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Soil Health Champion Gabe Brown Featured on Commemorative Wheaties Box

BISMARCK, ND (April 15, 2019) – Since 1956, when U.S. Olympic track and field star Bob Richards first graced its cover, Wheaties cereal boxes have featured athletic champions who have overcome challenges in pursuit of their personal best. General Mills, the makers of Wheaties, recently featured another type of champion on a specially prepared box cover: soil health champion Gabe Brown.

A pioneering, regenerative agriculture farmer from Bismarck, North Dakota, Brown recently received the commemorative box from the General Mills Sustainability Team. While the company has no current plans to put the mock-up into mass production or distribution, the cover is a special tribute to Brown’s work as a regenerative agricultural advocate and educator. It is also emblematic of the food giant’s renewed commitment to expand the use of soil health-improving practices among General Mills’ cereal grain growers.

“The box was presented as a ‘thank you’ to me and the Soil Health Academy by the General Mills Sustainability Team for our work in providing education and technical support to their growers as part of a multi-year, regenerative agriculture project,” Brown said.

“Even as a novelty item, seeing your picture on the cover of an iconic cereal box is a humbling experience and the gesture was very much appreciated,” he said. “Truthfully, I think every farmer making the transition from industrial to regenerative agriculture is a champion.”

Brown knows how important that transition is in transforming farming operations. His recently released book, Dirt to Soil, chronicles his personal journey from industrial agriculture to soil health-focused regenerative agriculture.

“The story of my farm is how I took a severely degraded, low-profit operation that had been managed using the industrial production model and regenerated it into a healthy, profitable one,” Brown said. “All of us—whether farmer, rancher or home gardener—have the ability to harness the awesome power of nature to produce nutrient-dense food. We can do this in a way that will both regenerate our resources

and ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to enjoy good health,” he said.

In addition to transforming his own farm and ranch operation, Brown’s remarkable experience has yielded another benefit: a new calling.

“One of my goals in life is to help other farmers make the same transition,” Brown said. “I hope the book and all of our work through the Soil Health Academy will help many more farmers, and even consumers, discover the hope in healthy soil.”

Reposted with permission from Soil Health Academy

To Fix the Climate, We Have to Fix Our Soil

“One of our most important solutions to the global challenge posed by climate change lies right under our feet.” That’s according to Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, a soil biochemist at the University of Merced, and she’s talking about soil, which isn’t acknowledged as a key factor in the fight against climate change.

When it’s healthy, soil is incredibly effective at storing carbon, Berhe said on the stage at TED in Vancouver. Soil stores around 3,000 billion metric tons of carbon, which is double the amount stored in vegetation and in the atmosphere, combined. The ability of natural ecosystems like soil to capture and sequester carbon is essentially bailing us out of experiencing the effects of excessive amounts of CO2 that human activities produce. Around half of the 9.4 billion metric tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere every year are captured in soil, plants, and the ocean, and soil is doing the bulk of that heavy lifting.

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Andrea Asch: Healthy Soils, Healthy Farms

The snow in Vermont is slowly melting and the woods and fields are springing to life with shoots of new growth. The soil is also re-awakening and is rich with an abundance of organisms and nutrients. Vermont relies on its soil for its most important economic driver – agriculture, and dairy farms. To keep that engine strong, many dairy farmers have turned to regenerative agriculture. More than just a set of practices, regenerative agriculture broadly supports many important environmental benefits.

Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming that develops the soil as a habitat for organisms, making the soil robust and resilient for the production of healthy crops that ultimately support good animal nutrition and contribute to quality milk.

The foundation of regenerative agriculture is a set of practices based on concepts that improve soil health:

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Farmers Are Excited about Soil Health. That’s Good News for All of Us

“When we think about the challenges in agriculture, carbon—and how to sequester it—is near the top.” So said Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), in opening the grassroots organization’s 2019 annual convention in March. Storing carbon in farm soils is an important climate change solution, but building the health of those soils is also critical for ensuring clean water for communities and helping farmers be productive while coping with the consequences of a climate that is already changing. And throughout the NFU’s three-day gathering, the phrase “soil health” and talk about strategies to achieve it seemed to be on everyone’s tongue.

Though it is hard to quantify, surveys suggest that many US farmers are already taking steps to build soil health and store carbon in their soils.

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Ecological Agriculture Needs to Be Made a Priority

The number of farmers moving to ecological agriculture in its various forms — agroecology, organic, biological, biodynamic, regenerative — continues to grow as farmers and consumers become more aware of the harm pesticides and synthetic fertilisers cause to health and the environment.

