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Robert Saik is a professional agrologist and a certified agricultural consultant, with over 40 years of experience. Rob has been featured on the “How’d It Happen Podcast” episode #179, and having massive experience as a professional agrologist, entrepreneur, and consultant, one episode was not enough to uncover everything that has to do with making agriculture sustainable, so here we are with part. 2!
If we really want to make agriculture sustainable – Rob says – we have to think about the whole food supply chain. Changing a whole system requires the coordination of different parties, making it a truly massive effort. As difficult as it sounds, it’s a necessary step for truly getting to the next level of agriculture and being able to feed the whole world.
Rob Saik defines himself as an “Agricultural Futurist” as he’s always been obsessed with finding ways to optimize agriculture. As an expert in this field, he’s always stayed on top of the industry, and he has applied the latest science and technology to agriculture. That is why Rob believes that the future of farming is GMO – genetically modified organic farming. With the right use of science & technology, in fact, we are able to get the plants to do what we want them to, in a shorter amount of time, without using outside inputs to grow a crop. That’s a truly powerful paradigm shift that will help to make agriculture sustainable and more productive.
Rob started as a farm boy in Alberta, and he got his first computer in 1983, during his university years. It’s then when Rob had the realization that if he could integrate computers and technology in agriculture, he would make a difference. That’s what led him to found over 15 companies, writing books, articles, and holding keynotes about the topic.
And now here’s Rob Saik.
Full transcript below
Video on Making Agriculture Sustainable Part 2.
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Podcast with Rob Saik. Making Agriculture Sustainable.
crop, soil, agriculture, technology, people, carbon, nitrogen, sustainability, farmers, grow, called, field, thought, methane, land, cows, world, atmosphere, great, farm
Hey, Robin. Hey how you doing good, welcome
You’re very much.
Mike Malatesta 04:50
Hey, can you hear me
okay Rob, you’re good.
Mike Malatesta 04:54
super. I can hear you good as well. So yeah, this is exciting,
where do you want to go today.
Well, I think last time was more along the lines of the food 5.0 book and the idea that we are meeting with Bill Gates and stuff like that. Today, we could start off with a discussion around. We would like to go today is in the area of sustainability, people always care about quality of the food supply. So we need to talk about that. And so how did happen. On October 15 I got a chance to speak to the United Nations and the FAO Food and Agricultural Organization. At the World Summit for global food security. So how that happened, right. Okay, and so that that can go back to that and then when you start talking about. I’d like to talk a little bit about, you know what, what people should think of when they think of the word sustainability, how do we frame that, and then talk, I’d like to lean a little forward into the world of abundance 360 And talk about convergence, because we never got to that really with the, with the whole thing with on the last episode, But convergence really is the coming together and technologies and I can take you far and wide, with technologies and robotics and remote sensing know kinds of stuff that’s going on in agriculture, I think your blow your readers away, so it’d be kind of really cool.
Mike Malatesta 06:34
Okay. All right, well that sounds good to me well. I will start with sustainability and we’ll go to convergence and wind up wherever we do.
Yeah, we’ll start with God and then go to convergence and, and, yeah, so, how did you feel after that you’re obviously you enjoyed it so yeah,
Mike Malatesta 06:53
I thought it was great and I, like I said when I finished up as like, there’s so much. We didn’t get to, you know, we got to a lot but we didn’t get to. I think the meat of, pardon the pun, but the meat of, you know how we’re actually going to approach. Feeding 9 billion people, right, that’s how are we actually going to do that and with all of the. I know competing ideas or rhetoric or whatever you want to call it out there, it’s hard for, for a normal person like me, for example, to know who, who’s on the right path, who should I ever, who should I believe what should I be endorsing what should I be doing, you know, as a, as a consumer.
I’m just trying to remember our last one that we did I think I did touch on sustainability. I think I touched on food waste and
toxins, you know,
maybe this one will be more positive and we’ll talk more about the technologies that are available in farming and why.
Mike Malatesta 07:55
Okay, okay, yeah. All right, super. Okay, well, I’ll start recording and we’ll countdown 321 And we’ll get going.
Mike Malatesta 08:10
All right 321 Rob Hey welcome back to the show I’m so happy to be doing this, what I call part two with with me today. It was, we,
we had a great discussion
Mike Malatesta 08:23
on our previous podcast about all kinds of things food related, but we didn’t get to a ton of stuff that I wanted to and Rob wanted to and so we decided to do this. Number two, and we’re going to focus on a couple of things in this number two. First is sustainability. We talked about, you know, Rob talks about how do you feed 9 billion people in the first episode, and how do you grow 10,000 years worth of food in the next 30 years and some of the things I remember from it. But we didn’t get into the nuts and bolts, about it. So we’re going to talk about that today and we’re also going to talk about convergence, the convergence of technology and how that convergence is reshaping reforming and maybe even disrupting to use a common word how food is grown and how we’re going to support all the mouths that we have to support in the world so Rob let’s um, let’s get started with, with sustainability.
