Regenerative agriculture key to productive soil, healthy animals
BOZEMAN, Montana -- Regenerative farming and ranching pioneer Gabe Brown addressed a packed building April 19 at the fairgrounds in Big Timber regarding the importance of soil health and regenerative agriculture practices.
"How do we heal our soils? By practicing regenerative agriculture," the North Dakota farmer told the crowd during the Sweet Grass County Farm Bureau sponsored event, adding, “Even though some people claim regenerative agriculture would never work with their soil, anyone can build resiliency in their soils anywhere because the soil is basically sand, silt and clay."
Brown said regenerative agriculture and adaptive grazing work in synchrony with nature’s principles, including armoring the soil, maximizing diversity, integrating animals and insects, using no-till or minimal tillage, and keeping roots in the soil.
“We want to see the biology in the soil, including nematodes, protozoa, and roots. There are exudates in plant roots that build aggregation, which is important to water filtration," Brown said. "Dysfunctional, packed soil makes it impenetrable for water. Remember, it's crucial to keep the soil covered. You don't want to see bare soil—that is costing you money.”
He said reseeding cropland or pasture with a variety of plants, including millet, buckwheat, daikon radishes, sunflowers, and others, mimics nature by adding diversity which in turn creates a landscape that is supportive of livestock, beneficial insects and soil health, and less affected by drought.
Brown, who raises cattle, shared that livestock plays an essential role in adaptive grazing. “Adaptive grazing allows us to be fully adaptable and flexible to ever-changing conditions. It produces the greatest results within the shortest time. There is power in stocking density, and the higher the density, the better the utilization of the soil because of their manure, urine, and their ability to spread seeds. However, you must move the cattle off to ensure plants receive adequate recovery time. The minimal time to not graze plants is 150 days, with 12-18 months of rest preferred. Regrowth starts in three days, but you will kill the plant if the cattle graze the regrowth.”
He said that although not every aspect of adaptive grazing is identical or possible for every ranch, implementing even some of the practices can create better soil and additional grazing matter. An additional benefit is adaptive grazing puts more carbon back in the ground, which creates healthy soil and less carbon in the air.
“Take advantage of the natural processes because nature is self-organizing and self-healing," Brown advised. He noted that by using regenerative farming and adaptive grazing methods, farms and ranches could become more profitable due to reducing and often eventually eliminating inputs such as herbicides in crops, insecticides for livestock, and the need for cattle salt and mineral.
According to Brown, using adaptive grazing helps the soil and plants and adds to the nutrient density of the meat. He sees a time in the not-so-distant future when ranchers will receive a premium for meat that is high in phytonutrients.
“Remember, you need to implement adaptive grazing and regenerative agriculture within your context; what will work for you and your ranch,” Brown said.
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