Regenerative agriculture is a global farming revolution with rapid uptake and interest around the world. Five years ago hardly anyone had heard about it. It is in the news nearly everyday now. This agricultural revolution has been led by innovative farmers rather than scientists, researchers and governments. It is being applied to all agricultural sectors including cropping, grazing and perennial horticulture.
In previous articles we have described how regenerative agriculture maximizes the photosynthesis of plants to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to increase soil organic matter. Soil organic matter is a good proxy for soil health, as it is important for improving fertility and water capture in soils, thus improving productivity and profitability in farming.
Many regenerative farmers sow their fields with mixtures of plants just to capture carbon dioxide to improve the levels of soil organic matter. These are called cover crops and are distinct from the cash crop. The cover crop builds soil fertility. The cash crop earns an income.
Pasture Cropping—the No-kill, No-till System
Australia has many innovative regenerative farmers. The two farmers below are pioneers of a cover cropping system called pasture cropping. This is where the cash crop is planted into a perennial pasture instead of into bare soil. There is no need to plough out the pasture species as weeds or kill them with herbicides before planting the cash crop. The perennial pasture becomes the cover crop.
This was first developed by Colin Seis in New South Wales. The principle is based on the sound ecological fact that annual plants grow in perennial systems. The key is to adapt this principle to the appropriate management system for the specific cash crops and climate.
The pasture is first grazed or slashed to ensure that it is very short. This adds organic matter in the form of manure, cut grass, and shed roots into the soil to build soil fertility and to reduce root competition from the pasture. The cash crop such as oats is directly planted into the pasture.
Image courtesy of Colin Seis
Here’s Colin Seis’s own description of pasture cropping:
“A 20-hectare (50 acre) crop of echidna oats that was sown and harvested in 2003 . . . This crop’s yield was 4.3 tonnes/hectare (31 bushels/acre). This yield is at least equal to the district average, where full ground-disturbance cropping methods were used.”
“This profit does not include the value of the extra grazing. On Winona, Colin Seis’s farm, it is between $50–60/hectare because the pasture is grazed up to the point of sowing. When using traditional cropping practices where ground preparation and weed control methods are utilized for periods of up to four to six months before the crop is sown, no quality grazing can be achieved.”
“It was also learnt that sowing a crop in this manner stimulated perennial grass seedlings to grow in numbers and diversity, giving considerably more tonnes/hectare of plant growth. This produces more stock feed after the crop is harvested and totally eliminates the need to re-sow pastures into the cropped areas. Cropping methods used in the past require that all vegetation is killed prior to sowing the crop and while the crop is growing.”
Image courtesy of Colin Seis
“From a farm economic point of view, the potential for good profit is excellent because the cost of growing crops in this manner is a fraction of conventional cropping. The added benefit in a mixed farm situation is that up to six months extra grazing is achieved with this method compared with the loss of grazing due to ground preparation and weed control required in traditional cropping methods. As a general rule, an underlying principle of the success of this method is 100 percent ground cover 100 percent of the time.”
Other benefits are more difficult to quantify. These are the vast improvement in perennial plant numbers and diversity of the pasture following the crop. This means that there is no need to re-sow pastures, which can cost in excess of $150 per hectare, and considerably more should contractors be used for pasture establishment.
Pasture cropping is one of the best ways to increase soil organic matter. The fields are covered with photosynthesizing leaves all year, capturing CO2, which are deposited deep into the soil by the roots of perennial cover crops. Dr. Christine Jones has conducted research at Colin Sies’s property showing that 168.5 tons of CO2 per hectare (170,000 pounds/acre) were sequestered over the course of ten years. The sequestration rate in 2009–2010 was 33 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year.
This huge addition of soil organic matter has stimulated the soil microbiome to release the minerals locked up in the parent material of the soil, dramatically increasing soil fertility. The following increases in soil mineral fertility have occurred in ten years with only the addition of a small amount of phosphorus:
A soil comparison between Colin Seis’s farm (Winona) and a nearby property shows significantly improved soil carbon levels in areas that have been pasture cropped. 10cm = 4 inches. Image courtesy of Dr. Christine Jones.
