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Episode 163
The Doctor's Farmacy

Can Regenerative Agriculture Reverse Climate Change And Chronic Disease?

Open the Podcasts app and search for The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’re viewing this site on your phone, you can just tap on the

Tap the subscribe button and new shows will be added to your library.

If you’re using a different device, our show is available on the following platforms.

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When we look at rapidly declining soil health, rising rates of depression and suicide in farmers, and our climate crisis, it can be easy to wonder how we got here. The answer is multifaceted, but a common theme of industrialized agriculture runs throughout.

Today on The Doctor’s Farmacy I talk to Allen Williams about how we have strayed from beneficial regenerative farming practices to adopt destructive ones, and how to find our way back.

Allen and I take an in-depth look at the struggles modern farmers face. They’re stuck in a difficult cycle when it comes to trying to make a living and considering what is truly right for their land. To make matters worse, Allen says they are up against huge amounts of peer-pressure from their neighbors on the best way to farm. Financial burdens often beat altruism, but Allen is on a mission to change that. He educates farmers on regenerative practices and how to be stable, and even successful, all while improving their land for future yields, reversing climate change, and supporting healthier generations.

Allen explains where the major faults lie with conventional agriculture, the six principles of soil health to overcome common farming challenges, and how the soil microbiome relates to the human microbiome.

We also talk about the role of animals in regenerative agriculture, their benefit to carbon sequestration, and why it’s so arrogant of humans to believe we’ve created better agricultural inputs than nature designed.

This episode has so much great information on a cleaner future for farming and Allen explains some of the more complicated topics of agriculture in an understandable and actionable way.

This episode is brought to you by BiOptimizers, Thrive Market, and Cozy Earth.

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Thrive is offering all Doctor’s Farmacy listeners an amazing deal. You will receive an extra 25% off your first purchase and a free gift when you sign up for Thrive Market. Just head over to thrivemarket.com/Hyman

Cozy Earth makes it super easy to try out their products with a 30-day free trial and 10-year warranty. Plus, right now they are offering my listeners a Spring cleaning, bedroom makeover offer of $100 off their sheet set, just head over to cozyearth.com and use the code HYMAN100 at checkout.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

In this episode, you will learn (video / audio):

  1. Allen’s experience farming in his early life
    (3:10 / 7:23)
  2. The average experience of farmers today
    (9:53 / 14:06)
  3. Educating farmers on the benefits of regenerative agriculture
    (19:34 / 23:47)
  4. Six principles of soil health
    (26:26 / 30:39)
  5. Major harms of our conventional agricultural system
    (38:36 / 44:04)
  6. The importance of the soil microbiome and how it relates to the human microbiome
    (50:16 / 55:44)
  7. Conventional vs. regenerative agricultural wisdom
    (57:32 / 1:03:00)
  8. Animal agriculture and climate change
    (1:08:41 / 1:14:09)
  9. Debunking a common misconception about carbon
    (1:21:17 / 1:26:45)
  10. Allen’s experience working with big business through the organization Understanding Ag
    (1:27:42 / 1:33:10)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Allen Williams

Allen is a founding partner of Understanding Ag, LLC and the Soil Health Academy, and is a partner in Joyce Farms, Inc. He has consulted with more than 4,000 farmers and ranchers in the US and other countries, on operations ranging from a few acres to over 1 million acres. Allen and his partners pioneered many of the early regenerative agriculture principles and practices and now teach those to farmers globally. He is a “recovering academic,” having served 15 years on the faculty at Louisiana Tech University and Mississippi State University teaching genetics and physiology. Allen has been featured in the Carbon Nation film series, Soil Carbon Cowboys, on the Dr. Oz show, ABC Food Forecast News, and in Kiss The Ground, A Regenerative Secret, The Farmer’s Footprint film series, and the Sacred Cow film series.

Show Notes

  1. Learn more about Allen Williams’ work with the Soil Health Academy
  2. Learn more about Allen Williams’ work with Understanding Ag

Transcript

Allen Williams:
Is this the height of scientific arrogance and human hubris to think that we can design fertilizers or fertigation or whatever we want to call it. That even comes close to mimicking what the natural microbiology of the soil can create and feed to these plants.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman, and that’s Farmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y, a place for conversations that matter. And if you’ve been hearing about regenerative agriculture and wondering what the heck that is and what it means and why it’s being purported to be the savior of mankind. This conversation’s going to matter to you because it’s with probably one of the leading figures in the world of regenerative agriculture, Dr. Allen Williams, who’s a farmer, a scientist, was a professor. He’s a recovering academic, and he’s really been leading, not just the theory of regenerative agriculture but how to implement this across the country, helping millions of acres convert and thousands of farmers learn these methods in a practical way through his Soil Health Academy and understanding Ag. He’s consulted with more than 4,000 farmers and ranchers in the United States and other countries on operations is going from a few acres to a million acres.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
He’s pioneered many of the early regenerative agriculture principles because regenerative agriculture was a new idea. We heard about organic. We heard about biodynamic. We heard about conventional agriculture, but regenerative is a new idea. We’re going to define what that is. And now been teaching these principles to farmers all over the world. He’s a recovering academic as I said. He served 15 years on the faculty at Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State University, teaching genetics and physiology. He’s Authored over 400 scientific papers and articles. He’s spoken at so many different meetings, and he’s just an incredible guy. He’s been featured in a lot of movies on with me and Kiss the Ground. We were both in Kiss the Ground together, which I encourage people to watch. It’s a great soil carbon cowboy series, which I love.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
My favorite part of that movie was when one of the Saskatchewan farmers said, “You know, it was so much work doing commission agriculture and if I had figured out this regenerative agriculture earlier, I’d had a lot more kids because I’d be at home with my wife.” That was the best line in the movie. He’s also been featured in the Farmer’s Footprint, with Zach Bush and the new film coming out, Sacred Cow, which I also I’ve been in as well. And I’m just so excited to have you here, Dr. Williams. Thank you so much for joining us on The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Allen Williams:
Well, thank you. I’m very, very happy to be here this morning and looking forward to our conversation.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, you one of a group of pioneers out there, guys like Gabe Brown and Ray Archuleta, and you and a few others are really leading the charge in not just talking about regenerative agriculture, but being on the ground, working with farmers across America and across the world to help them implement this new concept of regenerative agriculture. So before we get into the details of what it is and how do we build them? What are the challenges with it? Take us through your early experience growing up on a farm in Mississippi, and we’re in South Carolina, right?

Allen Williams:
South Carolina.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
South Carolina, and how your farm was so diverse and had so many different plants and animals. There’s was only ecosystem. And then how it changed from that into more traditional, or we call it conventional farming, and now how did that happen? How do we go from doing things what seemed to be the right way to doing things the wrong way?

Allen Williams:
It’s pretty interesting. I was lucky and privileged to have grown up on a farm. It’s been in my family since 1840. So I represented the sixth generation as I was growing up there on the farm. And during my lifetime, in the 60s and 70s growing up there, we were very diverse, which in today’s farming community and world is very unique. But we had multiple species of livestock. We had chickens and ducks and geese and pheasant, all of those types of things. We also raised pigs. We raised cattle. We have beef cattle, dairy cattle. We had sheep. We had goats. We had turkeys, and all of those were done on pasture.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Old McDonald’s Farm.

Allen Williams:
Old McDonald Farm and then we had, because of where I grew up in the Piedmont region of South Carolina, it was also famous for its orchards. So we had an apple orchard and a peach orchard, and we had pear trees and muscadine vines and all of those other types of things. And then we grew very large gardens, market gardens, and we had a general store. So we marketed a lot of the products that we produce through our own general store. So if you remember Barbara Mandrell, the old country music singer. She had a hit song out several decades ago called I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool. So if you don’t like that now, and that’s how I grew up, that we were doing grass-fed and pastured raised and didn’t know it, it’s just the way we did it. We were doing direct marketing and didn’t know it because we had the general store. So it was a unique way of growing up, and we were a true multi-generational family.

Allen Williams:
So, in growing up, we all enjoyed our meals together, and we didn’t have anything called lunch. We had breakfast, dinner, and supper, and they were all home-cooked from scratch, big meals, and so I was used to that and Mark, it wasn’t until I went to college that I started to experience what I now call bad food. I had this incredible eating experience growing up but didn’t really realize just how incredible it was because we were eating 80 to 90% of everything we ate we produce right there on the farm. But I remember the first time I ate in the college cafeteria there and I went to Clemson University, and I thought, wow, these folks don’t know how to cook. But then I finally realized, no, it was a lot more than that. I mean maybe that was a part of it. But the bigger part was the foods they were sourcing and the way that those foods were produced, and no matter how you prepared them, they just never were going to be equal to the foods that I ate growing up.