I well on October the 15th of 2020 I had an opportunity to address the United Nations and FAO with the world, Committee on global food security, it was a three day conference in a row and got a chance to talk and I think on the last episode, I mentioned the issues around food waste, which, in my mind the number one causes Apple talks that are mycotoxins rather and mycotoxins are a fungus that attacks the crop in the field, and also in storage, so it’s the number one food waste here in the world and the number one cause of liver cancer in the world so I talked about that. I talked a little bit about food nutrition or the density of food. For example, if you wanted to have more zinc in your diet. There’s no ideology or philosophy to do that that has to come with science and hope based out based out output based type of applications in other words, you have to put Zig Ziglar on the crop to make it happen. But what I want to talk about today Mike is more about where’s the world going. You and I both belong to abundance 360 with Peter Diamandis, and I don’t know if you caught it, but in the last two weeks or so, he sat down with Ilan musk, I did, and they launched the 100 million dollar Carbon Challenge, and so maybe we’ll start there, for every percent of organic matter and organic matter is, is broken down plant matter so when, when a farmer harvests a crop like behind me on the screen here, one of our farmer harvests to crop the crop residue. Some people call it trash, or Stover or residue from the corn crop or the wheat crop or the canola crop or whatever crop, sits on the soil surface and eventually that breaks down through microbial degradation and turns into something called organic matter ultimately humans. Now, here’s some rough cowboy math for every six inch slice of soil on the planet Earth. If you could increase your soil organic matter by 1%, you will pull out of the atmosphere 12,000 pounds of carbon, you ever take approximately 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide per acre. So just think about that for every 1% organic matter, increase per acre, you pull 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And why is that by the number hundreds of millions of acres of farmland and agriculture, all of a sudden goes from, you know, an emitter of greenhouse gases to one of the world’s biggest solutions for sequesteration of greenhouse gases and, in, in Peters in Peters interview with Ilan Ilan Peter asked, you know, Ilan about a trillion trees, and you know he was pragmatic answer was, Well, I’m not against trees but where are you gonna put a trillion trees right because you have to think about water, you have to think about some sort of fertility, you have to be able to plant these ingredients. So anyways, I like to start off with, with that kind of an idea of like, okay, so
Mike Malatesta 12:46
let’s get into why what you just said about increasing organic matter and inch greatly impacts the amount of carbon that can be absorbed what is actually happening and how, how is, how is the carbon being absorbed.
Okay, so the way the way it works is carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is pulled into the classroom process called photosynthesis. Okay, and the sunlight is energy, we convert that carbon dioxide into sugars, starches cellulose hemicellulose, etc. That becomes plant matter. We eat or animals eat that. That plant matter, and the remainder of the plant, the part that isn’t shipped away, is, is in fact left on the ground, and if you don’t degrade the soil and what I mean by that if you don’t kill the soil, then you actually can increase organic matter in the soil this is very healthy. So when we’re talking about sustainability. I’m not one who believes a sustainability comes with the label, sustainability does not come with a label, sustainability comes with an outcome. In other words, and I think they said this last time if you had $100,000 in your bank account, and you could live off the interest I think that’s sustainable. If you have 4% organic matter in your soil, and you agronomically manage that soil so at the end of 20% organic matter, or more. That’s sustainability because you haven’t tapped the interest of the uncap the principle of the soil. So, you know when you this morning. This morning I read a 30,000 acre organic farm in South Dakota, and the soil is being degraded at a very rapid rate. Okay organics got to be good, right. Well, how do you control weeds in an organic farm, you kill every time you touch the soil with tillage equipment you destroy the soil structure and you release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. So it’s not always so cut and dried, that a label, organic regenerative ecological whatever it is, ties itself to long term sustainability that my friend is tied back to outcome based measurements. Okay, so
let’s talk about that so if you don’t tell the soil, how do you replant on.
Well, one of the real big movements especially in Western Canada, and especially in a place like Argentina has been no till. So what it means is, if you, you know, you think of your image of a farming operation so somebody’s sitting on a red vendor, pick a red vendor tractor outside with dusty old overalls and and plowing the land. We don’t touch the land anymore. We see directly into the previous years, stubble. So when a crop of wheat comes off, we go in the springtime, with what’s called a one pass direct seed, and we cut the neck of yours canola crop straight into the previous wheat crop stubble. It’s been an advancement that’s been accelerating. For the past 30 years in agriculture, and now the media is waking up to the fact that wait a minute if you tell them that’s bad well shit we’ve known that for 30 years. And so the world is kind of waking up. They’re trying to put a label on it and saying that if you don’t tell the lab and you regenerate the soil well
Mike Malatesta 16:19
if you have good agronomics we’ve been doing that for a long time, decades, so. Okay, um, so interestingly, I’m in Wisconsin you’re in, you’re in Canada. We grow a lot of corn here we grow a lot of soybeans we are you know I don’t know everything but we grow a lot of stuff but I still see. I mean, not this time of year especially, I, I’m seeing farms, You know being tilled, all day long. Yes, what’s that something’s
got to change. I mean, the, the transition to know chillage type of operation. There is a bit of a pain point there as you go and you start to really not disturb your soils. There’s a whole bunch of nuances here, because Wisconsin can get pretty wet sometimes. And so if you practice no tillage your soils might actually become wetter and then farmers can implement a strategy called strip tillage rich till there’s all of these nuances that happen almost county by county might that result in sustainable agriculture but by and large, we are still seeing too much tillage in the agricultural sector. That’s a blanket statement, but whether it’s, whether it’s the United States, or whether it’s Europe, who was really really does a lot of doing. Yeah they bound pound, they pound the drum about sustainability, or whether it’s Africa were small landholders higher one way districts to prepare gardens. There’s still too much tillage in the world. Okay,
Mike Malatesta 17:58
so let’s get back to the organic farm that you mentioned, where the soil quality was degrading. And because of the need to chill, because of the need to prevent weeds and you know it kind of just goes on and on and on, how, what are guess what happens when the soil degrades right the quality degrades, you’ve got to add more fertilizer to get it back or you have to let it sit, what do you actually what’s what’s the consequence.
Well, once, once the soil has been degraded, to the extent that this article is indicated so you have soil in a fragile ecosystem so semi arid plains type of prairie type of environment, and you’ve been growing crops on that land and then you till the crap out of the soil to, you know, manage weeds and try to get your seed bed prepared etc. That damage could take decades and decades to repair and the, it won’t be repaired under an organic regime, because under organic regime, you’d have to, well, we’d have to have an external source of nitrogen. So I suppose the combination of livestock on land, over the long term and really, really careful management will help to, you know resurrect that soil to reconstruct the damage that’s been done, but it takes decades if you can. It’s like a reputation might, you can work your whole life to you know to build your reputation, and then one tweak can destroy it just like that was soil. You can work, you know, a lifetime to increase the value of soil, but in a couple years of heavy tillage you can destroy it, and people don’t think about that. And so that,
Mike Malatesta 19:47
That’s interesting because the way you described it if I had if I got it right was you bring animals onto the land and their excrement actually adds the nitrogen back in, which is the source of methane and then you get into all these other.
