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  • This is shit

  • (Laughter)

  • or rather cow manure.

  • One cow produces 25 tons of manure every year.

  • And that's great because manure is a fantastic organic fertilizer.

  • It's chock-full of nutrients to grow our grains and vegetables.

  • Humans have been using animal dung as fertilizer for 10,000 years.

  • Without it, agriculture would have never been possible.

  • And that was true until about 100 years ago

  • when we started using petrochemical fertilizers like nitrogen.

  • Soon after that, manure as a fertilizer started to become much less valuable.

  • Today, manure looks more like this

  • - this is a manure pit in Switzerland -

  • or like this: a manure lagoon in the United States.

  • Now, a lot of these farms

  • or let me call them what they are, animal feeding factories,

  • don't grow the food for their animals themselves anymore.

  • So to them, manure is not a precious fertilizer,

  • instead it is just a problem that has to be managed.

  • This is but one of many aspects of how our industrialized agriculture today

  • has become so broken

  • that many now believe that our only ethical response may be becoming vegan.

  • I'm here to tell you:

  • please do keep eating meat and cheese.

  • We need animals for a sustainable agriculture,

  • but please stop eating

  • meat and cheese from animals that were fed on human food

  • like grains, and corn, and soybean.

  • Instead, only eat meat and cheese from cows that were fed on grass

  • like they were meant to.

  • I am going to tell you how that one choice is going to allow us

  • to tackle some of the greatest challenges we're facing today: climate change,

  • global soil degradation and world hunger.

  • In Switzerland, farmers still tried to use manure

  • as an organic fertilizer as best they can.

  • But in winter, pastures are covered with snow

  • so the cows are being kept indoors.

  • So the farmer has to store the manure in a manure pit

  • until he can bring it out in the springtime.

  • The problem is that, after a while, manure starts to rot,

  • and all those precious nutrients start

  • to turn into toxic substances like ammonia and evaporate.

  • Puff! And all those precious nutrients are gone.

  • In Germany alone, 600,000 tons of ammonia evaporate like this every year.

  • Standing next to one of those manure pools can feel like you're inhaling acid.

  • And in fact ammonia causes acid rain.

  • And when brought out to the field,

  • that manure seeps into our groundwater and rivers

  • and causes massive greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Let me take a step back and tell you how I got mixed up in all this shit.

  • I originally studied economics in China where lived for three years

  • until I got dangerously ill from the food I was eating there.

  • I had to take a timeout

  • and I was getting really paranoid about food,

  • so I decided to move

  • from a country with probably the lowest food safety standards

  • to... well, here, Switzerland.

  • I went to work on an organic farm close to Bern

  • and that was the first time that I got wind of this problem:

  • organic fields being sprayed with half rotten manure.

  • I always assumed that organic agriculture

  • is equal to sustainable agriculture.

  • But spraying fields with half rotten manure

  • didn't fit into my idea of sustainable agriculture.

  • And in fact, this whole manure business is not very sustainable at all.

  • Let's put aside the fact that I came home smelling like shit,

  • and taking one shower wasn't enough to get that smell off me.

  • That manure, when brought out to the field

  • is so aggressive it literally burns the plants,

  • and the soil takes a real beating as well.

  • Earthworms, that are the backbone of a healthy fertile soil,

  • come rushing to the surface suffocating,

  • only to be picked off by birds.

  • I thought there's got to be a better way to do this,

  • a better way than spraying our organic fields with half rotten manure

  • so I did some research and I came across an interesting master thesis

  • where I really thought this is something we ought to try out.

  • Oktoberfest is just behind us

  • so I'm sure you've all had a chance to eat some nice 'sauerkraut.'

  • But have you ever wondered

  • why everything in your fridge will go bad at some point,

  • but sauerkraut will stay good, basically forever?

  • (Laughter)

  • Well, the reason are these fantastic bacteria called lactic acid bacteria.

  • They take the sugar in the 'kraut'

  • and convert it to lactic acid making the 'sauerkraut' sour,

  • and thus stopping all other rotting bacteria.

  • In sauerkraut production, we end up with these leftover juices,

  • sauerkraut juice, that is chock-full of lactic acid bacteria.

  • Now, some people like to drink that.

  • It's supposed to be great for your digestion,

  • but let me tell you, I've tried it and I prefer a cold beer,

  • and so the most other people,

  • so this juice ends up as a waste product.

  • Millions of liters of it in Switzerland alone.

  • So I thought: why don't we take that sauerkraut juice

  • and put it into the manure to conserve it,

  • and stop all the nutrients from getting lost?

  • I told some friends about this idea and got them all excited about it.

  • We met with some top scientists in Switzerland

  • and put together a concept to actually implement this.

  • So I called the CEO of the largest sauerkraut factory in Switzerland

  • and told him about this idea,

  • and he was actually quite open to it.

  • Now I just need to find a farmer who would be willing to join us on this.

  • I ended up getting an invitation to give a pitch at the annual meeting

  • of the Swiss Organic Pastor Beef Association.

  • I was all excited and told the group of farmers

  • pretty much what I had just told you now,

  • and I asked them if anyone would be willing to join me on this.

  • And the room went silent.

  • No one put up his hand.

  • It was not very encouraging at all.

  • But after almost everyone else had left,

  • one courageous farmer from the Alpine region of St. Gallen,

  • Mr. Pirmin Koller, came to me and said:

  • "You know what, now that no one else is listening"

  • (Laughter)

  • "I'll give this a try with you."

