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Introduction to Regenerative Agriculture

By December 10, 2019July 14th, 2020No Comments

Introduction to Regenerative Agriculture 

By Gabe Brown • Bismarck, North Dakota

We often hear producers who use cover crops state that they practice “Regenerative Agriculture.” But what is “Regenerative Agriculture?” Regenerative Agriculture is an understanding. It is an understanding that one must work with nature instead of against her. The deep, rich topsoil which once covered a large percentage of North America was the result of a healthy, functioning soil ecosystem. Sunlight, water, minerals, plants, mammals, insects and micro-organisms all working in harmony.

Unfortunately, today much of the current production model is about man trying to impose his will on nature. We have an infiltration problem and we till the field rather than grow a cover crop to build soil aggregates. We see a pest and we spray a pesticide, rather than providing habitat for predator insects which would kill the pest. We have low yields, so we add more synthetic fertilizer rather than feeding soil life with diverse root exudates. We treat symptoms instead of solving the real problem.

The result is a degraded resource. What was once thick, deep topsoil is now but a mere fraction of what it was. I have the good fortune of being on hundreds of farms and ranches all over North America every year and I have never been on an operation, including my own, that is not degraded. As producers, we have come to accept that degraded resource. But if we follow nature’s template, using the five principles of a healthy ecosystem, we can regenerate our resources.

Those five principles are:

Armor on the soil surface. 

Least amount of chemical and physical disturbance possible.

Diversity of plants and animals, including insects.

Living roots in the soil as long as possible throughout the year.

Animals integrated into the system.

These five principles are the same anywhere in the world where plants can grow. The “tools” we use to accomplish these principles may differ, such as which cash or cover crops we grow or which species of livestock we raise, but the principles are the same. 

 

By reducing and eliminating tillage, infiltration rates, water holding capacity and nutrient cycling will improve. Adding cover crops to our rotation will increase biodiversity, protect and grow topsoil, pump more carbon into the soil, feed soil biology and allow the integration of livestock onto cropland. Those who work with nature and follow her principles are seeing an exponential increase in the health and function of their soil, the plants that grow in it and the animals that thrive on them. 

Perhaps the greatest testament to “Regenerative Agriculture” is the fact that it significantly improves not only profitability, but quality of life as well. Those who practice it say that it has made farming and ranching fun again!

Charles Kellogg said it best when he stated, “Essentially, all life depends upon the soil…There can be no life without the soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” 

To learn more about Regenerative Agriculture, we recommend reading Gabe’s new book, “Dirt to Soil”, where he tells the story of his amazing journey and offers a wealth of innovative solutions to our most pressing and complex contemporary agricultural challenge – restoring the soil. 

The Brown’s Ranch model, developed over twenty years of experimentation and refinement, focuses on regenerating resources by continuously enhancing the living biology in the soil. Using regenerative agricultural principles, Brown’s Ranch has grown several inches of new topsoil in only twenty years!

The 5,000-acre ranch profitably produces a wide variety of cash crops and cover crops, as well as grass-finished beef and lamb, pastured laying hens, broilers, and pastured pork, all marketed directly to consumers.

 

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