Again, there’s a little bit of it because, to grow the crop that the livestock would need to grow the grass of the cows would eat, you have to have nitrogen, and so it’s, you know unless we have led them fixing crops like an alfalfa crop but they’re only at the most 55% and efficient. So, this isn’t an easy fix, without an external source of nitrogen, such as the nitrogen that comes from nitrogen fertilizer, you know half the planet’s population would not be sustained. So this is a big deal. And when Peter Diamandis was talking to you on the question that I shot in for Ilan was, What are you gonna do for an external source of nitrogen on Mars, because that is what I’ve been thinking about. Yeah, it was
Mike Malatesta 20:51
interesting in that how and by the way, for those of you who don’t know, so, so there’s this thing called an XPRIZE. And every year, every year maybe multiple times a year, I don’t even know there. There’s a price that’s established to solve help encouraged people to solve a difficult problem, and the most recent XPrize is $100 million that Eli Musk is funding to help figure out how to encourage technology development to figure out a way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. And in the case of this prize you have to demonstrate. If I remember correctly, you have to demonstrate a technology that you could scale or build up so that it would remove a gigaton, which is like a million tonnes and it’s a big number of carbon annually or something like that so that’s what they’re, that’s what they XPRIZE. That’s what this year’s XPrize is about and, And, as Rob was talking Peter Diamandis was interviewing Ilan about the XPRIZE, although it went out into all different things with cars, of course, SpaceX was launching the next morning and all this other cool stuff but the tree thing really got me because I’ve heard, Marc Benioff and some others talk about, I think that was a 362 talk about planting trees and it seems like such a simple way to fix this right because cheap trees are basically what you described, and in, you know the stocks and the organic matter that’s left, right, they’re, they’re basically admitting oxygen they’re taking in carbon or carbon dioxide, I
Mike Malatesta 22:36
but, um, but I never thought about the, I mean I obviously thought about the space but I guess I really didn’t think about the water or the water
fertility. Yeah, right, trees can grow with zero fertility, I mean they can grow with less, but they can grow with none so you can put them on absolutely eroded soils and if, if you do you also have to consider the water factor and then and then space, you Where Where are you going to put these, where are you going to put these trees are trillion trees takes up a lot of room so Yeah, where are you going to click that. I suppose if our agricultural production rose, Mike, if we were able to produce more on a given acre than we could set aside some of the, the marginal land and plant them in the trees. And I believe that agriculture is going to be one of the contenders for the X Prize for carbon removal, here’s my idea My idea would be to genetically engineer a crop that would do two things one is fixes So nitrogen so you have a dramatic reduction nitrous oxide because you’re not using nitric nitrogenous fertilizer so have a crop that fixes its own nitrogen so we don’t need to use fertilizer and genetically engineering so it has massive root port proliferation, giving it greater Sealine resistance and greater ability to harvest nutrients out of the soil and go deeper to get water that’s in the soil. So if I if I could win the XPrize by breeding a crop that would be nitrogen fixing greater root mass scavenge nutrients out of the soil, and it would get better water utilization, increasing the water use efficiency and greater productivity and I would win the enterprise with that crop, that’s how I would do it because that crop that genetically engineered crop planted on hundreds of millions of acres would win the Brock’s, it would do it because it does it faster than trees could do it, and I would win. That’s what I wanted. So the future of farming I said it in the last podcast, I believe, is GMO genetically modified organic farming, we don’t want to use outside inputs to grow a crop but to get the plants to do what we want them to do in an accelerated fashion requires monitors,
Mike Malatesta 25:04
and with your X PRIZE idea Rob would that, what would the crop, be that you would target, or would you have, or would this be universal.
Well, there’s this is another thing, if you were to measure agricultural productivity on the planet Earth, how would you do it. If I was to say, Mike, your job is to develop a metric to develop a measurement to baseline agricultural productivity by crop by region around the world, how would you do it, and I think I would do it by measuring Giga joules. Giga joules produced off an acre of land. Because Canada can’t grow sugarcane. But Brazil can grow sugar cane, but Canada can grow oil seeds so oil seeds like canola is high in oil emits high in energy from that crop, Iowa and Illinois people say oh monoculture monoculture I don’t know why, why have the three eyes grow. You know what’s corn and soybean all the time. What’s because they can. And they do it better than anybody else in the world, why would they grow a barley crop on land that can grow 50 to 300 bushels of corn, why would you. I mean, this is what, this is what we can do very very well so if I was to, you know, do that. Breeding, it would have to be in several crops, it would have to be in wheat, it would have to be in corn. It would have to be in a crop like, maybe, sorghum, something that would grow. And then maybe, Maybe you could do an accelerated grass crop that would allow you to run more livestock per acre than you ever have before that would be kind of cool, so that those kinds of things go through my head.
Mike Malatesta 26:52
Once a giga Joule you mentioned that I don’t know what that is.
So it’s a measurement of energy I don’t have the definition in my head but it’s a measurement of energy so you could, you know if you can measure, giga joules of production, you would take in sunlight energy plus water plus the nutrients from the soil, and you would measure the output of the crop in terms of giga joules. I think that’s an interesting idea to think about. I’ve often wondered, How would you how would you baseline agricultural productivity on the planet.
Mike Malatesta 27:22
Would that include calories as well or no, that not be
converted into calories. Yeah, but we grow crops for different reasons right so some are growing for oil, some are growing for starch content, some are grown from protein so you have to find some common denominator, I don’t know if I’m right on this or not but I’ve done a lot of thinking about it. I think this is the first time I’ve actually publicly talked about it.
