The Secrets of the Soil

The Secrets of Soil


At the recent annual Swartland Kleingraan Ontwikkelingsgroep (SKOG) Pre- Plant Information day, Rupert van der Merwe – a soil scientist and consultant in organic agriculture, as well as the founder and managing director of Probio, a South African product developer and producer of non-toxic, fully bio degradable and sustainable probiotic based chemical alternatives – gave a talk introduced as “The Secrets of the Soil”. In his speech, he informed attendees on the importance and complexity of soil and its relation to the human system. In this, he shared professional and personal experiences from his life and career journey, and by doing so he educated the audience on the value of soil, conventional agriculture and soil complexity, and the relation between soil and our health.

Rupert talked the audience through a personal experience during his time in the army, where he woke up one morning, unable to walk. He was later diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, a type of arthritis which mostly effects the spine. The disease is incurable and often hereditary, with most common and severe cases found in men.

It causes swelling between the vertebrae and the joints between your spine and pelvis, which can cause the vertebrae to fuse together, restricting natural movement.

The diagnosis was a big wake-up call for Rupert and he opted to make changes in his life that would help to combat the disease. Even though the disease was incurable, he knew that regular exercise and medication would help to relieve some of the pain and swelling. He packed his bags, said goodbye to busy city life, and moved to the calming countryside where he found a job on a farm – the first organic farm in South Africa, Bloublommetjieskloof.

This new farming experience meant Rupert got up in the early hours of the morning, every morning, worked seven days a week and only ate organic food from the farm. He soon noticed that the vegetables and food were much fresher and more delicious than those in the city, despite being grown without fertilizers or pesticides. Rupert began to see a connection between the fresh organically grown food he was eating, and how he was improving physically. Rupert, who had been taking strong anti-inflammatories daily for two years, was able to stop taking them altogether within four months of moving to Bloublommetjieskloof.

While in recovery, Rupert decided to enrol at the University of Stellenbosch to learn more about agriculture, and further investigate the connection between healthy soil and healthy humans. In his final year, he presented his findings, showing that healthy soil supported healthy plant growth; and what we eat effects our genetic potential as humans and animals, so in order to be able to maintain a healthy immune system, we need to look at building and maintaining healthy soil.

Rupert showed that focussing on how to improve the soil microbiology can help to improve fundamental soil parameters such as soil structure. The key to soil structure is the microbial “glue” that keeps the particles together so it doesn’t erode. We are learning that human and animal nutrition should be focused on feeding the microbes that live in the gut. Likewise, we need to focus our efforts on feeding the microbes that live around plant roots rather than feeding the plants. In his comparison of roots with the human gut, Rupert found a number of similarities. Both the root and gut microorganisms regulate their host’s gene expression, provide extra metabolic capabilities and essential nutrients to their hosts, protect their hosts against pathogens and share evolutionary trends with their hosts.

The next logical step was to understand that the same microbes that improve human and animal gut health also improve soil health. This makes sense since animals get their food from plants grown in the soil and supply nutrients to the soil through their excreta. So there is a natural cycle of microbes between animal guts and the soil. This relationship between the soil and animal gut is the “secret to the soil”.

Since founding Probio in 2010, Rupert has been experimenting with the use of beneficial microbial consortia using Advanced Probiotic technology on his farm outside Stellenbosch. The company now includes a range of all- natural and biodegradable products containing powerful, living microbes that harness the incredible benefits of probiotics for both the immediate and surrounding environments.

The Probio microbes break down organic matter more thoroughly and efficiently and provide metabolic capabilities, essential nutrients and protection against pathogens for plants, humans and animals. The Probio microbes are also used in bioremediation to remediate contaminated soil and water environments.

Probio products are environmentally friendly products that contain no hazardous ingredients and cause absolutely no harm to humans, animals or plants, making it a smart and sustainable choice that feeds goodness into your soil, and in return feeds healthy, nutritional fuel into your body.


You can contact Rupert  van der Merwe for further questions at