John Kempf, chief vision officer and founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, hosted a webinar titled “Regenerative Tools for Your No-Till Toolbox – Bringing Life to Your Soil.” In the webinar, Kempf dives into the relationship between soil biology and no-till farm management, and shares the value of biological inputs and the changes they can bring to your soil. One key to understanding this topic is understanding the
rhizophagy cycle, which can be summarized into 5 stages:

1. Plants Absorb Nutrition Through Root Tips

Plants use their roots to absorb nutrition from the soil biology.

“The growing root tip, as it penetrates and moves to the soil profile, is quite open and porous and is imbibing,” Kempf says. “Hundreds or thousands of bacterial cells are moving into these open root tips.”

2. Cell Membrane Stripped from Bacterial Cells

As the bacterial cell populations move into the first few inches of the growing root, they become exposed to reactive oxygens, such as nitrous oxide, which can effectively strip off the cell membrane.

“Now you have this naked bacterial cell that lacks a cell membrane, and that naked bacterial cell will then move throughout the entire plant,” Kempf says. “Vascular tissue moves up into the leaves, into the seeds, into the fruit, and is absorbed by the plant cells. The plant cells use the nutrients contained inside these bacterial cells as a form of nutrition.”

3. Some Bacterial Cells Move Back into Soil

Some of the remaining bacterial cells move out a few inches past the growing root tip, and a small community of them accumulate there in the soil around the growing root.

“That small community of bacterial cells then triggers the formation of root hair, and then these bacterial cells move out through the root hair back into the soil environment,” Kempf says. “The plant then nurtures and provides the exact sugars, mucilage and compounds that these naked bacterial cells need to reform their own cell membranes.”

4. Plant Communicates to Soil Biology

At this point in the process, as the bacteria are moving through the root system and then back out into the soil environment or the rhizosphere, the plant communicates its nutrition requirements to the bacteria.

“The plant is telling the microbes, ‘Hey, I need more zinc,’ or ‘I need more manganese.’ And as they move back into the soil environment, those bacterial cells communicate those signals and that genetic information to the rest of the soil microbial community through a number of mechanisms,” Kempf says. “There's this rapid signaling that happens throughout the entire soil microbial community, and the microbes recognize these plants that we are depending on for a sugar source need more of these nutrients, and when we give them more of these nutrients, they're going to give us even more sugar because they can photosynthesize better.’”


John Kempf shared this slide during his presentation to help illustrate the different stages of the rhizophagy cycle.

5. Putting it into Perspective

Through this symbiotic relationship between plants and soil bacteria, a plant can potentially receive a very large percentage of its nutrients.

“While we cannot provide a fully confident answer because the research has largely not been completed, we can speculate that in non-domesticated crops, in wild plants that are growing out in the forests and meadows and so forth, upwards of 95% of a plant’s nutritional requirements are coming from bacterial cells, rather than from simple ions from the soil solution.”

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