Near the end of our conversation about his company, A&L Canada Laboratories, Greg Patterson offhandedly mentioned that, “plants talk to each other.”
I nodded, as though I understood exactly what he meant. As you can read about in my London Inc. cover story this month, A&L is on the cusp of an agriculture revolution. It has identified 4,500 unique bacteria, fungi and other biologicals that prompt plants to do predictable things.
These “bugs,” as Patterson calls them colloquially, help strengthen all kinds of crops, restoring the natural conditions in which they otherwise would thrive. Much of the action takes place in the rhizosphere, a narrow band of soil where the roots live. Patterson compares the plant microbiome to the human gut, where millions of microorganisms live and keep us healthy.
And that’s where the talking plant angle comes in. A recent Swedish study showed how plants secrete chemicals into the soil that prompt neighbouring plants to grow more quickly.
“It’s not magic; it’s science,” Patterson says, eyes twinkling. “There are ways to stimulate the plant biome, which means healthier plants with less fertilizer, among other things.”
A&L began almost 35 years ago when potato farmers in Alliston hired Patterson to do some rudimentary studies on their crops. Today, it runs tests for farmers, processors and – most recently – for cannabis producers. But its real growth area may well be in biologicals, in the soil where plants talk to each other, pulling in bacteria and fungi as needed to improve their health.