Allen Williams:
So that was my experience, and that form my foundation. But then I tell people, I went away to college and got educated and so I started going back home and telling my family, not now-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And these were the agricultural colleges that are funded through land grants and often funded by large agricultural corporations, seed companies and chemical companies that then develop the science behind everything and the curriculum. So you get indoctrinated into a way of thinking there’s various specific perspective. And it teaches what your traditional ways were wrong and this was the right way.

Allen Williams:
Abs, and that is exactly what I was taught. And so every time I would go back home, here I was, now nevermind that my family had made it for six generations successfully on the farm. But here I was, this young wet behind the ears pop, my first year or two behind me in college, and I’m going home and telling my father, my grandfather, and my uncles were doing it all wrong. No, we got to start using these herbicides and these fungicides, and we’ve got to start using all these pharmaceuticals in our livestock and everything else.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s so [inaudible 00:08:06].

Allen Williams:
Exactly. So I became very entrenched and ingrained in the conventional in the commodity and convinced of the feed the world mantra that we’ve heard for decades now. And so that colored in clouded my thinking for the next about 20 years of my life.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow. So you basically came out of a way of farming that most people would now call regenerative organic diverse ecosystem. Working with nature to one that was more industrialized and you thought it was the cat’s meow. And it’s interesting you mentioned that you’re on your land you grew, I stopped counting, but it seemed like dozens of different things when you were growing up.

Allen Williams:
[inaudible 00:08:55].

Dr. Mark Hyman:
… and only 8% of farms in America today grow more than four crops.

Allen Williams:
That would be correct, which is actually a pretty staggering. Isn’t it?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. It was pretty staggering. What’s even more staggering is that we tell in America, we tell people, according to our dietary guidelines, to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. But the truth is that only 0.9% of teenagers, 2.2% of men, and 3.5% of women actually meet the daily recommended intake of fruits and veggies. Part of that, maybe because we’re not growing that much and of the 300 million acres of farmland in America today, only eight and a half million are for fruits and vegetables, called Specialty crops. And almost no research money is put in that about 1% of the research money is put into these Specialty crops from the USDA. So we have this cycle now where farmers have gotten caught in, and we had a conversation before I liked it. So take me down the experience of the average farmer today. Because what we’re seeing it seems to me, is this increasing rates of farmer, disenfranchisement, dissatisfaction, suicide rates on the rise.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Farmers losing money all the time, being stuck in this cycle of having to get crop loans to buy the seeds and chemicals and the inputs to grow the food, and then get crop insurance to actually make sure that they get insured against any losses they buy from the government, which the government subsidizes and the banks won’t give them the seeds unless they have the crop insurance. So they’re caught in this vicious cycle and they seem to be the people getting squeezed in the system who are producing our food but are the ones who are almost the victims of the system. And they don’t even seem to figure out how a way to get out of it. And so when you really laid out for me as a way of thinking about this problem, and I didn’t think I understood.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So talk to me about how these average farmers you meet and talk to how are they feeling? What is your experience out there? What is the hunger for change because it seems we’re just locked into this big system that is very hard to get out of, which is the biggest industry in the planet, which is the food system? It’s $15 trillion. How do we shift that? Because we’re talking about these small regenerative farm, General Mills has a million acres is great. It’s going to convert to a regenerative Ag, but there’s 300 million acres in America, and there’s millions and billions of acres around the world. So do we get there?

Allen Williams:
That’s a very good question, Mark and I had to take my own personal journey, obviously back, I call it circling back to how I grew up and what I’ve noted over these intervening decades since the time that I left Farmwood college became a research scientist and so forth is that we became increasingly reliant on inputs and own products that what I now call band-aids on a gushing wound. That’s all those products are. The vast majority of our research. The vast majority of the things, the practices that we implement in agriculture today and the products that we utilize and apply, never address the root cause of the things that are truly impacting us from the diseases to the past, to the lack of fertility, to the soil degradation, to the animal health, they never really address it.

Allen Williams:
So, again, it’s putting a bandaid on a gushing wound, and here’s what’s happened over the last several decades in farming. Farmers have been encouraged and led, through federal policy, through crop insurance programs, subsidy, and many even lenders and everybody else to become more and more specialized to the point that today and Mark, this may be very surprising to a lot of consumers but today, the vast majority of farmers do not eat anything that they produce on their farms. They go to the grocery store, just like everybody else. Now, how sad is that? That we’re not as farmers. We don’t even know now obviously, I do, because we’re very different. We are regenerative in what we do. We produce a lot of what we eat today, again, like when I was growing up. But the vast majority of farmers today, they themselves have no clue what really good nutrient-dense food tastes like. They are also entrapped and ensnared in the same food cycle in this highly processed foods and so on and so forth that every other consumer is ensnared in as well.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And you said that farmers when you grow up were skinny, and now they’re all overweight.

Allen Williams:
Right. Right. Well, they don’t do any… Farmers today bate because of our highly specialized equipment, GIS, GPS guided equipment, and so on and so forth. Basically, they’re like a truck driver. They’re very sedentary. So their butts are seated in the seat of a tractor, a combine, a spray or whatever the case may be for long hours every day. And they’re not even having or many of these tractors and combines today, not even having to physically steer. They’re just listening to podcast or-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
On autopilot.

Allen Williams:
There you go or listening to the radio or whatever. And so the honest truth is I found that God awful, boring and mind-numbing to think that you have to farm that way now, and almost all of them have consultants that are provided by major agribusiness. They’re called crop consultants. And so what we find is farmers today are making fewer and fewer of their own decisions. Those decisions are made for them by their lenders, by their suppliers, by their consultants, and their ability to think and to reason about what they’re doing and why. Their whole decision-making capability has basically been co-opted, and their decisions are being made by others. So even though they take all the risk, they own the land, or they lease the land. They have to own the equipment. They have all of this incredible debt. What’s happening is that they still are not the key decision-makers on their own farms. They may think they are, but in reality, they’re not.

Allen Williams:
And so, what we’re seeing and I wrote an article about this last year, relative to the significant amount of depression and suicide in the farming community. Again, what a lot of consumers may not realize is that depression is rampant in the farming community right now because of the significant financial stress and even environmental stress that’s on these farmers. The suicide rate is among the highest of any profession in the world, not just in the US, but in the world.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And it’s also from a health point of view. It’s one of the most dangerous professions. Parkinson’s rates are extremely high. We know that it’s very much linked to pesticide and agrochemical use. So there’s a lot of health consequences from dealing with all those agrochemicals, as well for these farmers.

Allen Williams:
Oh, the cancer rates have skyrocketed, neurological disorders has skyrocketed, and then, of course, all types of inflammatory disease due to obesity and just their diet, their daily diet because again, they’re not eating any better than the average consumer. So the very things that you deal with on a daily basis as a medical doctor with a lot of consumers are the very things that the farmers themselves are dealing with as well. And the most discouraging thing is the lack of hope that we experience and encounter out there among the farming community. And that is why we do what we do because we want to restore that hope, and we want to give them an opportunity to not only be much more viable and profitable in their farming operations and be able to remove and separate themselves from all of these dependencies, but we also want to restore their quality of life. And that’s what they’re really missing today Mark, is the quality of life sucks for many of these farmers.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It seems like they’re very similar to what I do, and I see patients come in their health is so degraded, just like the soil on the farms degraded. They’re stuck in the pharmaceutical trap as opposed to the chemical trap the diabetes on piles of medications. And they feel hopeless and yet within a very short time of people changing their diet, they can unhook from the medical-industrial complex, get off the medications, use food as medicine, lose tons of weight and reverse their diabetes and all kinds of chronic illnesses pretty quickly and it gives them hope. So I think you’re offering the same message. I think of what you do is regenerative agriculture and what I do is regenerative medicine. I mean, functional medicine is ecosystem medicine. It’s about treating the whole ecosystem and creating health within it as a way of creating a healthy person. We don’t treat the disease. We treat the person’s own constitution using natural principles to help restore function.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And you do the same exact thing with agroecological systems and restore function and, as a side effect, you don’t need the agrochemicals, you don’t need the specialized seeds, you don’t need the fertilizer, and you have all these beneficial side effects. So the side effects of eating healthy and fixing these diseases are all good ones, and the side effects of doing this agriculture are all good ones. You can conserve water. You restore soil carbon. You increase bad diversity. You increase the phytonutrient and density of the plants, the mineral content of the plant. I mean, it’s just all these beneficial ripple effects, and the farmers make more money. They’re happier. But it seems to me, there’s this barrier we have to overcome where people who are farmers don’t see the situation that they’re in.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
They’re locked in it, and they can’t see over the horizon to go there’s a different way, and how do they unhook from that incredible burden of debt and loans and crop insurance and the way their farms are setup and these the scale of it is so big? And I would love you to talk about how you work with these farmers to get them to one, see the light, and two, have the confidence to actually start to transition. And what you’re experiencing out there in the field, because with your Soil Health Academy and understanding Ag, you were actually out there running around the country, meeting with farmers in rural communities, helping them understand that there is a different way. And you shared with me before that 10 years ago, you couldn’t get 10 people in a room, and now your rooms are filled with 60 or 70 farmers looking for a different way. So how do you get them to cross that barrier? And what does that look like for the average farmer?