The Soil Kee System
An excellent example of the development of pasture cropping / no-till no-kill is the Soil Kee, which was designed by Neils Olsen.
First the ground cover/pasture is grazed or mulched to reduce root and light competition. Then the Soil Kee breaks up root mass, lifts and aerates the soil, top-dresses the ground cover/pasture in narrow strips, and plants seeds, all with minimal soil disturbance. The seeds of the cover/cash crops are planted and simultaneously fed an organic nutrient such as guano. The faster the seed germinates and grows, the greater the yield. It is critical to get the biology and nutrition to the seed at germination and to remove root competition.
A perennial pasture a few days after the Soil Kee was used to break up the root mass and plant the seeds of the cover crop.
Pasture cropping is excellent at increasing soil organic matter/soil carbon. Neils Olsen has been paid for sequestering 11 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (11,000 pounds/acre) per year, under the Australian government’s Carbon Farming Scheme in 2019. In 2020, he was paid for 13 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (13,000 per acre) per year. He is the first farmer in the world to be paid for sequestering soil carbon under a government regulated system.
Niels Olsen with a multispecies cover crop of legumes, grasses, and grains for livestock. This mix grows strongly in mid-winter. Cereals, pulses, and other cash crops can be planted into the pasture to produce high-value cash crops.
Regenerative agricultural systems such as cover cropping and pasture cropping are radically changing the conventional approach to weed management. They have shown that the belief that any plant that is not our cash crop is a weed and needs to be destroyed is no longer correct. The fact is that plant diversity builds resilience and increases yields, not the other way around. The key is developing management systems that change competition from other plants into mutualism and symbiosis that benefit the cash crop.
Multispecies cover crops produce more biomass and nutrients than single-species monocultures. In the example of the Soil Kee system, the amount of stock feed is more than double the usual perennial or annual pastures in the district.
Variations of these systems are being developed all the time and are being used very successfully in horticulture, grazing and broadacre agriculture. To quote Colin Seis, “as a general rule, an underlying principle of the success of this method is 100 percent ground cover 100 percent of the time.”
Andre Leu is the International Director for Regeneration International. To sign up for RI’s email newsletter, click here.
https://regenerationinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/Soil-Kee.png15162028Andre Leuhttps://regenerationinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/RI-Logo-New.pngAndre Leu2021-03-15 06:01:222021-04-07 04:54:29Pasture Cropping—The Innovative No-kill, No-till System Developed by Australian Farmers
Watch the video interview, or read the transcript below:
Robb: Will we did it right on time. How are you doing?
Will: I’m doing great, how are you?
Robb: Good. Luckily Nikki was here to walk me through the setup. They figured out this thing we have to Daisy chain things through zoom to YouTube to the Healthy Rebellion. And so a little bit of technical stuff to get it set up, but Will, it’s an incredible honor to have you on the Healthy Rebellion. White Oak Pastures has been in your family for over a hundred years? Could you talk a little bit about kind of the genesis story of how your family started doing what you continue to do today?
Will: I sure will. Thank you for having me as a guest today. The genesis of this farm is really my favorite topic. My great grandfather came here in 1866. He was a farmer, he had 50 miles from here. He was an officer in Confederate cavalry. He lost his farm in the war effort. He was very fortunate he had an uncle, who was medical doctor here in Bluffton, Georgia where we are right now, he started my great grandpa over here in 1866. He farmed throughout his life. His son, my grandfather, Will Carter Harris farmland. His son, my father Will bill Harris farmland, now is under my watch. I have two daughters and their spouses who were here very integrated into the management of the farm. And they’ve had three babies in the last three years. So we now have six generation here, although the sixth generation has not contributed.
Robb: Not yet.
Will: Not yet. But what I do enjoy most is how in that five or six generations, 150 years, the farm came full cycle from a way, my great grandfather and grandfather did the farm for all these years, which is very focused on the animals, the land, the local community. And my father, post world war II industrialized commoditized, centralized production, again, a monoculture of only cattle and now we moved back to production system over the last 45 years. That’s remarkably similar to what my great grandpa and grandpa.
