Reaching the trace-element age

A micro element to a plant is like a chip to a computer. As result of 60 years of N P K, our European

basaltic formation in Hidalgo, México

Basaltic formation in Hidalgo, México

soils are exhausted. Nowadays farmers are aware of the importance if micro-nutrients to ensure production and Industry sells them in small jars. They are the most expensive input in agriculture. 

In plants and animals micro nutrients are the key to endless enzymatic reactions, metabolic routes. They enable growth, development of flowers, fruits and seeds. The are not just an input to get quality product but there are essential to life. A decade ago this view was not so obvious.

First, industry created Urea, Phosphorus and Potash. After a few seasons, the first symptoms of crop deficiencies appeared. agricultural experts met. They agreed that calcium and magnesium and sulfur and silica were limiting the crop production. The market supplied, engineers calculated universities started to teach about these other “less important” elements.

Agro-minerals (basalt quarry at Solulta (Ethiopia)

Basalt quarry (Ethiopia)

Soon after, micro nutrients became the bottleneck. Iron, Zinc, Boron, Cobalt, Copper, Molybdenum, Selenium, manganese… Again the same response: Experts met, industry supply, sell and university teach to a new generation of micro element sensitive engineers.

Recent research points that the elements called rare earth elements play crucial role in the metabolism of plants and or symbiotic   microorganisms. Experts are meeting again. Industry is prepared already and so do Universities. The tendency now is to consider that crops need all elements, but in each one in the right proportion. Many igneous rocks in nature have high diversity of mineral elements in secondary and micro nutrients and can serve farmers to re-mineralize their soils in a affordable way.

Rocking soils works with farmers to build capacity, develop and share the skills to extract plant nutrients from rocks and regenerate exhausted soils.

Rocks 4 Life

The art of dissolving rocks to feed plants is a basic skill any farmer must have to produce a lot healthy crops for a long time. Volcanic rock dust is the source of many minerals that most of our soils are missing.  Because the soils miss the minerals, the plants miss them too and so do our cattle and so do we.

If we put rock dust directly in the soils it works as soil amendment but it has slow results on plant nutrition.  Before rocks can feed plants, they need to be transformed by the microbiology of the soils. They have to be made bio-available.   DSCN1047

How to get rocks:

Many rock mixtures can be bought at special agricultural stores. When a mineral has good potential application for agriculture it is labelled as agro-mineral. Rock dust suppliers take the best agro-minerals and mix them in different proportions to create their commercial recipes. What make a rock good for the crops?

The most fertile soils on earth are volcanic soils. they have the highest mineral diversity. Basically the most important factor of a rock to improve soils is the diversity of minerals, in the right proportions in a way that they allow they support the development of life in the soil. The more mineral diversity in the rocks we use, the more elements of the periodic table will be able to be embodied in a bacteria or fungi, passing to the soil food web the more fertile the soil is.  One of the rocks with more mineral diversity are the basaltic rocks.

How to dissolve minerals:

Rocks in soils undergo a serie of processes before they release minerals. The first process is erosion, then it comes the bio-assimilation. The process of erosion and bio-assimilation take thousands of years. We can mimic this process and accelerate the mineral release and take advantage of it (biomimicry). We mimic erosion when we crush rocks.


We mimic the natural bio assimilation in the soils when we put soil microorganisms in contact with rock dust. Bacteria, fungi and yeasts use organic acids and enzymes that extract minerals from rocks. 

Dissolving rocks with microorganisms in own farm does not require high investments nor complicated technology. Small Bio-digesters can be mounted in reduced spaces where experimenting is easy and affordable to any farmer.


The art of reproducing microorganisms to dissolve minerals from rocks is a simple but powerful tool in hands of farmers. It can bring fertility to soils an accelerate the chemical and biological rehabilitation of exhausted soils.

It is a strategy that any farmer can experience. In my vegetable garden, I produce and test my fertilizers on a small scale. I test them in vegetables and fruit trees. If I like the results, scaling-up is always possible.

Thousands of farmers in South America know how to make their own rock dust based fertilizers and are able to feed their crops. They do not depend from external inputs but they increase production and quality of their products and leave better soils for their children.

Tanzanian Farmer Training Centers

More than 2800 farmers in 4000 hectares of the Usambara’s mountains produce export quality organic coffee for decades. The last years farmers form the cooperative experienced decrease of coffee production and quality due to decline of soil fertility.

Agriterra and Rockin Soils organized in November 2012 the first training on composting with microorganisms in the Farm of the cooperative in Soni, Tanzania. A first group of 20 coffee farmers learned to gather waste materials form their farms, mix them with rock dust from local quarries, inoculate with local microorganisms and manage the fermentation process to produce compost and foliar organic bio-fertilizers. In July 2013 these farmers master the art of composting.They have tested their self produced bio-fertilizers in their own land and on different crops. The positive results of these first trials motivate them to go further and train their neighbors. A bunch of them converted their farms in Farmer Training Centers. Nothing official nor complicated, They just share their experiences.

The new Farmer Training Centers  in the Usambara Region will show farmers and future trainers how this technology works. In the next two years more than two thousand farmers in the region will receive training to use their farm’s waste and local agro-minerals to restore the natural fertility of their soils.