Manitoba Farmers Embrace Regenerative Agriculture

Author: Robert Arnason | Published: May 17, 2018

About three years ago Brooks White had an “aha” moment that changed his life, or at the very least, changed how he views farming.

White was browsing on the internet when he came across a phrase that he hadn’t heard before: regenerative agriculture.

Suddenly, everything made sense.

“I saw that and (said), ‘that’s it, that’s what we want to do.’ ”

Brooks and his wife, Jen, farm near Lyleton, Man., in the extreme southwest corner of the province.

They operate a bison and grain farm called Borderland Agriculture, so named because of the proximity to the Saskatchewan and North Dakota borders.

They raise around 600 bison and have a land base of 7,500 acres with 5,000 acres dedicated to annual crops.

Brooks was raised on the same farm, but Jen grew up in Minot, N.D.

They met because Jen’s mother married a farmer from the Lyleton area. In 2001, Jen was visiting her in Lyleton when someone invited her to a social.

“I said, ‘what’s a social?’ ” Jen recalled.

She drove up from Minot for the event and was introduced to Brooks. By 2004 they were married.

They now have two children: Sawyer, 7, and Piper, 4.

Jen may have grown up in the city but she now understands the perks of the farm lifestyle.

“I like the flexibility and just being able to be with your family. Everybody is together.”


Producer Gail Fuller Offers 8 Lessons From His Career in Cover Crops

Author: Amy Bickel | Published: May 22, 2018

Unlike his conventional counterparts, Gail Fuller doesn’t focus on maximizing yields.

The Emporia, Kansas, farmer thinks differently than the age-old mantra that, with 10 billion people expected on the plant by mid-century, farmers must feed the world.

“I’m sorry if you are buying into that crock,” Fuller says bluntly.

Instead, Fuller made the decision to base his profitability and success on the health of his soil.

“Soil is life and life is soil,” he said to a crowd at his annual Fuller Field School in Emporia last month. “We have 60 years of topsoil left and that was as of 2012. If we continue this current production model, we might not be able to feed the world by 2050 because we might not have all the soil left to do it.”

Lessons from Gail

Fuller started the school seven years ago to educate others about regenerative ag, a concept growing across rural America. He wants his soil healthy and full of life—from microorganisms like nematodes, protozoa and mycorrhizal fungi working unseen below the earth to the beneficial insects and livestock above.


Twenty-Six Years Later: How One Kansas Farmer Became a Convert and Saved His Soil

Author: Amy Bickel | Published: May 21, 2018

Joe Swanson’s turning point came in 1991.

The Rice County, Kansas farmer had just bought a Plains Plow, with 30-inch sweeps and a shank in the middle. It was designed to undercut weeds while leaving residue on his fields.

The field looked beautiful the day he worked it. That changed overnight.

“We had a 3- to 4-inch downpour,” he said. “I drove by that field the next day and every furrow, every 30 inches, had washed out about 6 to 10 inches, however deep I ran that shank. It made me sick.”

He realized his erosion issues would continue if he kept tilling.

“I said, that is it. We’ve been no-till ever since.”

On a May morning, Swanson stood in that same field that converted him 26 years ago, talking to a group of farmers during a No-Till on the Plains field day. His mission is to eliminate erosion and rebuild soil health.

The journey, he said, hasn’t been easy. But Swanson sees changes across his fields. He uses fewer inputs. His soils are healthier.


Grow Life in the Soil

The need is critical to grow more life in the soil, and it starts by treating it as you would your own body.

Author: Raylene Nickel | Published: May 16, 2018

Soil is filled with living, breathing, hardworking creatures – it’s a natural commodity more important than any cash crop. When soil is alive, it’s teaming with macro- and microorganisms, ranging the gamut from highly visible beetles and worms to microscopic viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Each of these soil citizens provides a service to the healthful functioning of the broader community.

Having lots of healthy and diverse organisms in the soil creates a self-sufficient cropping system that becomes less dependent upon synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

The system itself produces fertility for robust plant growth, resistance to pests, and water-stable soil aggregates that enhance soil porosity to permit rapid water infiltration and to resist erosion.

In a nutshell, such a system produces resilient crops. In today’s uncertainty of climate, the need for plant resilience is growing more urgent by the day.



Forget Sustainable Farming — Regenerative Agriculture Is the New Frontier

Meet the innovative grazing expert profiled in “This Farm Is Medicine,” now streaming on Salon Premium

Author: Tom Roston | Published: May 4, 2018

“This Farm Is Medicine,” about Murray Provine, a businessman who turned to progressive farming after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, is another thought-provoking chapter in director Peter Byck’s “Soil Carbon Cowboys” documentary series, which is breaking new ground, getting the word out about the regenerative farm movement.

You can watch the full documentary “This Farm Is Medicine” on Salon Premium, our new ad-free, content-rich app. Here’s how

Salon spoke with Byck before, about “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts,” and here we talk about this brave new farming world with adaptive-multi-paddock grazing expert Allen Williams, who is featured in “This Farm is Medicine.”