Alan Broughton takes a look at this phenomenon and asks why the majority of farmers are still holding on to chemical methods and what can be done to increase the ecological uptake.

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At an organic soil management class that I taught in Shepparton, Victoria, I asked each of the dozen participants why they were interested in organics. Everyone of them told me their prime motivating factor was personal and family health.

Secondary reasons included concern for the environment, animal health, the high cost of inputs and a desire to be proud of their produce.

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Can Soil Microbes Slow Climate Change?

With global carbon emissions hitting an all-time high in 2018, the world is on a trajectory that climate experts believe will lead to catastrophic warming by 2100 or before. Some of those experts say that to combat the threat, it is now imperative for society to use carbon farming techniques that extract carbon dioxide from the air and store it in soils. Because so much exposed soil across the planet is used for farming, the critical question is whether scientists can find ways to store more carbon while also increasing agricultural yields.

Photo credit: Pexels

David Johnson of New Mexico State University thinks they can. The recipe, he says, is to tip the soil’s fungal-to-bacterial ratio strongly toward the fungi. He has shown how that can be done. Yet it is not clear if techniques can be scaled up economically on large commercial farms everywhere.

 

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Soil Becomes Fertile Ground for Climate Action

Soil quality is a growing focus in the sustainability space, and for good reason: Fertile soil naturally stabilizes the climate and ensures resilient supply chains. But a third of the planet’s land is severely degraded, and fertile soil is being lost at the rate of 24 billion tons a year, according to a 2017 United Nations-backed study. So, a small but growing group of companies — some directly in agriculture or ranching, others indirectly via sourcing — are investing in healthy soil initiatives.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Soil, no matter how healthy, may not be the spiciest climate solution. It’s not a giant machine that can suck carbon directly from the air — or is it?

In fact, Earth’s soils contain more than three times more carbon than is stored in the atmosphere, and four times more than the amount in all living plants and animals.

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Regenerative Agriculture: Taking Organic to the Next Level

“Natural” and “organic” have experienced decades of growing pains as industry-shaping nomenclature. While the intricacies of terminology and philosophy continue to be worked out, progress has made way for the next generation of ideology to emerge. Among these concepts is regenerative agriculture, which takes the principles of organic farming and adds more layers of accountability.

Photo credit: Unsplash

“Regenerative organic agriculture is different in that it considers the long-term consequences of farming practices on the soil, environment, animal welfare, farm and community economics, and human health,” explained Zoe Schaeffer, communications specialist at Kutztown, Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute. “And it ensures that we’re on a path of continual improvement toward all those ends.”

Andrew Pittz is a sixth-generation family farmer and “farmer-in-chief” at Missouri Valley, Iowa-based Sawmill Hollow, the first aronia berry farm in the United States. He also serves as director of Heartland Superfoods, a vertically integrated supplier of organically farmed ingredients.

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Work with the Land to Restore Health to All

THERE IS going to be a revolution in farming, and it’s going to happen soon. It has to.

The revolution is called regenerative agriculture, and the winners will be farmers, soil, bees, and everyone who eats.

Photo credit: Pexels

The only losers will be the pharmaceutical and petrochemical companies that have taken over our food supply. Their wares (expensive GMO seeds, billions of pounds of pesticides, chemical fertilizers) will not be in demand.

What we are finding out is that 70 years of chemical farming has killed our topsoil and washed it into our waterways, along with a toxic load of chemicals, causing massive red tide in Florida and dead zones at the mouths of our rivers.

The promised increases in yield from Roundup Ready GMO seed have turned out to be short-lived, expensive, and unsustainable.

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Dirt Rich: Healthy Soil Movement Gains Ground in Farm Country

Jesse Hall is sold on regenerative agriculture.

“It crumbles, and it looks like chocolate cake,” Hall said. “Once it’s got the consistency of chocolate cake, and it’s spongy, that’s what you want.”

And it’s got more life in it, too, from invisible bacteria to earthworms.

Photo credit: Pexels

“I can’t even dig up an inch without digging up an earthworm,” Hall said. “I feel bad, because I don’t want to hurt the poor guys. I always try to pack ’em back in the ground, try to cover them up — you know, like I’m tucking them in.”

Hall has embraced regenerative agriculture, the approach to farming built around four basic rules: Never till the soil; use cover crops so soil is never bare; grow a more diverse mix of plants and graze livestock on fields after harvest or before planting.

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