Author: John King| Published: November 22, 2016
Gabe Brown from North Dakota is one of the most influential farmers in the developed world. Insights from his property are inspiring commercial farmers to understand soil health from a whole new perspective and scientists are catching on to his success.
Brown recently visited Australia to rub shoulders with communities of farmers pioneering low input farming and looking to enjoy benefits of greater profits and less stress. His message is simple: To change what you do on-farm, make little changes; to change what you see on-farm, make big changes.
Sustainability as seen by most agronomists and policy makers simply means to sustain a degraded resource like soil. As Brown argues, unless soil is regenerating there is little hope for farmers and their communities to improve water quality. Right now US farmers are being sued by cities for contaminating drinking water with nitrogen.
Three things made Brown question industry advice: Four years of no income from drought and hail; pioneering soil scientists pointing out how agrichemicals degrade soil function; being a keen observer of native prairie grasslands.
His cash crops now yield 25 per cent above his county average without any inputs except very occasional herbicide and he is looking to cut that completely, too.
Now scientists, and even National Geographic magazine, are banging on his door to study how soils are improving on his 2000-hectare property. Their studies find increasing NPK and organic carbon despite no inputs used. To anybody looking in, it’s not just his use of cover crops which is eliminating fertiliser use.
Brown promotes five keys to soil health. The first is least amount of soil disturbance possible, preferably no-till.