Robb: Right, which is so fascinating. And Will, it’s interesting because there’s a zillion questions I want to ask you. Just the topic of animal inclusive agriculture is a really hot button thing these days. Like part of the reason why the Healthy Rebellion was formed is that Google took a very askance view of the things that we talk about and they’re not real big fans of kind of ancestral eating and the notion that regenerative food systems should and in fact must potentially include animals, and that it needs to look much more akin to what we were doing a hundred years ago, than 50 years ago. And it’s interesting to me. How did your family shift, what was kind of the impetus initially to adopt more of this industrial agriculture type system? And then what was the impetus for shifting back to this regenerative process?
Will: Good. So world war II was a game changer, in almost every aspect of production. Ammonia to fertilize was actually invented in the 1880, late 1800s, but nobody could afford it. It was not until the repurposing of the world war II munitions plants, that Ammonium fertilizer became cheap. So, that was a real game changer. I’m doing a lot of stories about that. If people farm knew, it’s because again internal combustion equipment was slow to be accepted, it was expensive. The guys left the news in Georgia with the European theater and drove trunks. They came back with only trucks, the first pesticides was Triple V, came from the nerve gas effort. And I would just go on and on there because it was the only hybridized seed became a thing during that period.
Will: And Europe was starving. There was a desperate need for cheap, abundant, safe food. So all these tools that world war II had provided and that desperate need, it was like a perfect storm. And my father’s generation took advantage of that. And it was wildly successful. It made food obscenely cheap and wastefully abundant and boring with consistent. And it came with unintended consequences that fell on the backs of a wildfire, the animals and the degradation of the land and the water and the impoverished rural America. So let me give the consequences of [inaudible 00:26:03], something we talk about a lot. My father was dead, I never asked him how he felt about making those changes. I suspect he was excited about it, and I suspect that all of the benefits were so obvious and the unintended consequences that were undesirable consequences were not obvious. So it was something to do and almost everyone did it. It wasn’t one or two guys industrialized, the whole generation industrialized, commoditized.
Robb: Will, so you’ve kind of alluded to this already. There were unintended consequences and this is where good ideas always go sideways. People are always trying to innovate, people are always trying to help folks. Even if the bottom, people can be cynical and say, “Well, it’s all profit driven and really at the end of the day, if you don’t figure out something that’s worth selling, then it’s kind of hard to make anything work.” But I mean, to your point, like people taking enormous pride in the work that they do and I think within farming and ranching communities, like that work ethic and ethos is kind of like, it is the soul of these folks, and taking pride in the fact that they feed the rest of the world, like that’s amazing stuff. Like that’s really incredible. Where did the industrial system go wrong? Like what are the cracks in that facade that looked amazing and maybe carried us through for a certain period of time. And then what are the failure points in it?
Will: That is a great question and it’s so obvious to me in the rear view mirror, at the time you couldn’t know but now-
Robb: Which I just want to pause on that real quick and we’ll come back to this because we’re facing a bunch of decisions that people are wanting to do today and having no discussion about unintended consequences. So I just kind of want to bookmark that so we can come back to it. Sorry to interrupt. Yeah.
Will: No, no, no problem. I so clearly see now in retrospect having been here generationally through this, I clearly see what went wrong and here it is. So we talked a lot about the difference in a complex system and a complicated system. This computer is complicated, there’s a lot of things going on in there to make it work. Your body is complex, there’s a lot of things making it work. In a complicated system, if one component ceases to operate, it’s game over, it just stops. In a complex system like your body or the federal government or whatever, when one component ceases to operate, to operate properly, everything else moves, and the system continues to operate after fashion. Now, reductionist science works beautifully in complex systems. That’s how we built computers, and put people on the moon, and there and there, very linear.
Will: It is hardly flogged in complex cyclical systems which is why we have drugs that we think are going to save humanity, and then we pull them off the market. It’s applying a reductionist science to accomplish. Well my father’s generation and mine, I’m not going to leave anything on my father, I was more industrial than he was when I came out of University of Georgia in 1976, but my father’s generation and my generation applied reductionist science to one of the most complex systems in the world, which is operating a farm mold of a very complex farm, and it just resulted in incredible unintended and undesirable consequences. And it took 75 years for them to start to surface. And then when they did start to surface, it was real obvious why that happened.