Mike Malatesta 27:46
Well it’s kind of a well thank you for that, by the way, it’s kind of interesting because you’re not, you know you’re not looking at the problem as if, okay I’m going to create some brand new, you know suction machine that’s going to somehow be deployed and be able to suck carbon out and I don’t even know where to put it or destroy it I don’t I’m not even sure you’re, you’re basically saying, we already have a mechanism so how can I accelerate the mechanism
is kind of right reform in Canada and the winters are dark, I mean there’s very little sunlight to get into the wintertime, but in the summertime as the Earth rotates, our daylength is pretty long. If you go north of Edmonton Alberta to Peace River Country you can read a newspaper on the staff at 1130 at night. So the amount of sunlight that can be captured even in northern latitudes lot you have to grow that crop in 90 to 100 days, you don’t have the luxury of growing that crop over 180 days, it just doesn’t work. So, to me, those farmers are extremely efficient so if you’re measured measuring efficiency based on the conversion of that sunlight energy into an indoor crop. With that amount of time. I think we do pretty good again, people, people, you know, Hollywood likes to vilify North American agriculture as somehow being unsustainable or sinister or something scheppers Lots of families might have been farming the same land for 200 years or more, show me a business has been around 200 years, I’ll show you a sustainable business. So agriculture yeah we you know we we learn, we unlearn we relearn we’re always learning, and we’re always applying science so without convergence without even going into the new technology, and just farmers applying the stuff that we have today at a higher level, like precision agriculture etc. We can continue to increase food production, I’m convinced of that. It takes a while could disseminate those new practices down to farm level at all areas, but, but this dissemination with the likes of the product that I’m building the technology advisor Pro which connects agriculture to its experts in real time. This creates an acceleration of the adoption of new technology.
Mike Malatesta 30:04
So let me go a little bit further on this. When people talk about using land,
Mike Malatesta 30:12
for carbon sequestration is, that’s, that’s different than being carbon neutral like not tilling the soil right that’s what what it, what is that what is it, I don’t think many people know what that actually means right what does it mean to you.
Rock and it’s, it’s, it’s not rocket science, it’s soil science. When you grow crops, and you don’t tell the land eventually if you manage that soil carefully organic matter, and He’ll mess in the soil will will rise. And as that soil organic matter rises you have effectively sequestered or full carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and made the soil healthier and made it hold water better so all of those things lined up very pragmatically, it’s a good thing. Could we accelerate that is there ways to accelerate that yes, through the judicious use of fertilizer and I didn’t mean stop using fertilizer, I meant using fertilizer the right way the right kind of fertilizer the right placement, the right timing. We could accelerate crop growth. And we could also minimize the amount of fertilizer this loss to the atmosphere or to the environment. Another thing is stop doing, don’t kill the land, if we are tilling the land and we’re fracturing the soil, and that results in degradation and release of greenhouse gases. So all of those things tied together. And then technology that allows us to put the right amount of input at the right time, at the right spot on the field is amazing. And that is all referred to as precision agriculture, and I thought we played a big role in bringing precision agriculture precision agriculture, there’s a Perlick precise placement of inputs on the crop. And that’s all underpinned by something called VR which is variable rate, so you can put on variable rate fertilizer you can put on variable rate seed, you can put on variable rate fungicide herbicide variable rate irrigation. So all of these technologies are coming together so that we can actually have 120 foot sprayer, going across the field, and putting on anything from zero rate of underside to the recommended rate on the crop to protect it against disease in real time as that sprayer is traveling at 14 miles an hour across the field, this is all we’re doing this now today.
Mike Malatesta 32:42
Okay, I want to get more into that because that’s part of our technology discussion but one more question on. You mentioned nitrous oxide and I’m assuming, and I’m no chemist, or, or know anything, but I’m assuming what you meant is that when you put nitrogen on the field, a byproduct of that is nitrous oxide gas which gets released, and contributes to carbon in the atmosphere is that what you were saying,
Yeah, okay future losses I mean so just, you know, hear me, hear me very clearly of nitrogen is expensive fertilizer expensive so why would a farmer waste his nitrogen dollars it doesn’t make any sense. However, there are a number of practices that are better and there are a number of practices that are worse for the utilization of nitrogen, spreading out your nitrogen application throughout the growing season, spoon feeding it is a better practice putting nitrogen. Nitrogen nitric oxide is reduced urease inhibitors to reduce the conversion of urea to nitrogen or tonight Nitrus. And all three, three nitrate. So if we can reduce the amount of nitrate leaching into the groundwater and the amount of nitrous oxide going into the atmosphere that’s a good thing for farmers, and it’s a good thing for the planet. And we’re working on that, I mean, there’s I can give you lots of examples of ways that we’re doing that much better than we did at the beginning of my career. Okay,
Mike Malatesta 34:14
and one more excuse the pun in the weeds question about wet fields like you mentioned a lot of Wisconsin farms and maybe other places can be wet. That, that too can be improved and managed with, like, strategic drain tile installation, a friend of mine was the owner of a, you know they make this huge drain tile and that’s what they would do they would put it in foreign field so that you wouldn’t have these, you know, lakes that would develop after heavy rains and that kind of thing.
Your child drainage is done based on contour topography mapping of the field and then you install tile, install that deep into the soil so that these perforated pipes actually take the excess water off the field. So that’s a really good practice for making sure fields don’t become saturated. It also requires careful agronomic management because if you put on too much nitrogen nitrate, the nitrate, no three is mobile in the soil, it’ll leach down with the water and get into those tiles and then move into the water body so managing nitrogen is really important. Conversely, not doing anything is also very damaging because flooded fields, go through something called D nitrification where very rapidly the nitrogen in the soil is d nitrified and blasts off into the atmosphere under anaerobic conditions into the atmosphere as and as the nitrous oxide. So, it’s, you know, when I laugh, I laugh when, when people, you know, in social media have these simple solutions that all farmers should adopt because farmers are somehow, you know, ignorant, They don’t know what they’re doing. Right, save the planet. Well, anything but farmers are extremely knowledgeable and it’s a deeply, deeply detailed and integrated domain that we work in agriculture.
