Unearthing Insights: Dr. Andrew "Drew" Corbin's Soil Experiments and the Future of Regenerative Farm
Regenerative Farming -- A Microscopic Revolution
"Soil is the lifeblood of our planet, and the microbial communities in it are a testament to its vitality," Dr. Andrew "Drew" Corbin states as we begin our conversation at the Organic Farm School (OFS) in April. Drew's attention to detail is palpable as he dives into the heart of his ongoing experiments that explore the long-term effects on soil microbial communities.
Photo: Jeff Markette, Farm Manager, Dr. Andrew Corbin,
Andrew "Drew" Corbin is a man with substantial expertise. With over 30 years of experience in agroecology, he has served as a Senior Research Director for Impact Bioenergy and as a specialist at esteemed U.S. Land Grant Institutions, including Cornell, Michigan State, and Washington State Universities. Specializing in topics ranging from soil organic matter to resource recovery, Drew's contributions to the field of regenerative agriculture make him a key voice in the discussions surrounding soil health and sustainable farming.
The Experiment at Hand
"We have 20 beds. We're going to put in 10 different species of cut flowers," Drew elaborates. "We're going to start growing cut flowers for sale, but the inputs are going to change. There will be four different sets of inputs—our regular organic fertilizer, the mealworm frass, the liquid anaerobic digestate, and some biochar that's been inoculated with compost."
But what really piqued our interest was the intriguing method Drew mentioned about treating biochar: "You put the compost with the biochar and let it sit for a couple of weeks, and it'll charge it up. So those treatments will never change."
The Scientific Context
It's no secret that soil health is paramount for sustainable agriculture. According to a report (1) by the Food and Agriculture Organization, over 33% of the world's soils are degraded, and soil erosion rates are more than 100 times greater than the rates at which nature can form new soil (2). Drew's experiment is vital in understanding how different inputs can impact soil health, especially in the context of regenerative farming which aims to rejuvenate soils while enhancing ecosystem diversity.
The Promise of Biochar
The use of biochar, a form of charcoal produced by pyrolysis of biomass (Pyrolysis is the heating of an organic material, such as biomass, in the absence of oxygen.), is particularly fascinating. It has been proven to improve soil fertility and crop yield. A study (3) published in the journal Nature Communications reports that incorporating biochar into soil can improve its structure and water-holding capacity. Drew's approach of inoculating biochar with compost could very well be a game-changer in organic farming.
At the heart of Drew's experiments is the future of sustainable farming. By understanding how different inputs like organic fertilizer, mealworm frass, and liquid anaerobic digestate affect soil microbial communities, we can pave the way for more sustainable farming practices. In a world desperately in need of ecological balance, these insights hold immense potential for our collective future.
The Legacy Continues
As we concluded our conversation, it became increasingly evident that Drew's work is not just about immediate gains; it's a long-term investment in our planet. As he eloquently puts it, "So those treatments will never change," reminding us that the soil beneath our feet is more than just dirt—it's a living, breathing entity that, when respected and nurtured, gives back in abundance.
By conducting these meticulous experiments, Dr. Andrew Corbin is contributing to a growing body of knowledge that could revolutionize the way we understand soil, treat our planet, and sustain life for generations to come.
Learn more about the Organic Farm School here.
2. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: https://www.llnl.gov/news/humans-erode-soil-100-times-faster-nature#:~:text=Humans'%20use%20of%20land%2C%20whether,nature%20working%20on%20its%20own.
3. Nature Communications: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-01123-0