Allen Williams:
So excellent question and the first thing is always education. You cannot implement and practice what you don’t know. So they have to learn. And that’s why we created the Soil Health Academy as that vehicle through which they can begin to get that education. And the academies are designed specifically to be able to help farmers go back to their farm, to their ranch, and implement these practices immediately. So our schools are designed, they’re multi-diode number one because there’s a lot of ground that we have to cover. Secondly, they’re very hands-on. Third, we always host them on a regenerative farm or ranch so that those in attendance get to see these practices actually being implemented, and they get to see and experience the results of what happens. And obviously, be able to interact directly with those regenerative farmers and ranchers so that they can learn from them.

Allen Williams:
So the educational process and that component is critical. And so we do a three-day school initially for these farmers and ranchers with half the day in the classroom each day, half the day out in the field. I often say that all farmers are inherently from Missouri. The show me state. They always want just to show them. And farmers are very visual, very hands-on. So that practical component is critical, but when we get them in the field though, we reteach them how to be keen observers. As a medical doctor, you have learned that observation of your patients is one of your key tools. You able to properly assess and diagnose and treat, and we have found the same thing, and working with the soil and working with repairing ecosystems, that observation is absolutely crucial.

Allen Williams:
So we teach them how to observe, and we actually go through observational exercises with them each and every day. And you will be amazed at what happens here. It’s almost like the cartoons where people have an idea, and you see the light bulb above their head in the cartoon. You can almost see that in them you see their eyes light up and get big. And they’re, oh my God. I get it. Now I get it now. And these are people that have been out on the land, their whole life, Mark. Their eyes are open. Their ears are hearing, and their noses are detecting the aromas. It’s for the very first time in their lifetime, [crosstalk 00:23:28] these are things they’ve never observed. But then the second thing that we do, we started at the school and continue it afterwards is we develop a network. We provide a network of support for these farmers because often what happens, their local communities do not support them because peer pressure in the farming community is far worse than it is in any elementary or junior high school. I promise you-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What’s that’s weird stuff that Joe’s doing down the road on his farm. That’s weird.

Allen Williams:
Exactly.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think Joe’s field, it looks terrible. It’s a mess.

Allen Williams:
Right. So if you’re not doing everything like your neighbors, they’re going to let you know it and they’re going to say, what in the heck do you think you’re doing? And even your own family members will do that to you. And then, of course, everybody that sells you something is doing that as well. They’re telling you, you are an idiot for making any changes. And so we have to provide these farmers for them to be successful. They’re being bombarded with that all the time. So we have to provide for them a brand new network. A network of support and encouragement and mentorship. And so that’s the other thing that we provide through the Soil Health Academy and understanding Ag. And then the third leg, we call it the three-legged stool. The third leg of what we provide to help them be successful is that ongoing mentorship and consultation, because as they start down this path down their journey to…
PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:25:04]

Allen Williams:
Once they start down this path, down their journey to regenerative agriculture, they are going to hit some roadblocks and some issues and challenges, just like anything else that you may change in your life. And they’re going to need a little bit of ongoing support, just like you support your patients on an ongoing basis.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
[crosstalk 00:25:20] So take a farmer that you met has got 5,000 acres of a soybean field, who’s tied into Monsanto, now Bayer, full on fertilizer, agrochemicals, tillage, big equipment, locked in the banks. He goes home and goes, here’s your course, he gets so excited. He’s like, I’m going to do this. What are the barriers and obstacles and how does he go from a mono crop or maybe two crops, to a diversified, resilient, regenerative, organic farm?

Allen Williams:
Yeah, so excellent question.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
He might want to do it, I just imagine there’s a lot of barriers that are set up within the system that prevent him from doing that. And they don’t support him with financial supports on the back end, like crop insurance that make him feel secure to do it because as a farmer, you’re not making widgets in a factory, you can do any day, any night, 24/7. You deal with mother nature and weather and droughts and storms and floods and fires and all kinds of stuff so how do they make that transition because I think that seems to be the biggest barrier.

Allen Williams:
Well, the very first thing that they have to understand and then start implementing are what we call the six principles of soil health. And obviously they get that sort of drilled into their heads during the academy. I’ll give those to you and your listeners very, very quickly. The first one is context. You’ve got to understand the context of your farm. That includes goals and objectives, profitability, targets, quality of life, even the spiritual aspects, the whole bit-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And location.

Allen Williams:
Absolutely, environmental, everything.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If you’re growing in Saskatchewan or Mississippi, it’s a little different.

Allen Williams:
That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. So you have to understand your context and believe it or not, because of the constraints and the influences that many farmers have, you’ll find that they truly do not fully understand their own context and you have to help them with that.

Allen Williams:
The next is we teach them to minimize disturbance. So one of the first things, the very first steps they can take when they go back home is to start significantly reducing the amount of tillage they do. Because the vast majority of farmers are still what we would call full till farmers. In other words, they’re going out there and they’re doing multiple rounds of plowing, moldboard plowing. They may do chisel plowing, disking, those types of things. So they’re steadily churning up the soil and creating a lot of bare soil, releasing a a lot of carbon.

Allen Williams:
So the second step beyond understanding context is to transition them from full tillage to no-till. And that’s actually a relatively easy transition and most farmers can make that transition even within their first year on the vast majority of their lands. So we teach them how to switch from full till to no-till that minimizes disturbance in the soil and that’s absolutely critical.

Allen Williams:
The third thing is we teach them to keep that soil covered or armored. So again, the majority of farmers only have plants growing in their soiling, covering that soil an average, believe it or not of only about 120 to 140 days a year.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Allen Williams:
And the rest of the year, that soil is bare and that’s creating enormous problems that we can talk about here in just a moment, but we teach them to keep the soil covered. So you’re keeping it covered when you have your cash crop in the ground, but after the cash crop, you’ve got to follow that with a diverse cover crop and that cover crop then grows and keeps the soil armored and covered, and that’s easy enough to accomplish as well. So we can help them in their very first year identify their context, minimize soil disturbance and then plant cover crops to keep the [inaudible 00:29:30] soil covered or armored.

Allen Williams:
And that allows us to keep living roots, which is the fourth principle, living roots in the ground year round. So that allows us to accomplish that. Now what that does is that starts them down the path of reducing their reliance on synthetic fertilizers and own all of the chemicals, the fungicides, the insecticides the herbicides and so forth because the living roots are the thing that stimulates and feeds the microbes in the soil, and then allows those microbes, it fuels those microbes to be able to recharge the nutrient cycle, that mineral cycle in the soil so that we can then start gradually reducing these required inputs.

Allen Williams:
The fifth principle is diversity. And so we teach them to increase the diversity of their cash crop rotations, and to also have highly diverse cover crop mixes that they’re planting in between their cash crops. Diversity of plant species is critical. The work of Dr. Fred Provenza.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. He was on my podcast. Yeah.

Allen Williams:
Yeah, yeah. Fred’s wonderful isn’t he? [crosstalk 00:30:44].

Allen Williams:
And his book Nourishment is just fantastic so I’d recommend that for all your readers, as well as another book to read. But Fred’s work has highlighted the critical importance of diversity and producing this broad array of phytochemicals, phytonutrients that are vital to soil health, plant health, ecosystem health, animal health and of course, ultimately our health.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Allen Williams:
And then the final principle, the sixth principle is to integrate livestock. So we teach these farmers, the vast majority of row crop farmers today, no longer have livestock and for some of them it can have been decades since they’ve had livestock.

Allen Williams:
So we teach them to re-integrate livestock into that system to more quickly recharge and re fertilize that system in a natural manner. And when you combine all six of those, Mark, together, that’s the magic. You combine all six of them together and now they’re making very rapid progress. So we start them on these six principles going down those steps. We encourage them to do their own farm research, and we help them with setting that up and doing that. It can be very, very simple, but, and I’ll give you one quick example. I can give you many more, but one very quick example of how rapid this can be and how impactful it can be is a farmer by the name of Adam [Granby 00:32:16] located in Eastern North Carolina, the Coastal Plains, North Carolina. Adam’s 10th generation. Their farm has been in their family since the 1780s.

Allen Williams:
In 2017, that was their first year of regenerative agriculture. And they dove in with all six of these principles. In 2018, Hurricane Florence hit them and they ended up with nine feet of water, floodwaters, covering their farm. In just two years of regenerative agriculture, the resiliency, biological resiliency created in just two years is what saved Adam and his family’s farm. All of their neighbor’s farms were just completely destroyed. All the crops, all the pastures, everything turned completely brown from the flood waters. Adam’s greened back up immediately. He was even able to get back in his fields two years after the flood waters receded and plant diverse cover crops. He was the only farmer in his region that was able to graze his livestock actively through the winter. Everybody else was feeding hay and feed supplements and everything else because they had nothing to graze.