Mike Malatesta 36:17
So one more, one more thing on sustainability and we’ll talk about and
Mike Malatesta 36:24
for cattle, you know, animal farms. And the waste that gets the waste from cows and pigs and it gets a really bad rap. There, there are different technologies for managing it, you know, but I’m curious about your take on digesters on anaerobic digesters for managing manure and and other types of wastes on the farm. The reason I asked, Well, two reasons one, I just after I talked with you, I got a had an opportunity to talk to a local farm 3000 acre 3400 cattle with an integrated cheese manufacturing facility in it, visit really cool to talk about
an ad or they had an anteroom have
Mike Malatesta 37:17
multiple anaerobic digesters on their property to essentially improve their carbon footprint and improve, improve their sustainability and yet even though it’s widely known in farm communities and farm. The farm industry. Most people, all they see on, you know, in the newspaper or social media is how cows are destroying the, you know, the atmosphere with the methane and stuff so I thought I’d ask you about, about that as well as our final sort of sustainability angle.
Well first of all we can get into real discussion about old carbon versus new Oh yeah, yeah. We touched on that, you know, fossil fuels being burnt in the atmosphere is new carbon whereas cows just recycle old carbon, so that’s, that’s the first thing. The only way you can have cows, generate more greenhouse gases, if you have more cows, the trapping of gases from yours. And these digesters is really interesting because you can convert that trapped. Trapped those gases and turn them into methane, and if you turned them into methane which ch for, then you can grab that methane and you can use it, you can use it to heat operations. It’s a natural gas so it’s beautiful to use. And when you burn methane actually, it drops the greenhouse gassing effect. So rather than releasing the methane straight in the atmosphere, we trap the methane or convert the gases into methane and they use them in the existing farming operation. So this effectively is a circle, that reduces the farms pull on the grid, because you can generate electricity with the methane for the dairy operation, and that’s all really good and then the final piece of the puzzle that nobody thinks about is everybody thinks organic farming is that for is just wonderful. But don’t forget the most organic farms depend on manure from livestock operations so before you crap all over the cows. Remember that your organic tomato or whatever you’re eating is probably been brutalized by manure for livestock. They’re all integrated. Yeah. You know you eliminate the livestock you eliminate the source of the manure Where does your organic farms get their manure from nobody thinks about that. But again, science. Science simply implemented at farm level, to do things like trapping of the gases from the urine make total sense so that at the end of the day you have energy out of human energy stores. You have reduction of greenhouse gases, and at the end of the day, You still have a fertilizer that can be used.
Mike Malatesta 39:56
Okay, so I said that was the final but I have one more now that you brought it up again the old carbon versus new carbon and explain how a cow, does not create any
carbon. So you have to understand half life sociate for methane is a half life in the atmosphere of 10 years. That means after 10 years half is broken down whereas carbon dioxide has a half life in the atmosphere of 100 years. So the way this works with a cow is this plants utilize photosynthesis we talked about that produce grass. The grass is cellulose and hemicellulose, it has carbon in the grass from the carbon dioxide from the air, where did the carbon dioxide come from for the grass, it came from the air, the cow eats the grass, the cow burps out ch warm, which has a higher greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide. However, however, it’s got a half life of 10 years, and it converts back into one co2 So did the cow make more co2 The answer’s no, the cow did not make any more co2 The only way that you can have more greenhouse gases generated from catalyst, if you have more cattle, and the peak of the North American calendar was 1971. So we’re doing more with science to have more milk produced more beef produced more efficiently. And again this is, This is old carbon. So, when you talk about the vilification of livestock. It’s a cycle, and they’re cycling old carbon, but when you burn. You know when you burn gasoline or diesel in your, your vehicle you’re releasing new carbon this carbon has been trapped in the Earth for billions of years and now you’re releasing carbon and that’s a new source of carbon, whereas capital recycled carbon that was in the atmosphere is made of carbon dioxide into the plant coffee plant and burps up but it’s a cycle. It’s not new carbon is old car mechanic okay
Mike Malatesta 41:59
so yeah all right. Very helpful so your car is not absorbing any carbon, it’s not not recycling any it’s just emitting, and it’s emitting carbon that’s been, it’s always been here. It’s just been trapped underground in shale formations or whatever. And now it’s once it’s processed and burned it’s, it’s in the atmosphere. Right.
