A True Hero: Bernardo Castro Medina Intensifies His Remineralization Efforts in 2020
Bernardo Castro Medina is a remineralization superhero for our time! Through his ongoing workshops for farmers and his yearly Expo and conference, he has facilitated many tens of thousands of hectares of agriculture in Mexico going organic while using rock dust with some of the most sophisticated formulations to be found anywhere in the world. This is a good example of the potential for agriculture to store carbon in our soils and create lasting soil fertility.
–Joanna Campe, Executive Director of Remineralize the Earth
Bernardo Castro, a farmer from Sinaloa and president of Ecoagro, who has been working for more than 22 years to raise awareness among farmers about the importance of organic farming, explains how farmers are now recognizing that in the short term their conventional farming systems will be increasingly less sustainable due to their high dependence on inputs. Therefore, organic agriculture is presented as a very interesting and promising option. However, adequate soil fertility is essential to ensure quality production, Bernardo says.
Worms and rock dust
Currently, Ecoagro continues its focus on vermiculture – breeding redworm earthworms. In the diet they prepare for the earthworms, they include horse and cow manure and a pre-compost that they make themselves with fruit waste that they collect from the market. To the mix, they also add rock flour, marine calcium –which comes out of the sea and is also used to desalinate soils– and Leonardite, to create a mineral-based supplement that is used to breed the worms. With the earthworm waste compost they make the special powder formula Ecoagro.
“When we do not give the worms a supplemental diet, they are thinner, but due to remineralization, the worms are fatter,” Bernardo explains.
The basic principles of remineralization that Ecoagro employs are based on a technique called the 3M’s: Materia Orgánica, Minerales y Microorganismos Benéficos (Organic Material, Minerals and Beneficial Microorganisms), which begins with the technique of minimum soil disturbance (no till), also known as “conservation agriculture,” and which seeks to take advantage of what the soil conditions offer, without modifying or, at least, minimally modifying the soil structure.
To begin remineralizing soils organically, while avoiding tons of chemical fertilizers, Ecoagro recommends applying the remineralization formula with beneficial microorganisms, which they inoculate, and apply directly in the soil to be planted. Once the soil has been inoculated, the beneficial microorganisms contribute to reestablishing the microbial balance (often deteriorated by poor agronomic management practices) and at the same time contribute to accelerating the decomposition of organic waste in the soil, which also increases the availability of nutrients for plants. This in addition contributes to economic efficiency for the producer, an alternative way to improve soil fertility.
Ecoagro has a facility where they reproduce approximately 13 types of beneficial microorganisms, oxygenate them, nourish them and later convert them into a remineralization formula for the soil. Some of the beneficial microorganisms reproduced by Ecoagro include bacteria that disintegrate in organic matter from a rice base, mountain forest microorganisms, Bavarian bassiana, lecanicillium, mycorrhizae, flowering sows, faciornices. There are others such as: Rhizobium, Metarhizium, Trichodermas, Azospirillum Brasilense (they are all related species that are used as biological insecticides to control a number of pests such as termites and thrips).
To give more life to the liquid formula, Ecoagro uses liquid earthworm humus as the main base to create formulas such as humic and fulvic acids, rock dust, stevia, diatom algae, etc.
“Rock dust, for example, is nutritionally balanced with more than 70 micronutrients that sustain plants and brings them to life,” explains Bernardo. When selecting rock dust, Bernardo points out that he looks for rocks that are in the process of decomposition – not hard or river stones because they do not have many nutrients. He then analyzes the rocks to select the most magnesium-rich (some may even contain gold sparks), quartz, calcium, silicon and a certain percentage of potassium.
“The lands in Sinaloa are practically substrates, almost inert material with few microorganisms and with many problems of erosion, which causes tons of soil to go to the sea to be lost,” explains Bernardo. That is why Ecoagro seeks to raise awareness among farmers of conservation tillage techniques so that they do not erode the land and can begin to make use of different organic materials such as remineralization, beneficial microorganisms, composting and other techniques.
Rational grazing – The perfect dumbbell
For livestock, Ecoagro carries out a comprehensive management that integrates agriculture and livestock, which they call the “perfect dumbbell.” An example of the integration of livestock with agriculture is rational grazing – an approach for cultivating grass carried out within the framework of animal welfare. While protecting the environment, it efficiently uses organic inputs at low cost or zero cost and works with the life of the soil and natural factors. According to Bernardo, if ranchers were to begin to implement rational grazing, the ecosystem would change radically. For example, the manure beetle – which has been extinguished by the deworming of livestock – would reappear.
The manure that is used for bioproduction and to feed the worms would not be useful if it came from cattle that had been fed hormones or raised with other unsustainable conventional practices. It would already be contaminated. “There are people who make compost with contaminated manure and are damaging the soils due to the poor management. This is why livestock farming worldwide is very broken, as ranchers are dependent on conventional methods,” says Bernardo. For this reason, livestock managed using rational or holistic grazing integrates well with the remineralization process of soils.
Rock dust can be integrated into livestock practices as a mineral supplement that Ecoagro manufactures with 60% sea salt and 40% rock flour (marine calcium and leonardite coal). This supplement is used to feed cattle, thus avoiding the use of artificial feed, especially when there is a shortage of grass.
When asked about the importance of rock dust, Bernardo’s answer is: “[This] is something that should be in our bodies and everywhere, these minerals are necessary for all of us.”
Bernardo calculates that between 20,000 – 30,000 hectares have been remineralized in Sinaloa. He says that despite not having the capacity to produce enough of his products to meet the demand, his main objective is to create awareness in farmers about the importance of soil remineralization. “We only have the capacity to supply half of Sinaloa, but we are growing according to the needs of the farmers who are becoming more aware,” concludes Bernardo.
Resisting negative trends
Currently, there is no government assistance for the remineralization of land in Mexico. Bernardo says that Ecoagro used to receive support to carry out workshops, but that has been taken away and now everything depends on the economic resources of Ecoagro. On top of that, there is a company that is trying to install an ammonia gas plant in Sinaloa. The government supports this despite the fact that the plant could kill many people and animals, because it would be located in a town where indigenous people live and where turtles and other animals breed.
“NOT HERE!” is the protest that Ecoagro is carrying out against the installation of the plant that could destroy the beneficial microorganisms that are so crucial for soils. “Humans are destroying ecosystems. It is alarming what is happening, and governments and some producers do not even understand yet,” the impact of building an ammonia gas plant, explains Bernardo.
Organic agriculture constitutes an increasingly important part of the agricultural sector due to its environmental and economic advantages, which suggests that more people everyday realize the importance of consuming healthy, residue-free food that conventional agriculture does not provide them. “People die or become ill from cancer from excess agrochemicals. People can no longer experience the true flavor of an apple,” says Bernardo.
Currently, a program called “Sembrando Vidas” (Sowing Lives), which has been proposed by the government, seeks to train Mexico’s main farmers in sustainable practices. It is the hope of Ecoagro and all Mexicans who dream of a remineralized Mexico.
Katherine Robayo Vanegas graduated from University Catholic of Pereira in Colombia with a Bachelor’s degree in International Business. She has a certificate on Children and Climate Change as well as Project Management. She has also followed courses in Politics and Human Rights at Smith College. She worked for two years as a volunteer with the Circle of Care that helps refugee families in Northampton, Massachusetts. Katherine speaks Spanish as her first language, fluent English and has an intermediate knowledge of Portuguese. She believes we all can do something to make the world a better place to live and wants to be an inspiration to positively impact other people’s lives. She is currently working at RTE as the Spanish Correspondent and hopes to use her knowledge and efforts on communicating and raising awareness of sustainable development issues.