Turning Desert to Fertile Farmland on the Loess Plateau

Soil is not just dirt but a living system with many important functions. Degraded soils impact on food production, erosion, and more, affecting the lives of people around the world. Restoration efforts in China, Zambia and other countries seek to reverse this trend.

Author: Richard Blaustein | Published: April 5, 2018

Around 3,000 years ago, farmers settled on the fertile Loess Plateau in western China, a region about the size of France. By the 7th century, the rich soils were feeding about one quarter of the Chinese population. But intense pressure on the land eroded the soil. By the 20th century, desertification had condemned the remaining population to poverty. “It was a desperate place,” says Juergen Voegele, an agricultural economist and engineer at the World Bank who first visited the region in the mid-1980s. But that would soon change.

Voegele returned in the 1990s to lead a major 12-year World Bank project to help restore dirt to healthy soils on a vast scale. “This was absolute desert. A few years later the whole thing came back,” he says. “We saw birds, butterflies, insects – the whole ecosystem began to recover. Even after hundreds of years of complete devastation, the seeds were still in the ground and things began to happen very quickly. We did not expect that.”

By 2009, and the programme’s end, approximately 920,000 hectares had been restored of the 65,000,000-hectare region in western China. But elsewhere in China and around the world, soils are still suffering.


Australian Scientist Urges Farmers to Take a Light Touch With Their Soils

Published: May 4, 2018

Curiosity about regenerative agriculture is growing and a field day drew an audience of more than 150 people to the Clinton Community Hall in South Otago this week.

The attraction was an address by Australian soil scientist Dr Christine Jones, whose research on restoring soil health has proven controversial among New Zealand soil scientists.

Jones introduced her audience to the concept of “light farming” – restoring carbon, organic nitrogen and biodiversity to agricultural soils through photosynthesis.

“Imagine there was a process that could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, replace it with life-giving oxygen, support a robust soil microbiome, regenerate topsoil, enhance the nutrient density of food, restore water balance to the landscape and increase the profitability of agriculture,” she said in a supporting scientific paper.

“Fortunately there is. It’s called photosynthesis.”


Beyond Organic: How Brands Can Be Active Players in Restoring Soil Health and Climate Change Mitigation

To boost sustainability, natural foods brands and retailers have focused on reducing energy consumption, using recycled and recyclable materials—but what about farms and soil? A partnership between small farmers and Annie’s has demonstrated what supply chain relationships could look like in a more sustainable, soil-friendly future.

Published: March 30, 2018

“Do you understand the barriers for the farmers and are you willing to help them?”

Erin Sojourner Agostinelli, Demeter

Part 1: Regenerative agriculture: an overview

Highlights from Erin Sojourner Agostinelli of Demeter:

  • Soil quality brings us the nutrition density we need in food.
  • Bringing regenerative agriculture into the industry involves finding resolution between two attitudes toward timing: You have to be patient and willing to deal with biological timing, but also satisfy the demands of the market, which may want products on shelves tomorrow.
  • Questions for brands to evaluate if you want to support regenerative agriculture: Do you know the farms where your ingredients come from; what are the steps you can take to help educate the farmer on the different certifications and tools available; do you understand the barriers facing the farmers and are you willing to help them? And if you can’t trace back where your materials come from or aren’t willing to influence or engage with the farmer, are you willing to go look for raw materials elsewhere and continually invest in your supply chain?

A Grass-Roots Movement For Healthy Soil Spreads Among Farmers

Author: Dan Charles | Published: April 9, 2018

In American farm country, a grass-roots movement is spreading, a movement to keep more roots in the soil. (Not just grass roots, of course; roots of all kinds.) Its goal: Promoting healthy soil that’s full of life.

I met three different farmers recently who are part of this movement in one way or another. Each of them took me to a field, dug up some dirt, and showed it off like a kind of hidden treasure.

“You can see how beautiful that soil [is],” said Deb Gangwish, in Shelton, Neb. “I’m not a soil scientist, but I love soil!”

“You can pick it up and it smells like dirt,” Bryce Irlbeck told me, as we stood in a field near Manning, Iowa. “You can go on a lot of arms in Iowa and the dirt doesn’t smell like dirt anymore.”

And in Pleasant Dale, Neb., Del Ficke was practically ecstatic. “Look at this! And the smell! It smells beautiful! It’s alive!”


New Research Says Grass Finishing Can Build Soil

Midwest research says AMP grazing produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than feedlot finishing.

Author: Alan Newport | Published: February 28, 2018

A new study from Michigan has boosted the case for adaptive multi-paddock grazing with data showing less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from grass-finishing cattle than from feedlot finishing.

When the researchers included soil organic carbon (SOC) in the GHG footprint estimates, finishing emissions from the adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) system were net negative 6.65 kg CO2-enteric per kg of carcass weight, compared with feedlot (FL) emissions of 6.12 kg CO2-enteric kg, which was aggravated by soil erosion, the authors reported.

Perhaps just important, I believe, is the fact their data shows increased soil organic matter from AMP grazing. Researchers showed a four-year carbon (C) sequestration average of 3.59 Mg C ha/yr in AMP-grazed pastures. The feedlot system showed a potentially small net loss of soil carbon, as you might expect.