Mike Malatesta 42:21
Okay. All right, I’m learning a ton here. So let’s go to technology, and I’ll start with this couple of years ago maybe three or four years ago, I got pitched on an investment Rob and the investment was a piece of farm equipment that would, and I’ll probably not have it perfectly right here but it would plant. It would weed selectively wheat, it would fertilize and it would also harvest. I think those were the four things that it did and it was wrapped
up spring in there somewhere Oh spring Yeah,
Mike Malatesta 42:57
thank you. And it was one machine. And it was, it was a startup, you know, didn’t have an actual machine they had an idea for for a machine and then the folks were, you know, from the, from the equipment space so they knew what they were talking about. And it was so they had this video and it was so cool how, you know how it would show it planting, and then, you know, it would detect through cameras and sensors it would detect weeds and it would rather than spraying for weeds all over and it would just spray, though weed, and then pick the weed actually I think it might have picked the weed too. It was, it was doing a lot of things and I just couldn’t. I thought it was so cool, but I couldn’t figure. To me, it was, if it if it actually worked. It was so disruptive that I thought that the big farm equipment manufacturers would buy it and kill it because instead of you, the farmer needing four pieces of equipment from them. They would only need one. And I thought, there’s a lot of inertia, you know maybe against that, but with that back with that sort of backdrop, and knowing how our technology, technology, how much you love technology and how I know it will impact the future, is because that idea crazy, and where are we, where do you see us, where are we now where do you see us going, maybe where we’ve come to
as a backdrop to this whole thing, you would ask the question why Roblox in agriculture, the number one reason for Roblox in agriculture is labor, you simply can’t find people to work on the farm, and just why foreign workers are so important for agriculture, because you can’t find North Americans to actually go in the field and pick cucumbers, so you have to have labor. And so a labor shortage is critical on many farming operations so it’s not a question of if robots come it’s just a question of when. The second piece of the equation is cap x so a combine today is north of a million dollars of big tractors north of a million dollars sprayers are three quarters of a million dollars. So robots actually because they work 24 seven or they can work longer hours without people, you can reduce the cap x cost and then then that that does something else that reduces the operational cost because you can have many small robots in the field operating at lower costs maybe. And the last piece is sustainability, you could actually decrease the amount of soil compaction by having whiter pieces of equipment on the land. I served as CEO of a robotic company in agriculture from January of 19 to March of 2020 jobs is a robotics platform, it was a U shaped platform. It was named after Norbert BuJo was the inventor his mother, Dorothy, and she had nine kids so she was a multitasker and dot was a huge shade platform that hooked into a seed or cooked into a sprayer code to get into a fertilizer spreader, so it was one platform, but you didn’t have to put an engine on your cedar or your sprayer or your fertilizer spreader because dot was the autonomous, robotics, platform that piece of equipment has since been acquired by a company called Raven, out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Raven is investing a lot of money in the advancement of autonomous technology. This is an area of classic word convergence slabs together, because you can’t have robotics in the field or in the greenhouse, unless you have very accurate sensory devices, so those sensor devices need to be GPS. So you have to, you’re in the field, you have to have a robot that operates at eight or 12 miles an hour, and that robot has to be able to operate with sub inch accuracy. So GPS is really important. You also have to have sensory devices so radar LIDAR photometric so I’ll have to be integrated, because safety is a primary concern these pieces of equipment are big and you have to make sure that you know that animals and human beings are protected. Then you have to have algorithms. So as we have a piece of equipment in the field, you have to be able to do path planning, you have to also be able to make sure that you can do the things that you want with the inputs that are being applied so I shared with you earlier the thought of variable rate, seed or variable rate fertilizer or sprays. The one thing that’s different from what you said that you know that I’ve experienced so far is that for harvest operation, like a platform like Dr. I think it may be called rap now Raven autonomy platform, but those kinds of platforms may be adapted for seeding the scene saw the scene with was 30 feet because you have draft the sprayer was, was 120 foot, and then the spreader could spread out both 80 to 90 feet. So you have to consider draft and and horsepower requirements for harvesting itself, Mike, that idea that you presented wouldn’t work, okay because quite frankly the horsepower required to harvest wheat or corn or use crops is very large, these equipment. This combine is true that you know, typically have north of five 600 horsepower inside of them. So, but we are using swath guidance or autosteer inside of columbines and all sorts of algorithms run the harvesting operation today you may have a man inside. But that’s that operator man or woman inside the combine, basically, is monitoring what the combine is set out to do with the algorithms and computers inside a great analysis, awesome. There’s just so many operations that can be anonymized advisor pro our platform has a partner called Eco aviation out of Canada, and they’re, they’re basically providing autonomy inside of greenhouses with robots.
And then we’re playing with Dr Gary Core on a thing called beyond imagination which is an avatar that we could train using human beings and eventually the AI would get built with the avatar so that the avatar would learn how to pick tomatoes. So these, these things are all happening and then you tie them with sensing technology like remote sensing, and we could, we could make a lot better use of the resources to grow crops than we are today, when robots start taking a chunk of the work in the field.
Mike Malatesta 49:56
How do you teach an avatar how to pick tomatoes.
Well you have to look
Mike Malatesta 50:01
collaboration that was started at button industry 60 But, Ray Kurzweil Dean Kaman ourselves erigor. We’re all blaming this already in this arena where you could be anywhere occupying a haptic suit in Oculus lenses and then you would wake up inside of a robot or name is beyond me, and she was really the robot was recently profiled at a Tony Robbins event. So, Harry color just launched. Beyond that, but any operation, whether you’re a dentist or your agricultural worker or you’re a rescue operator could be done with robotics where you don’t put a human being, in, in danger, or in the hard working area, the human being basically runs it with a haptic suit so that’s pretty far out. But when you think about agriculture, it makes sense for agriculture. There’s so many things converging in agriculture that I just get excited every morning when I wake up.
Mike Malatesta 51:02
Okay, you blew my mind with that one. So okay, but I can see that now having done that the, especially this year after we did you know kind of a deep dive on VR, I you know I was exposed to so many things that I never would have thought of or thought possible. So, okay, I like that. So you’re going to get the XPrize and you’re going to develop this thing too, that’s great. So let’s talk about technology in places where, right now there may be none or very little but where the demand for food is very high, like I know you’re working in Uganda, maybe some other places in Africa. We talked about food spoilage, right, you can only move food so far. If you don’t harvest it properly, you grow you can grow it and it all dies right there, you got the mycotoxin issue, how do we get how do we use, how do you see, I can see in the US House, and maybe first world countries how this future couldn’t be pretty close, but how about areas where the demand is very high, and the resources are very low.