Robb: And I imagine also the inertia of shifting to a different system. And then as these problems come up, you probably could try to double down on what you’ve always done, try to re intensify that application of technology to try to solve that problem. And it is that kind of the route that you folks took initially just trying to figure out ways within that kind of linear thinking a reductionist model to try to solve the issues that were popping up. And what were some of the specific issues I would guess like soil erosion and loss of kind of peripheral biodiversity, but what were some of the issues that popped up and what were some of the strategies that you tried initially before possibly shifting to a more regenerative approach?
Will: Well, that doubling down is still occurring. Not only is there this momentum of moving into more and more and more technology that comes from reductionist science. Not only we use stay, have that just basic momentum, but also even more importantly, don’t forget there are a lot of huge, powerful multinational companies making a lot of money in perpetuating the system. Whether it’s the pharmaceutical companies, the patrol companies, insurance companies, equipment manufacturing companies, big food, commodity companies, on and on and on. They just so many people making so much money that has all kinds of reasons to ignore these independent gospels and keep doing what we do. And that’s where we are with that.
Robb: Right, right. Will, what was then the impetus? I mean some folks are making a go of it still in the industrial food system. Clearly like you’ve alluded like some of the biggest entities in the world, good corporations that really wield more influence and power arguably than like national governments are in control of our food system. Those folks are still making a go of it. We both are probably on the same page that there’s an expiration date on that. But what was the impetus for you folks to shift in… It seems like not just swimming upstream, but it seems like being a tiny leaf trying to swim up upstream in this story. Like what was the kind of genesis for you folks shifting gears and really doing something that seems crazy from the outside compared to the way that things are typically done?
Will: Well, for me it was a very personal decision. It started out, and it’s evolved over the last 25 years. As I alluded to earlier, I was a very industrial cattleman. As much as anybody I know, maybe more than those, probably more than those. Probably because I was so extreme, it made me notice the unintended consequences that were occurring? If you drank a fifth of whiskey every night, you’ll fix [inaudible] alcohol more if you drink-
Robb: A shot.
Will: A shot, sorry. I was the guy who was really very, very heavy handed. So I started noticing the things, and unintended consequences and it started out purely an animal welfare issue. I focused on the fact that really my animal welfare, which I would vehemently defended to you, is not very good because I was not allowing the animals to express instinctive behavior. Confined with animal production does not allow the expression in instictive behavior and that’s poor animal welfare. So started I moving in that direction with my animal. And that led me to focus in on the way and the fact that I ceased to put steroids and antibiotics and unnatural feedstuffs in my animals, but I was still putting chemical fertilizer and pesticides because of ablation on my life. So I started moving away from that and that led me to this real focus on the locally wounded economy, this is what I’m passionate about. So it’s an evolution.
Robb: Interesting. So it’s interesting though, like you saw a need to address the needs of the animals first, and then I would assume that you started seeing some improvements, but then started seeing limitations with the way the land itself and the grass and that interface was occurring still under more of the industrial model.
Will: Yes, that’s exactly right. One thing led to the next. It was all connected, it’s all cyclical, so all that together. And while that evolution’s going on over a 40-year period, there was a business evolution that was required. So when we changed the way that we produced our animals allowing them to express the sticky behavior cows is far less stress on the animals and animals do better. I needed to, but it really costs me more to do it because I was giving him space and time and labor. So I needed to extract more value from them than I could by dumping them into the commodity market. So we started marketing our own beef and by that time it was a monocultural cattle only. And that led me to feel processing because I couldn’t get to be processed, and that led me to a marketing effort so I could get it moved.
Will: So that was a whole another set of reactions that were sort of out changes. And I need to say this right now, because I’m very proud of it. From an economic perspective for the community, I moved from having three middle wage employees, having 160 something employees and our employees made twice the County average last year. So that’s when we talked about the re enrichment of rural America, that’s what we call them. And that by the way, that was an unintended consequence. I never ever said, “I sure would like to try to bring some black package down.” That didn’t happen. The fact that we have moved our, what we actually call them sink in terms of… That was an unintended consequence costly, but I never say it. I believe I can help litigate climate change, I know how. So in the same way that Harlem was doing with unintended consequences, now good things are happening with unintended consequences.