Allen Williams:
But also in 2018 in spite of the flood, okay, in spite of Hurricane Florence, they still saved on a 1200 acre farm, $200,000 in input cost in just their second year, okay. At the end of his third year, at the end of 2019, right after Thanksgiving and I still distinctly remember this, Adam called me up all excited. And he said, “Alan, Alan, I just came back from my bank. I want to share something with you.”. I said, “What is that Adam?”. And he said, “I just paid off all my loans at the bank. And I just bought another farm, paying all cash.”.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow, bought another farm in all cash.

Allen Williams:
Exactly. So let me tell you what’s happened all that-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I suppose farmers are afraid of the economic costs of transitioning because it’ll cost them more, they’ll lose money, there’s a risk to it. But you’re saying that the risk is just more theoretical. It’s not actually true. If farmers follow these principles and are assiduous about it, they can actually quickly turn a profit even in the first year.

Allen Williams:
That is exactly right. This is not a prescriptive or formulaic system that causes you to have to experience losses in the first one, two and three years, you still have all the tools available. You just learned to use them much more judiciously. And what this system does is it’s adaptive rather than being formulaic, prescriptive, or like a recipe, it’s adaptive. So you’re constantly flexing and changing according to conditions. And just like with Adam, so he transitioned from all genetically modified crops to now he’s planting all conventional seeds. So no more GMC, he completely cut out all seed treatment, so no more neonicotinoid treatment on any-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Pesticides, those are pesticides.

Allen Williams:
Exactly. And, you know, and just so your listeners know, there’s enough, according to the work of Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, there’s enough neonic on a single kernel of corn to kill 100,000 honeybees.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow.

Allen Williams:
Yeah, it’s amazing,

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Not on a corn, a cob, but just a single kernel.

Allen Williams:
A single kernel, a single seed of corn that you would plant. Enough neonic to kill a hundred thousand honeybees. So Adam’s been able to totally do away with seed treatment. So that’s no longer an issue. He has been able to reduce his fertilizer use by 75% in just three years, he’s reduced his fertilizer requirements by 75% and continuing to reduce that. He has done away with all fungicides. So no more fungicide treatments, no more insecticide treatments. So all of that has gone by the wayside. And so everything has improved and we’ve done a lot of tours and he’s even hosted two soil health academies. And. the benefits are just incredibly experiential. When you go there, you can see, smell, hear, taste the differences that he’s experiencing on his farm.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When you think about organic, it always seemed like a fringe movement kind of [inaudible 00:37:01], nice to have, but not really scalable and not a real solution to our problems. Regenerative is a very different concept. It includes the concepts of organic, but it goes far beyond that. And the six principles that you just outlined, the context, the no disturbance in the soil, and no-till, the keeping the roots in the ground, the covering the ground, the diversity, the integration of animals. These are principles that are founded in ecosystem science that are about restoring the natural functions of nature and they do it in a way that actually creates a whole series of benefits that counteract all the harms of our current agricultural system.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Hey everybody, it’s Dr. Hyman, thanks for tuning into The Doctor’s Farmacy. I hope you’re loving this podcast. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and introducing you all the experts that I know and I love, and that I’ve learned so much from, and I want to tell you about something else I’m doing, which is called Mark’s picks. It’s my weekly newsletter and in it, I share my favorite stuff from foods to supplements, to gadgets, to tools, to enhance your health. It’s all the cool stuff that I use and that my team uses to optimize and enhance our health. And I’d love you to sign up for the weekly newsletter. I’ll only send it to you once a week on Fridays. Nothing else I promise. And all you have to do is go to drhyman.com/picks to sign up. That’s drhyman.com/picks, P-I-C-K-S, and sign up for the newsletter and I’ll share with you my favorite stuff that I use to enhance my health and get healthier and better and live younger longer. Now, back to this week’s episode.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So take us through quickly, what are the major harms of our conventional agricultural system in terms of one, the soil, water biodiversity, the effect on our watersheds, through the nitrogen fertilizers, and even the nutritional quality of our food and how does regenerative agriculture address all of these? What has happened in all those areas? If you can go through that. It’s a lot I know, but I think it’d be good for people to understand why it’s important because it’s not just, oh we want nicer food for farmer’s markets and this is not really going to feed the world. This is a very different framework.

Allen Williams:
Yes, it is. And one of the things that consumers need to realize today is that we do have a serious and significant soil degradation problem, not just in the U.S., but globally. And that is created directly through farming. You know, there’s been a lot of pushback against livestock, agriculture and so forth, but what I want consumers and your listeners to understand is that we have just as serious a problem with any kind of crop agriculture today as well.

Allen Williams:
So any type of thing, anything that we’re growing, we’re experiencing significant degradation issues in the conventional ways of doing that. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re growing fruits and vegetables or nuts, or whether you’re growing row crops, corn and soybeans and wheat, or whether you’re growing livestock. We’re doing a lot of that wrong in every one of those sectors and we’re doing it in a way that is steadily eroding and degrading our soils and our ecosystems and our climate. And so that’s what I want people to first understand is don’t think that you can pick on just a single phase of agriculture. If you’re going to pick on anything, you’ve got to pick on every phase of agriculture, because every phase is contributing to this.

Allen Williams:
So no phase is quote “safe” to our ecosystems and our environment. That’s why regenerative is so incredibly important, no matter what type of agriculture you’re doing. So what we’re seeing is an incredible amount of soil loss due to all of the tillage that’s occurring due to the bare soil that is existing two thirds of the year on the vast majority of our soils globally. Again, not just here in North America, but globally, so we’re experiencing an incredible amount of carbon loss. Number one.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. We’ve lost about a third of all the carbon in the soil over the last 150 years, which is about a third of all the carbon in the atmosphere right now. And it’s one of the biggest contributors to climate change and people don’t understand that.

Allen Williams:
Right. And the vast majority of soils around the U.S. again, whether they’re being used for orchard production, whether they’re being used for vegetable production or row crop, whatever it may be, we’re averaging anywhere from three to six tons of top soil loss per acre, annually. That’s just absolutely untenable.

Allen Williams:
I’m down here today in Gulf Shores, Alabama, so I’m looking out at the Gulf and in every year, Mark, in the Gulf of Mexico, we have this several thousand square mile dead zone and that’s due to all of this harmful runoff. So nitrates, phosphates, sediment, top soil, all of those nutrients that are leaving farms and ranches throughout the midsection of North America. The Mississippi River drainage basin, which feeds the Gulf of Mexico drains two thirds of the landmass in North America. Of course the vast majority of that is what we call the bread basket of the U.S., The Midwest and the upper Midwest, and so all of those nutrients, as well as those chemicals like Glyphosate and others [inaudible 00:42:54] and all of that are rapidly moving down, being concentrated and moved down the river and into the Gulf of Mexico and creating this anywhere from five to over 8,000 square mile dead zone, depending on the year.

Allen Williams:
We’re seeing the same things in our lakes and our bays, our estuaries, all of that, where we’re seeing tremendous harmful algal bloom. So blue-green algae cyanobacteria, all of this. And as you’re well aware, these algal blooms like that can create serious and significant neurological problems in human beings, anything from Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s to ALS all of those types.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Neurotoxins, right.

Allen Williams:
Exactly. They’re neurotoxins.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And it kills all the sea life, hundreds of thousands of metric tons of fish every year in the Gulf of Mexico. You know, you’re in Alabama, where’s your gumbo? It’s killing all the shrimp and the fish out there.

Allen Williams:
Exactly and that is that’s precisely what’s happening year after year after year. So what we’re seeing obviously are significant alterations in our climate and much more severe weather events. So we’re seeing when it’s raining, we’re seeing a whole lot more heavy rainfall and flooding events and massive flooding events that are impacting again, all of our Gulf, lakes, bays, estuaries, all of that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
[crosstalk 00:44:26] Regenerative agriculture practices actually allow the soil to hold so much water that it mitigates those flood problems.

Allen Williams:
See, it’s the same solution. So what we’re experiencing right now are the extremes, either flooding events and extreme flooding events or droughts, and they tend to be more extreme droughts. Well, guess what? The same solutions cure both of those problems. So if we rebuild the biology and the soil, in that biology, in the soil, like mycorrhizal fungi, and so forth, they create biotic glues that aggregate soil particles and create pores in the soil and turn our soils into what they should be, what they were intended to be, giant sponges, that will allow the soil to be able to infiltrate all of this rain and retain that. So if we’re getting a lot of flooding then, or we’re getting heavy rainfall events, excuse me, then we have far, far less flooding because our soils can absorb and hold and retain that water. For every 1% increase in organic matter in the soil, an acre of soil can hold another 25,000 gallons of water.

