigration was held up in traffic, but would be arriving soon.

Andre Leu speaks at the inaugural Tropical Agriculture Conference in Belize

André Leu with Regeneration International helps kick off the inaugural Tropical Agriculture Conference in Belize on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

The crowd was patiently waiting. It’s summer in Belize, the temperatures are in the 80s, and around us a city surrounded by hundreds of miles of jungle. Roberson, also a farmer, had attended the Acres U.S.A. Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show last year, and with the help of Belize officials and Regeneration International, returned to her country inspired to start a movement.

Now, less than a year later, she was watching the first day of the inaugural Tropical Agriculture Conference in the nation’s capital. Moments earlier, speakers like André Leu, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin and Alvaro Zapada Cadavid had introduced the audience to silvopasture and pastured poultry techniques.

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Book Excerpt: How to Start and Operate a Successful Container Plant Business

The book Made From Scratch: How to Start and Operate a Successful Container Plant Business by Louise Placek serves as a comprehensive, step-by-step guide for those interested in learning how best to create and organize their container plant business.

Chapters include topics such as greenhouses, botany basics, disease and pest management, marketing, handling employees and more.

Appendices include example activity logs and forms, instructions for making a soil-texture analysis, even tips for creating a simple employee handbook!

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Soil Balancing: Worth Another Look — The Ohio State University Soil Balancing Team

Farmers make multiple management decisions daily — decisions driven by questions and input. Helpful input can come from many sources, guiding what to choose or avoid. Most university-led research has placed soil balancing on the “avoid” list. Still, it’s practiced by many farmers who report improved soil tilth, better crop yields and quality, and greater ease in managing weeds as the ‘balance’ of their soils improves.

At least one team of university researchers remains curious, wanting another look at soil balancing. Their work is beginning to reveal that farmers and researchers think, talk about, experiment with, and understand soil balancing differently. If those differences could be bridged, what new questions and helpful input might researchers and farmers find by working together?

The Science Behind Soil Balancing: Basic Cation Saturation Ratio

Soils vary in their nutrient content, but also in their ability to hold nutrients. A soil’s ability to hold nutrients is measured by its cation exchange capacity (or CEC). Generally, a soil high in clay content will have a higher CEC, but organic matter also increases CEC. Soils with a high CEC hold more nutrients and thus, can release more than soils low in CEC. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Organic No-Till Farming

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Organic No-Till Farming, written by Jeff Moyer. Copyright 2011, softcover, 204 pages. Normal Price: $28.00.

From Chapter 1: No-Till Basics

Organic No-Till Farming book

Organic No-Till Farming by Jeff Moyer

It is the hope and dream of many organic farmers to limit tillage, increase soil organic matter, save money, and improve soil structure on their farms. Organic no-till can fulfill all these goals.

Many organic farmers are accused of overtilling the soil. Tillage is used for pre-plant soil preparation, as a means of managing weeds, and as a method of incorporating fertilizers, crop residue, and soil amendments. Now, armed with new technologies and tools based on sound biological principles, organic producers can begin to reduce or even eliminate tillage from their system.

Organic no-till is both a technique and a tool to achieve farmer’s objectives of reducing tillage and improving soil organic matter. It is also a whole farm system. While there are many ways the system can be implemented, in its simplest form organic no-till includes the following elements:

  • annual or winter annual cover crops that are planted in the fall,
  • overwintered until mature in the spring, and then
  • killed with a special tool called a roller/crimper.

After the death of the cover crop, cash crops can be planted into the residue with a no-till planter, drill or transplanter. Whether you grow agronomic or horticultural crops, this system can work on your farm, and we’ll show you how to get started with this exciting new technology. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Biodynamic Pasture Management

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Biodynamic Pasture Management, by Peter Bacchus. Copyright 2013, softcover, 160 pages. Regular price: $20.00.

From Chapter 3: Organic Soil Fertility, Soil Biology & Whole Farm Management

Front cover Biodynamic Pasture Management book by Peter Bacchus

Biodynamic Pasture Management by Peter Bacchus

To grow healthy plants and animals and high-quality food products, you need fertile soil. Soil fertility in turn is related to the growth and reproduction of soil organisms and to the plants that grow in the soil. In due process this affects the health, well-being and fertility of the animals and humans who live as a result of the plants that grow in the soil.

We often do not recognize that soil fertility depends on the carbon cycle, which starts with photosynthesis in plant leaves and the absorption of light and carbon and other elements from the air into the plant. The carbon taken in from the air by plants and transformed into sugars is the basis of the carbon cycle, which maintains life in the soil by providing food for soil organisms.

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