  • So, together with the Zurich University Applied Sciences,

  • we put together some research parameters, and within a few weeks,

  • we were pouring thousands of liters of sauerkraut juice into Pirmin's manure.

  • And you know what? It worked!

  • That manure didn't smell anymore,

  • and all those precious nutrients didn't turn into toxic substances

  • like ammonia anymore and evaporated.

  • And Pirmin's grass turned just a little greener as well,

  • making his neighbor's little bit jealous

  • - I guess sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence -

  • (Laughter)

  • so suddenly, this wasn't just a crazy idea anymore.

  • A whole bunch of people got really excited about this.

  • The World Wildlife Foundation awarded us a grant,

  • and at the Falling Walls conference in Berlin,

  • we won the first prize out of 1,000 projects.

  • And that caused quite some media attention;

  • Swiss and German TV did segments on us

  • and we got a whole lot of coverage in Swiss and German newspapers as well.

  • And that was great because after that,

  • farmers from all over Switzerland, all the way to America and Australia,

  • contacted me,

  • and within three months, we had six pilot projects up and running.

  • But, as the results started to come in,

  • we realized that manure has

  • a much higher buffer capacity than we originally anticipated.

  • We needed about ten times the amount of sauerkraut juice

  • to conserve the manure over a six-month period.

  • Instead of a few thousand liters,

  • we now needed tens of thousands of liters.

  • And that's not great news because it's not Oktoberfest every day

  • so we don't have enough sauerkraut juice available to really scale this idea.

  • I realised that if I want to tackle this manure problem,

  • I'm going to have to understand farming from the ground up,

  • so I decided to become a farmer.

  • I'm now in my third year of a four-year vocational training program

  • to become an organic dynamic farmer living and working on a farm.

  • But not just any farm.

  • I work on an organic cattle farm

  • where they do something pretty special with their manure.

  • They turn their manure into pure fertile compost.

  • Now let me quickly explain to you how that happens

  • and how that is going to help save our climate and soils

  • and help make the world's most disadvantaged regions

  • food independent again.

  • I'm going to have to go back 3,000 years to the Indios of South America.

  • South and Middle America was home to some highly advanced civilizations,

  • with cities as large as 300,000 people.

  • When we Europeans were still taking a dump in our backyards

  • and dying of the plague,

  • they had already figured out an intricate sanitary system.

  • They would use clay pots as their toilets.

  • When they were done doing their business in the pot,

  • they would sprinkle charcoal in the pot.

  • Now this charcoal - today we call it biochar -

  • is extremely absorbent.

  • Like a sponge, it soaks up all the nutrients,

  • stopping them from getting lost.

  • So when that pot was full,

  • they didn't just end up with a pot of poop,

  • but an extremely fertile pot of poop.

  • They'd probably bring that out to their fields

  • and plant some beans or corn and have fantastic yields.

  • But what the Indios probably didn't know

  • was that biochar has a negative carbon balance

  • and it stays in the soil for thousands of years.

  • So they ended up creating the world's most fertile soils:

  • the Terra Preta.

  • And we marvel at them even today, [500] years later,

  • So, at the farm work I'm at,

  • the farmer has been implementing a system for the past 15 years

  • that mimics the Indio clay pot toilet.

  • He would make his cows

  • a clean bed of wood chips and biochar over the winter,

  • instead of storing the manure in a manure pool.

  • Those cows would live and sleep there every day,

  • and every second day he would add a new layer of wood chips and biochar,

  • thus conserving the manure.

  • In the springtime, we would take all that wood chip-biochar-manure

  • out of the stables and compost it.

  • Now, composting is just a little bit like baking.

  • You have to take the right ingredients in the right amounts

  • and mix them up in just the right way.

  • So we take that wood chip-biochar-manure,

  • and we add a layer of freshly cut grass,

  • and a little bit of finished compost, and a little bit of clay,

  • and we mix it all up, and that's when the magic happens:

  • a whole army of microorganisms

  • starts to take apart all that organic matter devouring it.

  • That composting process turns really hot

  • - over 70 degrees [Celsius] for three weeks -

  • And those microorganisms take apart all the organic matter

  • including antibiotics and growth hormones,

  • and whatever other chemicals might be in there.

  • And the heat sanitizes the manure from pathogen bacteria.

  • When all that organic matter's broken down to its chemical building-blocks,

  • a whole new army of microorganisms

  • takes those building blocks and puts them together to pure fertile soil.

  • In this form, all of the nutrients are locked up safely,

  • none of them evaporating or leaching into the groundwater.

  • I'm now involved in an EU project

  • where we're turning this concept large-scale on the farm with 1,500 cows.

  • So this concept is applicable on every scale.

  • From the Indio clay pot toilets,

  • all the way to large-scale cattle farms.

  • With this method, we may turn desolate soils fertile again.

  • People may grow food locally again

  • where they have become dependent on food aid

  • or on multinational fertilizer companies.

  • And by making soils fertile again,

  • we may lock up billions of tons of carbon in the soil

  • reducing atmospheric CO2, and thus, global warming.

  • Grass and clover grows on billions of hectares of land worldwide,

  • that is not otherwise usable for agriculture.

  • These wonderful animals: cows, goats, and sheep,

  • may unlock this abundant resource to us,

  • and on the land where we grow grains and vegetables for ourselves,

  • those crops need lots and lots of nutrients,

  • so we cannot grow them on the same patch of land every year.

  • The soil needs time to recover.

  • Growing grass and clover replenishes the soils nutrients,