Allen Williams:
Now think about the impact that can have on mitigating flooding events and that harmful runoff going out into the Gulf of Mexico here. But the same thing occurs during drought conditions. If we can significantly hold and retain more water, then even when it turns all hot and dry, the droughts are far less severe. And we’re seeing that, we’re even noticing that for instance, in the deserts, our work in the desert, so the Southwest U.S. and Mexico, like in the Chihuahuan Desert has shown us very clearly that we can significantly alter these arid conditions. And, we can even change the micro climate. We have direct evidence now, Mark, of that, and we are on the ranches that we’re working on down in the Chihuahuan Deserts in Mexico, the climate has actually physically altered all those ranches and they’re actually getting far more rain than they ever got before whereas their neighbors are not. Literally rainstorms are popping up and occurring directly on these ranches. Why?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Why? Because the plants actually create moisture in the air, right? So rainforests aren’t rainforest because it rains, the forests actually create the rain, right?

Allen Williams:
That’s exactly right. I have a good friend of mine, Dr. Doug Gillham. He’s a meteorologist with the National Weather Service and Doug and I have talked often about this. What Doug says is that, Alan, drought breeds drought and moisture breeds moisture. So if you can keep the ground covered and you can protect and preserve moisture in the soil, and as you get these systems passing over, you can attract the rain fall but where these systems are passing over these very arid climates, this very arid soil, they’re just going to keep going until they hit moist soil, or they hit a big body of water before they drop their rain. So it’s not like clouds in storm systems, don’t pass over deserts. They do all the time. The problem is that the dry, arid conditions prevent for the most part, that rainfall from occurring. So in the desert where we’re recreating this biology, and we’re recreating these seas of grass, now it’s attracting the rain and they are getting more rainfall.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, it’s amazing. I read that Rodale Institute farming system study showed that 35 to 90% higher yields were found during droughts using these practices in corn and soy. So when you’re in a conventional farm, you’re doing things wrong. You hit a drought, you’re screwed. When you’re doing this, your farm’s resilient, you’re growing food but no one else is growing it, just like your friend in North Carolina was able to come right back after the flood, or people can grow during a drought. Very, very powerful.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So you’ve got soil loss and erosion, which is preventing our ability to actually grow food, produce nutrient dense food, because you touched on it briefly, but I think it’s important emphasize that the way in which our plants get nutrition is from the microbiology of the soil. Literally the microbiome of the soil, extracting that nutrition and giving it back to the plants and the way the plants help the microbiome is by feeding it carbon, basically carbohydrates, that’s where you get carbon from, goes into the soil, through the roots, and they eat that and then it creates this virtuous cycle, just symbiotic cycle where everybody’s happy. And then we, as humans, get to enjoy the nutrients that come with those plants. And we’ve seen over the last 50 years, nutrient density decline in plants dramatically in six key nutrients, protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, B2, vitamin C, up to 30 to 50% lower. And at the same time, we’re seeing a much higher carbohydrate content because the carbon is in the environment, making these plants more carbohydrate rich, which is the last thing we need and lower in protein.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, think about what we’re seeing up to 30 to 50% lower protein contents in things like wheat, barley, and rice. So we’re really, by the way we’re growing food.
PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:50:04]

Dr. Mark Hyman:
… and things like wheat, barley, and rice. So we’re really, by the way, we’re growing food, destroying the quality of food. As a doctor, I’m seeing this, my patients is widespread nutritional efficiencies. So even if you think you’re eating healthy, the food if it’s grown in the wrong way, isn’t going to be extracting the nutrients from the soil. And the other thing I’d love to start to talk about is, why the soil microbiome is so important. We talked about the human microbiome and they’re intimately connected, but it turns out the soil microbiome is a source of 95% of our food, our clothing, our building materials, antibiotics.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, think about our antibiotics. But 78% of antibiotics developed over a bunch of recent decades have been from the soil, 60% of new cancer drugs. And from 1989 to ’95, 60% of all drugs developed were from the soil microbiome. And it’s like the rainforest or the pressure were literally killing it. We didn’t even know what’s in there, in a handful of soil, there’s so much life. If it’s good soil that has all these compounds in it, that we haven’t really figured out what to do with yet as humans, it’s an incredible resource that we’re destroying.

Allen Williams:
Yeah, absolutely it is. And if we destroy that soil microbiome, which is clearly what we’ve been doing, we are ultimately destroying ourselves. And what people have to understand is that the way that nature functions is the microbes are the vehicle that cycles the nutrients in the soil and feeds them to the plants. And without that vehicle occurring, the only way that those plants have access to any nutrients is for us to physically apply those nutrients. And that comes in the form of something that’s very inferior as a nutrient source to human beings, either synthetic fertilizers or these animal manures that are far, that come from lagoons, and pits, and compost piles and so forth, that frankly are far inferior to the natural manures that come directly out of the rear end of an animal. So there is a difference. There’s an absolutely huge difference between the two in terms of the micro… even the microbiome and those manures, the microbiome that is being dropped out of the rear end of an animal as nature intended back onto the soil, [crosstalk 00:52:28] Exactly is the exact same microbiome that’s in the soil to begin with.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Allen Williams:
So that’s the microbiome going back to the soil, but when we have these manure pits, the lagoons, whatever you want to call them, they become highly anaerobic in nature. And that totally changes the microbial profile. And so when you apply copious amounts of those types of manures, you actually have a totally different microbiome that you’re back to the soil. And in many, many instances that microbiome is antagonistic to the natural microbiome in the soil. So you end up with all of these little wars or battles going on in the soil between all of these microbes, you just want to see who’s going to win out. And so the only way to have truly nutrient dense foods is that we must work regeneratively. We must work to restore the microbiome in that soil and its ability to be able to function at full capacity. Without that, there is no other way.

Allen Williams:
I’m just going to be very honest with you, Mark, and I’m speaking both as a farmer and a scientist when I make this statement, but as a scientist, it is the height of scientific arrogance and human hubris to think that we can design fertilizers, or fertigation, or whatever we want to call it, that even comes close to mimicking what the natural microbiology of the soil can create and feed to these plants. It is not the same.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Allen Williams:
And for us to think that it is [inaudible 00:54:13] is the height of arrogance.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Absolutely. And I think the other thing that people don’t realize is that all of manure lagoons and things that they use to put on the soils, they’re giving the animals tons of antibiotics. So there’s antibiotics and all of that, which then-

Allen Williams:
And other pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
… and other pharmaceuticals. And they’re putting that on the soil, and it’s like a human taking antibiotics, it destroys our microbiome. It has the same impact on the soil, destroying the microbiome of the soil. And on top of that, you’ve got the glyphosate situation, which is also an antibiotic in a sense kills the microbiology of the soil, which is on 70% of our crops. It’s in 72% of our water supplies. It’s in our food. Even we think healthy food, everybody should eat hummus. It’s healthy. Right? This is great brand called Sabra, which actually tastes really good made by Pepsi.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And they’re trying to get into healthier foods, which is awesome, but they’re not producing the food, they’re not producing the chickpeas, but a hundred percent of Sabra products have glyphosate in them. And who would think soybeans but chickpeas. And so we’ve got this real big problem where it’s destroying not only the soil microbiome, our microbiome at the same time, I just, I got these little science updates and this morning I got a little paper that popped up in my email, showing that people who take pre and probiotics can help treat depression using probiotics. Taking all these antibiotics and all these things that destroy gut microbiome affect our mood and our health in so many different ways. That’s just one small example. But I think what you’re talking about with these six principles, is a way of holistically addressing all these problems. Right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Soil health, soil carbon, climate change, water conservation, resistance to droughts and floods, increasing biodiversity, maybe kill off 50% of our bird species on farms in the last 50 years. And now you’re seeing bird species coming back on these regenerative farms, the Audubon Society, wanting to partner with you guys. It’s just amazing. Let’s say all these side effects and you’ve got pollinators coming back, and bees, and butterflies, and you’re not doing it to get the butterflies to come back, or the bees to come back, but it just, as a natural consequence of restoring an ecosystem, I always say if you create health, disease goes away as a side effect. Right? I don’t treat disease. I create health. And I often say functional medicine is like being a regenerative farmer instead of putting chemicals on the human like we put chemicals on the plants, we put food and whole nutrients and basic principles of ecosystem science, and it works the same.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I think farmers, and doctors, and healthcare systems, and agricultural systems need to start to work together to really solve these big issues. Because whether it’s the health care, and chronic disease epidemic we have, the economic consequences of it, the environmental climate consequences, the food insecurity issues we have, all of it it’s really one problem. And I think that we really haven’t come to understand that as a society and your work is so central to that. And I think if we maybe could figure out a new way to bring farmers and healthcare systems and doctors together to solve this, it would be pretty awesome.

