Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

Johnson-Su BEAM Research & Bioreactor Registry

Dr. David Johnson standing in his cotton field

Dr. David Johnson, a researcher at the Institute of Sustainable Agricultural Research at New Mexico State University, has been doing work in regards to the efficacy of biologically enhanced fungal-dominant compost for carbon sequestration and improved soil health and crop yields. His method is called BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management) and centers around the fungal dominant biome created using the compost creation system he devised with his wife Hui-Chun Su (called the Johnson-Su Bioreactor). BEAM compost attempts to address soil health by adding in soil microbes that have been lost in soil degraded through conventional agriculture methods. That, along with no-till practices, cover crops and other Regenerative Agriculture practices, is being investigated as an approach for both soil renewal and as a potential tool to mitigate climate change.

Compost is usually thought of fertilizer, a way of adding nutrients to the soil. BEAM compost actually addresses soil health through soil biology. It replaces soil microbes in soil degraded through many agriculture practices like excessive tillage. Theoretically, this inoculant along with no-till practices, cover crops and other Regenerative Agriculture practices, could enable the normal symbiosis between these microbes and plant roots to occur.

In Johnson's initial trials, he reports that the soil started to recover, with striking improvements in crop yields and soil carbon accrual. Organizations and individuals around the world have been experimenting to see if these results could be replicated in varied climates and soil conditions. At this point the results have been mixed. Citizen science indicates that it might be of use particularly in very degraded soil conditions. However, others have seen little or no effect.

Over three years, we at CRARS have done four replicated studies with row crops, orchards, and rangeland. In each case, we designed the trials using the appropriate internal controls to contrast regenerative practices with and without the Johnson Su (JS) inoculum. The inoculum was administered under Dr. Johnson's supervision, often with his own inoculum and applied at the recommended application rates of 4 lbs/acre. We tested for soil health, soil carbon accrual, water infiltration, and crop productivity metrics and saw no increased inoculum effect. However, very positive results were found using multispecies cover crops and no-till.

None of this is to say that your observations are not valid, and that a fungal dominant compost can't be of use on your farm or within your suite of practices. We acknowledge that some people have shared very positive experiences with impressive photographs at times. For the sake of accurate science that can be used as a confident recommendation to others, however, we need replicated trials including scientific model data analysis.

People who would like to continue with studying BEAM are strongly advised to set up trials comparing the use of multispecies cover crops and no-till with and without Johnson-Su inoculum added on the same piece of land (similar soil and climate). On this page you can find instructions on how to build your own bioreactor and how to share your results through a Bioreactor Registry to add to the research necessary to determine the efficacy of this method for others.

We appreciate your enthusiasm and participation for this project. Staff time is limited, however, so we do not have the capacity to provide individual advice. We recommend joining the Johnson-Su Facebook group(opens in new window) to interact with experienced BEAM citizen scientists.