Renewable Farming

Miracles coming — from mycorrhizal fungi?

Virtually every consultant who encourages “biologically friendly” farming recognizes the great value of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi in the soil food web of life.

Today, one of those consultants e-mailed us a link to a scientist who anticipates that fungi hold secrets which could revolutionize crop pest control — inexpensively and safely.  The consultant is Trent Graybill, who serves growers in the Pacific Northwest through his firm, Soilcraft. 

Paul Stamets with mushrooms

The scientist whom Trent pointed us to is Paul Stamets, sometimes called “the world’s leading mycologist.” 

A brief web article about Stamets claims that ag pesticide executives fear that the patents Stamets has locked down are “the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed.”

The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, has an extensive personal description of Stamets. It notes that Stamets has nine patents on the antiviral, pesticidal and remedial properties of mushroom mycelia.

If you visit the Wikipedia citation linked just above, the final section shows several outside links to further sources of Stamets’ presentations and information.  One 18-minute presentation which he gave at a TED seminar in 2008 has been viewed more than 3 million times, and subtitles are available in 25 languages. 

Normally we have a hard time finding time to listen to online presentations. But this one held our close attention!

The science is amazing enough — but what’s really challenging is why the information he presents has not gone viral in the agricultural world and medical world.  Perhaps, as Stamets points out in a 2011 TED talk before medical professionals, the pharmaceutical industry is focused almost totally on a chemical pathway to patented drugs. Drugs which are astoundingly profitable. 

Stamets points out that the structures of mushrooms and other fungi, such as underground mycorrhiza in your soils, create huge interwoven webs which become homes for beneficial bacteria, channels of communication for enzymes, and pathways for carrying soil nutrients to roots.

Ancient physicians knew the medicinal value of many types of mushrooms and other fungi. “We’re rediscovering what our ancestors long ago knew,” Stamets told the TED conference in 2011.

Leveraging the power of mycorrhizal organisms is a highly promising field of study for farmers interested in independence from the chemical fertilizer and pesticide industries. Thus it’s controversial. Another researcher into soil organisms,  Dr. Elaine Ingham, learned that as a staff scientist in plant pathology at Oregon State University. Leaving that post, she founded an online educational and research service, The Soil Food Web. We encourage you to browse the course offerings on her site.

Further evidence that farmers are learning to appreciate the future of fungus is that Practical Farmers of Iowa presented Jill Clapperton, a “Rhizosphere ecologist,” as their keynote speaker at their January 2015 conference at Iowa State University. The lecture hall was packed with farmers.

Clapperton is co-founder of a company called Rhizoterra, dedicated to “Healthy Soil for a Healthy World.”