Allen Williams:
I totally concur with that. And here’s one of the huge benefits that these farmers are finding, we have conventional scientific wisdom, which is the vast majority of our agricultural research wisdom that we have today. And then we have what I call regenerative agriculture wisdom, and they are actually two very different things. And even as a scientist, I have discovered that in having to come to grips with that within my own way of thinking and doing things, but what we have found is first of all, when you utilize regenerative practices in your farming, far more in synchrony with nature, you’re using the six principles to repair, to rebuild, to revitalize, and restore fully functioning ecosystems. Then what happens is that we create this incredible resilience. And that’s one of the major things that farmers and ranchers are lacking today. They’re lacking resilience. Whenever they hit a disease challenge, a past challenge, or any other type of weather challenge, it really shines a light on the lack of resilience. Their farms fall apart.

Allen Williams:
And so our regenerative farmers have far greater resilience when they’re hit with any of these challenges, they’re much more able to withstand those challenges. But the other thing that happens is when you are farming this way and you have far more diversity, it actually turns conventional wisdom on its ear. What we thought we knew is no longer what is reality and fact, and that’s what a lot of scientists right now are still struggling with, because scientists are still people do. And they’re still subject to the same biases and skewness, as anybody else, and even their own prejudices. And that’s exactly what we’re finding, is that many scientists are fighting this, not because they’ve ever really experienced regenerative agriculture, many haven’t, but they’re just automatically throwing up skepticism and barriers to it because it flies in the face of all of their conventional scientific wisdom.

Allen Williams:
That’s why they can’t believe that it’s true. And so once you do this, and this is why the changes can occur so rapidly, is because we’re literally dealing with biology rather than chemistry, and that’s the big problem are, over the last seven decades, agricultural science, and the way that we farm, has been all related back to soil, chemistry only, that’s all we’ve been thinking about. And we have totally ignored and forgotten soil biology. And we’ve operated from the standpoint of chemistry drives biology. No, it is exactly the opposite. Biology drives chemistry.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s right.

Allen Williams:
And if we altered the biology for the better, then we automatically alter the chemistry for the better. And that again, just totally changes the dynamics.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, I want to talk about a couple more things. What is the science behind this because a lot of people argue about, this is working, farmers are doing it, but where’s the evidence? And before we upturn our whole agricultural system, don’t we need better science that proves this model because people say, “Well, it sounds good,” but how much carbon can you really store? And there’s a carrying limit that’ll happen. And it’s not really something that you can scale. What do you say to those people who challenge the science of this? Because you hear a lot of challenges and go, “Well, it sounds good,” but where’s the evidence?

Allen Williams:
Okay. So first of all, what I would say is that there is far more science supporting this than people may realize. They’re just not looking in the right places. And it’s very true. A lot of this is in ecological journals, because the vast majority of the traditional agricultural journals refuse to publish this, the science. And there’s a big reason it, flies in the face of what they’ve been publishing in their journals for several decades now. So how do you handle that if you’re a viewer, and you’re the editor, and owner of these journals, and all of a sudden you’re printing articles that completely find the face of what has been printed in your journals for the last 40 years. It’s a little hard to swallow that pill. Right? So that’s reality. That’s a fact. So you have to look in different journals. So there is quite a bit of science available on this and for many different countries around the world, you just got to look in the right places.

Allen Williams:
The second thing I would tell them though, is that we do have many, many ongoing research projects globally right now, for instance, one of them is we have a research project that is doing peered comparisons, comparing neighboring regenerative farms to conventional farms. And we’re doing this all over North America. It’s out of what’s called the Soil Carbon Project. And we’ve had several years into this research now, it will be ongoing for many more years to come, but in 2021, they’ll be an array of peer-reviewed articles that will be published, and we’re measuring everything marked from the microbial population and carbon and all of that beneath the soil surface to diversity above the soil surface, we’ve got flux towers out, that are doing 24/7, 365 monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions, and weather fluxes. That’s exquisite data, and that’s going to be available, that’s absolutely a game changer.

Allen Williams:
So all of that data is coming available. But the other thing that I will say as a scientist, what is one of the things that we look for the most to be able to validate and verify the results of anything? Well, it’s repetition. Right? Replications [crosstalk 01:04:00] a replicated experiment, replicated trial. Well, we’re replicating it, but very differently than conventional science, conventional science has small plot replicated research in a greenhouse, or in a a university research station. It’s all very static.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Allen Williams:
But what we’re doing is we’re replicating this farm, over farm, over farm, over farm, across region, after region. So we’ve got multiple farm replications and multiple region and even multiple country replications. So Mark, I’m going to contend that that science and those results are far more valid than the results of a university research station trial, that’s located in a very static area, under a static environment, under a static climate, and under a set number of years.

Allen Williams:
And I’m actually working on an article right now, titled all research is ultimately anecdotal. And what I mean by that is this, the typical research that is done in the agricultural field and even in your own medical field today, is done through what we call the reductionist model.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yes.

Allen Williams:
So what we’re trying to do is we set up trials to specifically control all variables except for the one variable that we want to examine. Right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Allen Williams:
And we’re doing it again in agriculture, it’s all done at a very specific location, very specific soil type, climate, on and on and on. Right? Well, that means ultimately, that those research results are only applicable under the exact same conditions that the research was conducted-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s only the medicine. You’ve got this one drug, for this one problem, and a 70 kilogram white male from Kansas, and is relevant to that person maybe, but not everybody else. Right?

Allen Williams:
Exactly. But what we’re doing as scientists, which ultimately makes all research anecdotal is that we’re taking those results and then extrapolating them. Right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yup.

Allen Williams:
In the medical field, you’re trying to say that. Well, just like you said, you got a 70 kilogram male, and now you want to extrapolate them across all countries, all diets, all ethnicities [crosstalk 01:06:32] on and on. Right? What we’re doing the same thing in agriculture, we’re trying to extrapolate it across all different types of farming conditions in biological situations and climates and so forth and say, “This holds across all of that.” So the moment I take any research, any reductionist model research, and extrapolate it, I have immediately made it anecdotal as well. And so when we often and the reason I bring that up is because we often hear scientists say, “Allen [inaudible 01:07:07] anecdotal.” Really? I’ve got hundreds of farms that this has been replicated over across every region of the US. And you’re saying that’s anecdotal. I got far more reps, far more data, far more validity, across all of these than any of your control reductionist model trials. So how in the world would you say that’s anecdotal compared to yours?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s because I think, it seems to me that maybe if we can get a hearing at the next session of Congress in 2021 and bringing together the scientists to talk about this, that there’s plenty of evidence that this works, and it’s economically feasible, that it’s profitable, and it creates a win-win win all across the board, except for a few of the big players who are going to be really against it, the seed producers, agrochemicals producers, the banks are going to be against it, because they’re not going to be needing to provide all these crop loans for people, it’s going to be a whole fallout of resistance. It’s going to be hard to overcome, I think, but I think the imperatives are just so great now. And I think the dots are connecting and I feel like it’s this moment of convergence, which is very, very exciting for me.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Okay. So science, I think is there. I mean, people can go to understanding Ag and the Soil Health Academy website and learn more about the science, in the rabbit hole, I love it, I’m a doctor, but it just makes sense to me because all about thinking about ecosystems and as a functional medicine doctor, that’s what I am. I’m an ecosystem doctor. And I want to spend the last little bit of time talking about a very controversial subject, which you’re an expert in, you studied animal science, is what’s your level of expertise. And there’s a concept around that in order to really address climate change, we need to eliminate animal agriculture that the Lancet Commission, which was a very robust scientific report, said that we need to reduce our animal consumption by 90% in order to reduce the environmental impact and climate change impacts of our agriculture.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I think that, even if we did regenerative agriculture with animals, that it would not be enough to reduce the carbon in the environment to make a difference. And that really isn’t scalable enough to feed the world. So these are the memes out there that people are talking about. And I think you are probably more experienced in knowledge by this to anybody.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I remember reading an article when I was writing my book Food Fix, you wrote about, the math of scalability in America loan of regenerative agriculture, can you talk about why the idea of being vegan or eliminating animals from agriculture, meaning even if you’re vegan, you still need to have animals as part of the cycle, even if you don’t eat them according to your six principles. So can you explaine why we think that? And why that’s important? And how do you argue the side that actually, no, maybe not only are animals not to be eliminated from agriculture, as we were talking about, for example, with the Impossible Burger, Pat Brown says his mission statement, first companies eliminate animal agriculture. Why is it not only a good idea, but why is it important to actually have it in order to solve the problem?