Robb: So our world is a wash with unintended consequences. We’ve seen some examples of where it’s gone unfavorably for us and favorably for us. Do you have any sense of what is a way that we can make decisions so that we can at least hope that the likelihood of the knock on consequences are liable to be more favorable than unfavorable? Like I would go out on a limb and say trying to think about the way that nature works and things like that, or maybe a leg up in that regard, but what is a way that we could just do decision making at large that would better inform our ability to get the desired result that we’re gunning for? And then all the peripheral things maybe being supportive or at least not negative the way that we’ve seen with like a reductionist approach to medicine as well as the food production system?
Will: The only solution I could offer is white Oak Pastures on farm is a savory hub. I usually say risky. So we practice, teach and a study holistic management. And I don’t profess to be a teacher of the that, I’m a student of that. But for us all decisions, we’re very imperfect, let me be clear on this. We try to be inclusive of all the ramifications of our decisions rather than be in so very linear Western [inaudible] straight line in the way that we operated for two generations follows an [inaudible]
Robb: Interesting. Interesting. You know as we started this thing in, I kind of alluded to the fact that there are like just the topic of animal inclusive agriculture is a controversial one these days. Like on social media outlets, folks are finding that they’re being shadow banned, folks will post pictures of processing animals or even finished meals and they find that their posts are taken down or their beaches mitigated. And this is largely falling upon folks like you that are in… And whenever I say a small scale operation, it’s so ridiculous because running a farm of any size, it’s such a huge job. So I wish we had a different term versus small scale, but at the end of the day, they’re not the huge conglomerates and so it’s considered to be a small scale operation.
Robb: But I kind of feel like these folks are kind of getting picked off one by one, and kind of marginalized. And how do we do a better job of, couple of questions on that. How do we help support these folks in a better way? And then, what would the implications be for just rural communities at large and the kind of economic infrastructure, if we could figure out a way of making this, for lack of a better term, more mainstream, making this alternative more the mainstream to fault mode?
Will: Now a couple of great questions, kind of wrap it up I’m going to have them separately. So first of all I do not profess to be an expert on anything except the area, but I will claim expertise to speak with authority in three areas. Those areas are humane animal welfare, regenerative land management, and the re enrichment of rural America. When we start talking about nutrition and nutrient density and food health and food safety, and flavor, I’m neophyte. But I’m going to just talk just a minute because you brought up about the regenerative land management. And I tell you with authority there is no cost effective way to regenerate the land large scale without animal agriculture. That is so misunderstood, yet so clear to me. If the naysayers about animal aren’t going to just stop and look and listen and see how the great ecosystems of the world evolve. It’s with healthy soil full of microbes feeding plants.
Will: It’s herbivores moved by carnivores, what we’re talking about, they re feed the microbes in the soil there, extra money. It’s a beautiful cycle and it’s how we got all that oil on the ground and all that coal in the ground, all that natural gas in the ground came from this system. We’re going back to dinosaur, trinasaur tricks chase moving hellacious dinosaurs or buffalo via moved by timber wolves or caribou being moved by polar bales or gazelles being moved by lions. The great ecosystems of the world evolve with animal architecture. All that karma, they’ve been greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, they’ve been pulled down and sequestered through photosynthesis and the herbivores are an essential part of that photosynthesis thing that those plants need to be clipped off, excellent drop back down. So they continued to pull carbon into the reach of the soil. That’s how all that problem got down there. And for uninvolved people to think that they can get that effect without a central component of the system that put it by on, it’s just so wrong. So herbivores are not destroying the earth, herbivores are part of the solution. That’s been scientifically proven by Quantas on White Oak Pastures.
Robb: Right. Did you talk about that a little bit, please. That lifecycle analysis that occurred and let folks know what a life cycle analysis is.
Will: Okay. So I am an expert in dealing with soil. I am not an expert in measuring soil, but I’ve learned a little bit about it and a customer of ours… So product to epic is more by General Mills, general Mills was concerned about some of the claims that was being made by the ethic people about regenerative land management. So they agreed to pay for an $80,000 study to be doing on all our farm, third party environmental engineering company from Minneapolis Minnesota called Quantas. And that’s important Quantas. So the people from Quantas came to white Oak pastures via all kinds of scientific testing to loosen the time, we had provided the data on how much hue we use, how much electricity, how much… to get the equation right.
