CFF Members See the Light (Farming) with Soil Scientist Dr. Christine Jones

Imagine there was a process that could remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, replace it with life-giving oxygen, support a robust soil microbiome, regenerate topsoil, enhance the nutrient density of food, restore water balance to the landscape and increase the profitability of agriculture?

Fortunately, there is. It’s called photosynthesis.
— Dr. Christine Jones

Paicines, CA: Members of California Foodshed Funders joined over 100 farmers, ranchers, researchers, and regenerative food and farming advocates at Paicines Ranch for a two-day workshop with Australia-based soil ecologist, Dr. Christine Jones.

Below is a recap of the workshop as well as an article that Dr. Jones will publish soon via her website at If you are interested in hearing her speak, she will be back in the U.S. during the summer of 2018.

Many thanks to the team at Paicines Ranch for hosting this informative event, and to Dr. Jones for allowing us to publish her paper.


Soil Ecology with Dr. Christine Jones, Paicines Ranch, December 13 - 14, 2017

Over 100 attendees gathered at Paicines Ranch to learn from Dr. Christine Jones and to see regenerative practices at work during this two-day exploration of soil and photosynthesis. In addition to Dr. Jones's presentations, attendees went out to the fields with Joe Morris of Morris Ranch who runs cattle at Paicines Ranch, and Kelly Mulville, ranch manager of Paicines Ranch, to see a few of their regenerative land management strategies in action.

How do you measure soil organic matter versus organic carbon in soil? While touring the Paicines Ranch vineyards that have been specially designed by Mulville to facilitate sheep graze in the vineyard rows, the above question was posed. Dr. Jones responded that soil organic matter (SOM) is the measurement of soil organic carbon (determined by weighing a sample and heating it at high temperatures and weighing it again for the difference in mass), multiplied by 1.72. 

During one morning of presentations, Dr. Jones pointed out the correlation between an incorporation of diverse, regenerative land management strategies - crop diversity, crop rotation, intensively managed grazing, low to no tillage, keeping plants on soil year round - and an increase in soil health and resiliency. She also cited research showing the decline of the nutrient density of our food, a phenomenon that has paralleled the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, tillage and mono-culture plantings (See slides). Take synthetic fertilizers for example. In a healthy soil biome, beneficial soil microbes break down rocks and other minerals present in the soil and make them available for uptake by plants as part of their symbiotic duties. The plants, in exchange, produce sugars and other foods for the microbes. However, if you replace the microbes functionality with synthetic fertilizers, Nitrogen and Potassium are two common ones, these microbes go away over time as the plants no longer need to work with the microbes and hence, the nutrient density of these plants decline.

Much of the information presented during Dr. Jones's workshop is discussed is her paper below titled, "Light Farming: Restoring biodiversity to agricultural soils." This article illuminates her discoveries about the potential of regenerative management practices' capacity to dramatically improve soil and plant health.  She upended the dialog by positing that it is photosynthesis that forms the building blocks for life, not soil. Without photosynthesis and plants growing, there is no carbon sequestration or beneficial microbes working with plants to make them thrive. Coming from Australia, she was able to present research being conducted in desert environments where plants, typically non-weedy varietals from Africa, are used to re-vegetate areas that have turned to sand. Over time, the plant roots actually build humus, even in these drought-stricken environs. Once the plants get established, she has witnessed how they change the micro-climate too, by increasing humidity.

The potential of photosynthesis, roots, and soil to solve some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our times leaves room for hope that lies in the hands of those that manage our lands.

About Dr. Christine Jones:

To the pressing worldwide challenge of restoring topsoil, soil ecologist Dr. Christine Jones of Australia offers an accessible, inspiring perspective. For several decades Christine has worked with innovative farmers and graziers implementing regenerative land management practices that enhance biodiversity, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, productivity, water quality and community and catchment health. Following a highly respected career in public sector research and extension, Christine received a Community Fellowship Award from Land and Water Australia in 2001 for ‘mobilizing the community to better manage land, water and vegetation.’ Three years later she launched 'Amazing Carbon' as a means to share her vision and inspire change. In

In 2005, Christine held the first of five ‘Managing the Carbon Cycle’ forums to promote the benefits of soil carbon. Over the past decade she has gained international recognition as a speaker, presenting on ‘The Fundamentals of Soil’ at workshops, field days, seminars and conferences throughout Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Western Europe, Central America, USA and Canada.

Other Resources:

  1. Dr. Christine Jones's Website
  2. An interview with Dr. Christine Jones, AcresUSA
  3. #NoRegrets Initiative, founded by Sallie Calhoun, owner of Paicines Ranch
  4. C. Neely, "Beefing up winter pastures: Sod-seeding winter forages into bermudagrass," Progressive Forage

  5. T. Caruso, F. Vriesa, "Eating from the same plate? Revisiting the role of labile carbon inputs in the soil food web," Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Volume 102, November 2016, Pages 4-9

  6. S. Crow, G. Hugelius, R. Jackson, M. Kramer, K.Lajtha, and G. Pineir, "The Ecology of Soil Carbon: Pools, Vulnerabilities, and Biotic and Abiotic Controls," Annual Review of Ecology, evolution, and Systematics

  7. J. Jastrow, C. Liang, and J. Schimel, "The importance of anabolism in microbial control over soil carbon storage," Nature Microbiology (figure below and bottom paragraph from this article)




"Primary production inputs to soils occur through two pathways—in vivo turnover and ex vivo modification that jointly explain soil C dynamics driven by microbial catabolism and/or anabolism before entering the stable soil C pool. Even though the relative importance of in vivo turnover (red lines) and ex vivo modification (green lines) vary with different environmental scenarios, we argue that the majority of C that is persistent in soils occurs through coupling of the soil microbial carbon pump (MCP; associated with the in vivo turnover pathway) to stabilization via the entombing effect. The soil MCP is a conceptual object to demonstrate the fact that microbial necromass and metabolites can be the precursors for persistent soil C, which particularly highlights the importance of microbial anabolism in soil C storage. The yinyang symbol is used to create a sense of movement and illustrate that the movement is driven, but driven differently, by both bacteria and fungi with different trophic lifestyles."


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