Allen Williams:
So, very, very good question [inaudible 01:10:33] So a start always with what we call the historical ecological context. And that means that we have to go back and look at how this world function naturally prior to all of our intervention. And if we take a look at that, we’ll realize that across this globe on virtually every land mass that we have, no matter what continent we’re talking about with exception of Antarctica, that we had very, very large numbers for many, many thousands of years of foraging, grazing, and browsing ruminants, like it have always existed, and they must exist. If they don’t exist, then you cease to have intact, fully functioning ecosystems. Every one of these ecosystems evolved through the interaction of these grazing, browsing and foraging ruminants. And the other thing that we have to realize is that they were around in literally hundreds of millions in the numbers. And for many, many thousands of years. Now, we don’t go back in a historical ecological context and subscribe a methane issue. Yeah.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
All those buffalo, they were all causing climate change-

Allen Williams:
Exactly. The buffalo, the elk, or the bison, here in the US technically, I guess, but not the bison, the elk, the deer, the antelope, the caribou, on and on and on, they existed the majority of them with the exception of the caribou from the Atlantic, to the Pacific South of the Arctic circle to the Gulf, and then of course, we have the caribou in the Arctic circle. So look at many other countries around the world, many other continents around the world, the exact same thing. So when we look at the historical ecological context or perspective, and we realize that we’ve had hundreds of millions of these wild ruminants run in the earth for a very long time, they all digest the plants the same way that our domesticated livestock do. And that meant that they also release methane just like our domesticated livestock did.

Allen Williams:
So if the methane release itself due to natural digestive processes from these wild ruminants were an issue, then it’s been an issue for a very long time, and it’s nothing new. So to say, this is some new phenomenon and something that’s seriously impacting us, we have to take a look at, okay, if methane is a serious problem in terms of greenhouse gas emissions today, why? Why? Because we’ve had these ruminants around again for a very long time, they’ve been admitting methane for a very long time. So what has changed? Well, let’s examine that. The thing that has changed is the way that we raise those livestock, and what is not happening biologically in the soil. So when we move to more of these CAFO type situations and we’re raising livestock that way, rather than our own, the land, as they existed for millennia and the wild ruminants, then we are altering the ability for nature to be able to process that methane. There are methane digesting microbes in the soil.

Allen Williams:
One whole class of those are called [Bathana 01:14:23] choice. But there’s also other, a whole host of other methane digesting microbes in the soil as well. So when we destroy our soil biology, we’re destroying it’s… and row crop agriculture does this as well. It’s destroying the ability of our soils to be able to process that methane, Ooh, a very natural process. So again, this is nothing new. It’s just the way that we’re doing things. So if we alter the way that we produce our [inaudible 01:14:56] and we go back to what we call regenerative or adaptive grazing that mimics, we call it…
PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [01:15:04]

Allen Williams:
Regenerative or adaptive grazing that mimics, we call it biomimicry and ecomimicry. The way that we’re managing our domesticated livestock is mimicking the way that the wild ruminants forage to cross the surface of the surface. And, that actually restores the methanotrophs and the other methane-digesting microbes in the soil, so that now it’s not a problem anymore. The problem with the vast majority of the studies out there, again as we talked earlier, Mark you notice they’ve been very limited in nature and very controlled.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Allen Williams:
And they’ve been studying the CAFO-centered animal agriculture. Well, that’s not what we’re talking about here at all. And the truth is again, to have fully functioning, intact ecosystems, and I think that’s what most people want and they desire, then we need to have domesticated ruminants on the scene to again create this biomimicry in ecomimicry through regenerative grazing practices.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Allen Williams:
Because we’re not going to have, particularly here in the US but many other places globally, we’re never again going to have the massive wild roaming herds of bison, and elk, and antelope, and deer. We’ve got cities, and towns, and roads, and fences, and everything else. And that just can’t occur again, unfortunately. So, the only way to recreate and rebuild these ecosystems is to use domesticated ruminants to do that. They are our tool to be able to accomplish that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
These are interesting facts. You know as a doctor, I test my patients who have stomach problems for methane. I actually give them a breath test. I measure the amount of methane they produce. So, actually humans can produce methane too. And, it’s usually because of an imbalance in the microbiome in their gut. And, I remember reading Fred Provenza’s stuff, talking about how certain plants, if the animals are grazing in a diverse forage with all these different plants, for example, more tannins, that their methane production is far less, or feeding cows seaweed reduces methane production. So, you can both on the front end, reduce methane production by giving them diverse diets and changing their microbiome, and you can increase the soil’s capacity to store methane or extract methane from the air.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And also, people don’t realize that, CAFOs freeze about 5% of the global methane, but fracking, which is used to produce fertilizer, fertilizer production, which is enormous energy costs. It’s a very energy intensive process to extract nitrogen from the air and make fertilizer. That produces three times as much methane as CAFOs. So, that fertilizer is being used on all your plant crops that you’re eating if you’re eating vegetables, or corn, or all these things. And, people don’t understand that it’s actually three times as much of a problem eating a lot of plant foods as it is the CAFO animals. So, it’s a complex story and people get all emotional about it. And, I think we had talked to look at the facts. You don’t have to eat animals if you’re morally opposed, but you need to understand that in order to create a thriving agricultural system, to create a nutrient-dense food supply, that animals have to be part of that cycle and done in the right way.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think that what Russ Conser said is, “It’s not the cow, it’s the how.” That really sort of stuck with me because it speaks to what you’re talking about, which is really the intelligent use of animal agriculture in a way that actually solves the problems rather than creates the problem.

Allen Williams:
That’s exactly correct. And, what a lot of people might not realize as well, you talked about the production synthetic nitrogens, which yes, produces a very, very large amount of methane that’s released into the atmosphere. And then of course, those nitrogens are applied as fertilizers to our crops. But the other thing that happens, aerobic soils release huge amounts of methane. For instance, swamps release large amounts of methane. Our oceans can release large amounts of methane if they’re not very healthy. But also, all the rice fields. So, all of the rice production that we do. Those rice fields are releasing large amounts of methane, and in any other type of crop production. If we’re degrading those soils and creating anaerobic conditions in those soils and inability of those soils to infiltrate water, then what happens is that water with rainfall and all that ponds and pools exasperates the anaerobic conditions. And then every one of those fields is now releasing methane up into the atmosphere as well. So, animal agriculture is by far not the only producer and releaser of methane. All forms of agriculture.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Right.

Allen Williams:
Create methane release if we’re doing it improperly and wrongly. But, the other thing you’re exactly correct. We can use animals, domesticated livestock, as a tool by grazing and foraging regenerativity, and we actually use multi-species Mark. So, that’s what’s so wonderful about this. We not only can use cattle, but we use sheep, and goats, and pastured pigs, and pastured poultry, chickens, and turkeys, and all of those types of things to help restore this whole microbial balance in the soil, and therefore restore the ability of the soil to be able to function properly relative to methane, and carbon, and nitrous oxide, all of the other greenhouse gases. Now, one of the things I want to point out, we’ve talked about methane, and we now know that if we farm regeneratively and we reintegrate livestock, that we can actually resolve the methane issue and not make it worse.

Allen Williams:
It’s all just like Russ Conser said, “It’s not the cow, but the how.” It’s how we do it that’s critical here, biomimicry, ecomimicry of that natural system. But, the other thing I want to mention is the carbon. And, a lot of people have a false concept of carbon. They think that all we need to do to resolve our problem here is just if we could create some giant shop vac and suck all of this carbon.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Carbon capture technology, right?

Allen Williams:
Right. And, sock it away in some giant reservoir beneath the soil surface, never to be touched or utilized again, then that’s what we want to do, right? Boy, that’ll solve our carbon problem. No, absolutely it will not. What I want people to realize, is it carbon exist in many, many different forms. And, the vast majority of the carbon that that is in our atmosphere actually is meant to be continually cycled.

Allen Williams:
That’s how nature has done it for eons. And so, the vast majority of this carbon is actually not static carbon to be just socked away forever, it’s liquid carbon, and that liquid carbon is supposed to be constantly cycled back and forth from the atmosphere into the soil, utilized by the microbes, and the plants, and the animals, and back out again. And, it’s a cycle. That’s why we call it the carbon cycle, not the carbon linear.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Right.

Allen Williams:
Walking out and put it into the soil forever. So again, the way that we do that is through regenerative agriculture and implementing these six principles. If we do that, then we heighten the functioning of this liquid carbon pathway, and we no longer have a carbon problem. And, can we solve our current problems simply through regenerative agriculture globally? Of course we can. And for those that are denying that or saying that we can’t do that, they have not looked at a lot of the data that’s out there relative to the carbon cycle itself.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. I mean, a lot of people are talking about the need to reduce fossil fuel use, to reduce emissions as a strategy, focus on renewables. And, those are all important things that we need to do.

Allen Williams:
Yeah.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But, I hear people argue that using regenerative agricultural principles, we could literally draw down all of the carbon that’s been released since the industrial evolution. Other people say 30%, some people argue, maybe not at all. Where are you in the science of that? I think it’s an interesting conversation because, what do we really know? And, what can we say definitively that will be the contribution of regenerative agriculture? Because if it’s true, I mean, I think the UN said this, that if we took two of the 5 million degraded hectors of land around the world, spent $300 billion, which is essentially less than we spend on diabetes with Medicare every year, that we could stop climate change for 20 years and draw down enough carbon to really give us a chance to solve this problem. What are your sense of where the science is on this?