Well this is interesting, yesterday I was talking to a company that was backed by Mitsui Mitsubishi rather’s backway Mitsubishi and it was in. It was in a working in Africa. It was electrification company might. And what they would do is they would bring solar energy and batteries, and they would electrify households. And, you know 90% of the households are world, because if you live in Africa and you live in Nairobi or you live in Kampala you have electricity, but it’s a rural area that doesn’t have electricity, you want to increase. If you want to increase, you know, living standard of living. Give people electricity so they can their kids can read at night, birth rates go down, education goes up money goes up, they just need access to have the ability to charge your cellular phones. And so, electricity is very important. Most of the none by this companies is as farmers. And so we began to think about how to utilize a technology like advisor Pro to create instantaneous conductivity. My argument has always been like that the pinch point for greater sustainability of agriculture is the right advice from the right expert at the right time. And many of these conversions in Canada Kenya have great experts, they just don’t have enough money for gas or enough time to give to all these farmers, how do you scale back. How do you scale. And so I believe that, you know, access to the right information from the right people can help farmers make better buying decisions. The number one problem in many small lampholder areas in in the developer and emerging nations is seed fraud seed fraud. So the package of seed looks really good. And I’m telling you, Mr farmer that the seed is going to be great so you have saved up your money and you buy the seed. The seed is all disease infected and it’s not what you promised but the package look good. So we’ve got to get to root out some of those bad behaviors, also change in practices hard. Keep in mind, my good if you’re a subsistence farmer, and I come along with a new idea. You risk everything, you risk everything your children, your, your recipe the ability to feed your children if my idea doesn’t work. So the risk level is very high for small animals, so information dissemination, and then tools. Tools such as crop insurance would go along the way, and credit, helping the farmers get the credit they need to buy the inputs that they need to buy the seed to buy the fertilizer to buy the crop protection, There’s there’s, you know, you got, if you got infestation of fungus and mycotoxin aflatoxin coming on the crop. You got to get out there and do some preventative fungicide spraying otherwise you lose your crop or you eat that damaged crop and then that causes abortion in your animals and it causes liver cancer and new. So you got a few choices here in technology can help speed that up. The other thing that’s interesting Mike is remote sensing, I mean, using algorithms right now we should be able to fly satellites over great chunks of the emerging world and determine the crop density of what kind of crops are growing and how this mix is happening and give us greater greater metadata, as well as micro data. If I could do one thing for farmers. Worldwide, it would be to give every farmer a soil test. So, you know, if a farmer in emerging area had access to a soil test you would know what your pH was you would know what your organic matter, you would know the cap and exchange capacity you would know these things, and instead of putting on a fertilizer that doesn’t match and crop or your soil needs, you would have a much better match of nutrition, and the fertilizer putting onto the crop and growing so this is this is something I’d like to see is massive. Soil testing is, is wet chemistry is pretty old technology but there’s all kinds of sensors spectroscopy technology that’s emerging. that could change the way we get information on soil nutrients in real time.
Mike Malatesta 56:45
And is there a Do you see a way where these satellites that you’re talking about could, with enough machine learning and enough recognition, be able to, to tell you what the soil quality is, or is it to fine.
Yesterday I was talking to a company that was saying that they had sensors that could go on to an irrigation pivot, and they could determine the soil moisture, as the pivot, if you’re flying across many areas of the United States, you’ll see round circles on the ground. Many people don’t know what they are. That’s pivot irrigation so you have a center stand, and this long. This long irrigation pipe goes out basically a wheels and turns around on your guest crop Well, not all parts of the field may need the same amount of water and depends on evapo transpiration rate transpiration rate it depends on the soil texture so if we were able to know what the soil moisture is ahead of the nozzle, hitting that area, we can variable rate irrigation so I was talking to a company yesterday, that says they’ve been brownfield basically penetration technology that can go ahead and tell you how much soil moisture there is, and then adjust the drop nozzles in real time to change the amount of water. That’s amazing. From the sky. I don’t know yet. I mean there’s people working with gamma rays. There’s people working with microwaves, trying to determine things like carbon sequestration and soils, I’m not sure where we’re going to be at with that, but we can use new satellites and aerial imagery I work, I sit on the board with a company called the intel on air. And actually that company too was born out of abundance 360 Because owl who’s the CEO of Intel Lunaire, sat down with myself and Peter lacy at abundance, and he was thinking about growing this company and until there is a, There’s an algorithm company they’re an analytics company using aerial imagery and satellite imagery to provide anomaly detection in crop in real time through the growing season. So that’s an amazing technology, and it can be used in so many different areas of Act, including small lateral farms, which we can tell what kind of crops are growing and how effectively they’re growing. Using the algorithms.
Mike Malatesta 59:14
So as you sit here now. You look out to the next 10 years. What, what are the three four or five I don’t know what are what are the things you see from a technology standpoint or convergence of technology standpoint that are going to have the most significant impact on our ability to produce more food better. Maybe gmls You know, increased that better, faster, less expensively on less land, you know, whatever.