Allen Williams:
Yeah so, from the data that we’ve collected, and again a lot of this is getting ready to be published, and from data that we’ve collected on our own farms, what we know is that we have been able to sequester as many as 7.4 tons of carbon per acre, annually. And, it can range anywhere from about three tons per acre annually to over seven tons per acre annually. Now, you multiply that across the number of acres that we have both here in North America and globally, and that far, far exceeds the target goals that we see most scientists posing. Far, far exceeds that. So, we already have been able to clearly demonstrate, Mark, that we can sequester significant amounts of carbon. And here’s the game changer, so it’s a combination of diversity of three things, diversity of microbial species, diversity of plant species, and diversity of animal species.

Allen Williams:
So, we combine all three of those in the same environment on the same acres, which is exactly what we’re doing, then it rapidly speeds up the functioning of this liquid carbon pathway in the sequestering of carbon into the soil. The problem is, is the vast majority of the trials that have been conducted, and therefore the research that is presented out there, has been measured using far more conventional methods in far less diverse environments. So, they’re assuming that, okay if I grow corn, then I can draw down X amount of carbon per year and that’s it. So boy, we can never change things if that’s what we’re doing. Or even a forest. If you look at pine forest, for instance, we have a bunch of those here in the Southeast US. Well, your typical carbon draw down in a pine forest annually per acre is going to be maybe one to 1.5 tons per acre annually. But, that pine forest is a very, very low diversity environment. It is not what nature would have put there normally.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Right.

Allen Williams:
And we put it there, we’re the ones that put it there. But yet, we’re basing our assumptions and all of our science on that. And, that’s where we’re going wrong. We have the wrong assumptions, Mark, we’re measuring the wrong thing. We’ve got to measure regenerative operations that has high levels of diversity, microb, plant, animal. That is where we get the numbers that support being able to substantially alter this situation.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So, I think I’m going to nominate you for the next Secretary of Agriculture. I see you’re cringing, but maybe you could be an advisor. How’s that?

Allen Williams:
That would be my worst nightmare to have to be and reside in DC and deal with that every day.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, at least we’ll get you speaking and whispering in the right ears.

Allen Williams:
I can do that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
This so important? I think a couple of hopeful notes to finish, on one is you’ve been working with a group called Understanding Ag, which is, I think was driven organically out of the interest of big food companies to address some of the challenges they saw coming down the pike. Not out of some moral responsibility or ecological consciousness, or any Green New Deal vision, but out of the economic imperatives of being a giant food company, looking at your supply chain and saying it’s under threat. And, that’s why General Mills has committed a million acres of regenerative ag and is funding farmers, is funding conversion, has given money to all sorts of groups like Kiss the Ground, and working with you to actually make this happen. And, that to me is really a heartening thing to see these big food companies stepping in where the government is slow to enter. What is your experience with working with these companies and is this just window dressing or are they in it for the long haul and for the real reasons and the right reasons.

Allen Williams:
Well, what I would have to say is that we have had an incredible experience working with companies like General Mills. I can vouch for the fact that they are very serious about what they’re doing and their commitment to regenerative agriculture. And, in evidence of that is the fact that within Understanding Ag, they have given us freedom to do what we do. We have not been censored by them in any way. We have not been told what to say, what to do, how to teach farmers, anything like that. And, and we were very upfront with them initially as we entered into this work with them, that we have to have that freedom. And, they fully granted that to us, and they have proven that to be true as we’ve gone through the last two to three years of our project with them. They have not interfered in any way whatsoever.

Allen Williams:
And, they continue to fund, and to commit to helping us to teach, and educate farmers, and to further train farmers. And so, I would have to say that are the types of commitments that we need, because those are the companies that can be game changers out there. They influence other companies of their ilk. And, they also have a heavy influence on farmers and ranchers out there that are supplying them. And obviously, over the consumer, because they sell food to literally billions of consumers a year. So by them making this commitment, it’s a huge, huge move in the right direction.

Allen Williams:
You know, Mark, one of the most impressive things is they were very honest with us up front in saying that look, we serve billions of people annually, and we know that this change is not going to be made overnight, but yet we’re willing to invest in the time that it takes to get us there. However long it takes, we’re willing to do that. So, we’ve had a great relationship. It has been hugely productive. And, I can tell you that the response from the farmers that are producing for General Mills has been overwhelming. And, it’s been very surprising to them. We have had far more farmers respond positively to this then they anticipated. And so, we continue to look forward to these types of relationships and building these relationships with other food companies as well.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So exciting.

Allen Williams:
So yeah, that’s the way to move forward and to make real progress.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s so exciting, and [inaudible 01:31:28] is also doing this. So, last question is if you were President, Secretary of Ag, you could wave a wand. What would be the policy things that you would implement to help farmers make this conversion? What do they need to do to make this easier for them to go, yes?

Allen Williams:
Well, as we opened our session today, I’m going to close it with saying the very first thing that needs to happen is that the farmers have to be educated. Again, you can’t implement or practice what you don’t know. So, we need policy that funds education of farmers. And, in my opinion, if they’re going to be eligible for things like Federal Crop Insurance and so forth, then I think a prerequisite needs to be that they have completed a course in regenerative agriculture and need to be able to document that they are implementing regenerative practices. Any other area…

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. If you want to get the money, you got to learn how to do it right.

Allen Williams:
Right. And, what does any other insurance company do? You know? They want to make sure that you’re low risk, right? If you’re funding, crop insurance, well the way to make sure that you’re low risk is to make sure you’re educated. So, that would be one of the very first things that I would put into place.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Like a safe driving course. You’ve got to say farming course.

Allen Williams:
Exactly. And, then for any type of crop insurance or other subsidy, you need to be able to verify that you have ongoing education credits in regenerative agriculture practices. A farmer, if they’re going to apply chemicals, herbicides, and insecticides, and fungicides, for instance, they’re supposed to do ongoing training and get licensed as a chemical applicator. Well, how is this any different? Let’s have them ongoing education and licensed as a regenerative practitioner. I guarantee you, once they start down this path, things will absolutely improve for them, and they will significantly reduce, as we’ve discussed earlier, they will significantly reduce their reliance on all of these synthetics, and chemicals, and everything else. And basically, the issues, including their financial issues, will resolve themselves over time.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s amazing. So, in a world of bad news, of economic collapse, and COVID-19, and chronic disease, and climate change, and environmental destruction, regenerative agriculture seems almost too good to be true, but I think it actually is. Right? Think about it. We change the way we grow food in a way that restores soil, that draws down carbon, that conserves water, that increases biodiversity, that restores ecosystems, that produces more nutrient-dense food in a way that’s more resilient to droughts, and floods, and climate change, that produces food that actually creates health for people, saves money for the healthcare system, and makes farmers more money. It’s like, why wouldn’t everybody sign onto this? So, it’s almost one of those things where you go, wow, why haven’t we thought of this before? And when you think about regeneration as a concept, whether it’s regenerative agriculture, regenerative health, regenerate healthcare, it really is a solution to so many of our global crises. And, it’s such a hopeful message. And essentially, what it comes down to is respect mother nature, listen to mother nature, and do what she tells you to do. It’s that simple, right?

Allen Williams:
It really is. That’s the bottom line. And, what I’ll often tell people and what I would tell anybody listening today, is that if you’re skeptical, if you have doubts about how well regenerative agriculture works, and if you’ve heard people say that, well, I tried that regenerative agricultural, and it just didn’t work for me, the first thing I would say is, come visit those of us who are doing this. Come visit our farms.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Allen Williams:
Come see for yourself. Don’t just automatically dismiss it. But then secondly, what we have experienced is whenever this has “failed,” it failed because they have not implemented all six principles. They cherry pick out of the principles and were only implementing maybe one, or two, or three at the most. And then claiming that it failed. Well, it failed because you were not implementing all the six principles of regenerative agriculture. So, come visit us, come see us. Our farms are open. We’re transparent. We welcome visitors. And we would love to help. [crosstalk 01:36:37]

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I’m coming. So I’m going to close with a quote from one of my favorite human beings, Wendell Berry. He said, “People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.” And I think for my own personal work right now, as an ecosystem doctor, is to kind of converge back to really bringing together healthcare, agriculture, food, all of it together as one solution that can save so many of our humans from dying, and save our ecosystem from collapsing. And, we may not survive. The humans may not survive this all, but we got to try. And, I think this is such a beautiful, hopeful message.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I thank you so much for being on the show, Dr. Williams. You’re just a beacon of light, and I can’t wait to meet you in person. I encourage people to check out his work, go to Understanding Ag, as well as Soil Health Academy. He’s written a number of books. You can check it out, and please share this podcast with your friends and family on social media. We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and we’ll see you next time on The Doctor’s Pharmacy.
PART 4 OF 4 ENDS [01:38:03]

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