Well, that’s a, that’s a great question as I, as I’ve been thinking while you’ve been asking it, I would say that in my opinion, and without doubt, the number one thing that would impact the planet’s ability to grow food, nutritionally dense food sustainably, to create infinite sustainability of agriculture, without doubt, the number one technology would be biotech. So the ability to use RNA. RNA AI interference technology or messenger RNA AI RNA technology like is here, Pfizer or Madonna shots you’re taking for COVID Right now, I don’t know how you can line up for a shot for COVID and then vilify that same technologies use in agriculture doesn’t make any sense. So the number one, the number one thing that I can, you know, that I’ve changed, or that would accelerate and ensure we’re infinitely sustainable food production is biotechnology, however, that comes with heavy geopolitical and politics. So the next thing I think is an area that I’m working on and I think it’s basically information dissemination, is basically getting information in a timely manner to the people who need it. So I just did some demographics and, you know, in the United States of America. 20% of your farmers are under 44 years old. They farm less than 1000 acres and they’ve been farming less than nine years. So if we can get information quicker to these people, these screen agers are going to adopt the technology faster than their parents or grandparents did. So I think, information technology is going to be a big deal. I think indoor farming. And, you know, indoor farming is going to be continued to grow at a rapid pace and I have no qualms with that we can produce high water containing, and this is the key. We can produce high water containing produce cucumbers. Tim tomatoes, let us closer to the point of consumption by using indoor farming techniques and that’s great. A couple of Achilles heels is we still haven’t seen one that’s made money. And the other thing is a lot of them tell us, we won’t use any pesticides, we’re going to be organic, blah blah blah. Well that’s all fine until white mold gets into a track system, and then you’re screwed. So it’s, again, you got to have a way to fight, Mother Nature you think Mother Nature is, you know, Blowing air in a, in a beautiful dress dancing through the field. When you’re farming, you battle Mother Nature every day, because the pests and diseases and things come along and ravage your crops so indoor farming is more control. Do you have more control on, And you can produce 24 Seven with lighting that is LED lighting. And so this is all really cool, and you start that up. The other thing that I mentioned already is robotics I think robotics is going to increase efficiency in crop production and and just IoT sensor devices that will tell a farmer where he has a problem and maybe recognition software that would tell him what the problem is so if you have where and watch, then the human being like myself can intervene and help you out with, with the why and the how to fix it why it’s there how to fix it. So that’s kind of the model that I see in my brain. I, I’m very optimistic about agriculture’s ability to predict the future. I just have no problem. But, you know, again, politics. We have so many people thinking that agriculture should regress to agriculture of the 30s or the 40s or something into the 1800s right cannot feed the population of the future with the technology, the past just doesn’t
Mike Malatesta 1:04:10
work. Yeah, I mean you’re just repeating the history that didn’t work, I mean really with that, thinking right that’s. So division of labor right that’s how you get productivity. You don’t get it by everybody sort of having their little garden and raising all their own food, for example, because you just can’t do it.
Today’s modern forms like I’m an agronomist and I still consult with some farms and work in the field. I’m pretty good at geology soil chemistry and crop nutrition, but when it comes to crop production products like fungicides, I need help, entomology I need help with the farmer who’s farming today has any number like the number of decisions are staggering. Everything from grain marketing strategies to technology integration, data management systems, what kind of equipment you buy How do you shuttle information in and out of the equipment, what’s your fuel use efficiency, how do you manage water what cellular system are you use what kind of weather stations are you going to install. How do you manage futures contracts, how do you manage your people, like finance risk mitigation is anybody who thinks farming is simple, needs to get their head or shape.
Mike Malatesta 1:05:23
Yeah, well if I appreciate you coming up with those five things off the top of your head so quickly that was really good. You did well. So I, a crazy idea here and you tell me how how dumb, this could be but do you think, is there a future in indoor high rise farms for raising cattle in particular it’s a cow. So, so you’re you’re close, you know with it kind of goes to this, you know, Monaka job.
Yep, got y’all can’t have a no. Okay. And the reason for that is because it’s not efficient. What people need to understand is two thirds of the agricultural land on the planet Earth. Two thirds of it will never grow crops. Yeah, there’s the agricultural land base grows pastures, and those pastures grasses that, you know, turn into cellulose and hemicellulose, and cows, sheep are the best things at turning cellulose and hemicellulose into food for human beings. So try to do that in the city just doesn’t make sense to me. And then people would eat the animal rights to this scenario. What people need to understand is we have two thirds of the available agricultural land on the planet Earth. That will not grow crops. So if you want to make use of that land. But the wives doc on. Remember, livestock, grows and uses old carbon, not new carbon.
Mike Malatesta 1:06:56
All right, well, okay, bad idea, I got to go back to the drawing board on that one, I appreciate that. Rob This has been great, thank you so much for being on again and for for spending the hour talking about sustainability and technology convergence I I love talking about this stuff and, and this is such an important issue, you know, it affects every single person in the world. And it’s amazing the progress that we’ve made and based on what your, what you’ve shared with us today, I mean we probably just scratched the surface on what we will eventually be able to do not just to keep people fed but to keep people fed well. Right, and keep people healthy, and, and, while while also taking care of the environment and making farming, potentially carbon neutral or. Or if you’re or if your space. Yeah, or if your ex price idea, right, it’s, it’s, it actually becomes positive, it becomes the biggest positive impact on the world between food and environment
Surpriser what comes next. Well it might Thank you very much for the listeners, if they wanted to go to Robert site.com Sai k.com they can see me there advisor pro AG, vi ES or PR o advisor Pro is our productivity platform you can download it on iOS or Android, my books. The agriculture manifesto and food 5.0 how we feed the future are available on Amazon, and I’ve got a TEDx talk, will agriculture be allowed to feed 9 billion people so you can find me a lot of different places, the TEDx Talk is fabulous, by the way, you definitely want to see that
Mike Malatesta 1:08:41
Rob thanks so much. Thanks, Mike.
We’re gonna have some fun at the next abundance 360 I hope to see you there in person. Not sure later.
Mike Malatesta 1:08:52
All right, awesome wrap. Thank you. I hope this was okay for you doing it again.
It’s great. Yeah, I mean just like it’s just, I, I would just love for hundreds of 1000s of people to hear this because it would shake their brain, because they don’t, they don’t know they don’t know.
Mike Malatesta 1:09:09
Well, I’ll do my best to make that happen. I’ll be too, you know, you probably,
you probably have to get, you probably
Mike Malatesta 1:09:15
have to get Peter to put it out to
get a hunch. But, 13,000 on Twitter. Yeah, yeah,
Mike Malatesta 1:09:24
that’s great, that’s great. I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun and you taught me a lot as well so thank you for that.
That’s great, thanks for being open minded.
Mike Malatesta 1:09:32
Oh, my pleasure. Yeah, this is so yeah I’ll I’ll let you know when these come out and we’ll see what impact we can make. I live in Wisconsin, I’m just outside of Milwaukee maybe half an hour so
I’m pretty country potatoes in Wisconsin.
Mike Malatesta 1:09:52
Oh is that right I didn’t know that. Yeah,
got some pretty good potato growing errors. Anyway, catch you later, bye for now. Okay.
Mike Malatesta 1:10:00
All right, see you later, bye bye.