Will: And they determined that for every pound of beef I produce at White Oak Pasture, we sequester three and a half pounds of carbon dioxide in the pasture. We are a carbon sink that is helping to mitigate climate change. So that’s what the LCA is coming, that’s the name of the study it’s called a life cycle assessment, being peer reviewed right now. All right, now here’s where it gets, you can’t make this crap. Possibility Impossible Burger has been super critical about Dr. Brown, who’s the CEO and is super critical about regenerative farming practices, he was literally attacked. So you’ve used a coach like me that practice this kind of argument, literally very personally attacked.
Will: Also had Quantas do a lifecycle assessment for them, and in the same time for me. And it shows scientifically that for every pound of Impossible Burger that they create, they generate 3.5 pounds, for [inaudible]. It’s incredible like we’ve the same environmental engineering firm, and it’s exactly the same amount, was in mine. If you want to be breakeven with your carbon footprint, every pound Impossible Burger you eat, you got to eat a pound of ours, but not just one, the actual pound properly raised from me or Gay Brown or Spencer Smith or Greg Gunthal or somebody in this field, so you can’t make that up. So we’re very proud of that. And we had that study doing it did not, nothing in it is surprised me, I’m not. I certainly couldn’t quantify it or validate it, but I mean it was an unintended consequence of improving the land, I can see that improving the land.
Robb: Right. And I guess also peripheral to that you would figure it out a way of having a decent economic situation both for yourself and your employees and your local community. So talk a little bit about that. Like I’m not a farmer, I’ve raised some goats and sheep before, I’m a novice at that stuff. Even the little bit of work I did with that though, the area that we lived in, Reno had been horribly mistreated, the two acre pasture there that we had. And with a knuckle heads application of holistic management with some goats, it was transformed in three years. I mean like shockingly. So if I actually knew what I was doing, it would have probably been that much better.
Robb: My understanding of farming in general is that it tends to be a very debt driven process, there’s a lot of weird subsidies that kind of keep the current system afloat. Like how do you exist in almost like a soap bubble in this story and operate in such a different way. And what does it mean for you kind of economically and yeah.
Will: Thank you for asking that question. That may be the most important question of the day because from the perspective of all of those other farmers that I listed, they leave for me to pay you this as far as saying that my timing, which was purely accidental and those are beyond perfect. No skillful reduction on my part happened to be just right. And I was also blessed that I am here to the bios makers of [inaudible 00:51:31] fall land, because I didn’t have any money, but I had assets that I could leverage and I did. How? Open with volume, some half a million dollars and bill processing facilities and a big infrastructure support what I did and it worked for me financially. I say worked for me for financially, our return on investment, and my account of friends think is horrible and they’re right. But it’s for me, and it’s fun and I’m happy with it. But had I that today instead of 20 years ago I would have gone broke.
Robb: Oh really?
Will: Yes. That’s the important takeaway here. Please listen to me. My company is still profitable, but it’s very, very certainly profitable. We went through a period of time two years ago, which we had a very reasonable return on assets. It was a pretty good business. The company today is a butter company, one of the company I meant to fall. The company today is a better company than it was 10 years today, our product is better, our people are better, our systems are better, the land is better, everything is better, except our margins. Our margins are what we’ve sold or sell, and our volumes about the same, I should say that, but our margins have crunched. And the reason the margins have crunched is over the last five or 10 years, five years, like big multinational companies have focused on the fact that this niche as profit, so they have green washed their product. And the best example of that is, if you know you can bring grass fed beef into this country that was born, raised and slaughtered in Australia, and sell it as product of the USA in the grocery store, legally.
Robb: Because like pork and beef are kind of the only things that don’t have a country of origin stamp on it. Right?
Will: They don’t [inaudible], they don’t. And not only do they not have stamp on them, the rule is horribly misleading. It can literally say, and it does, product of the USA, when the animal never drew a breath of air in the United States, came over here in chilled cargo container from Australia. And the reason is there’s a USDA rule, a rockaway, fraudulent flies in the face of what the consumers think they’re getting. Because USDA rule says that if value is added in this country, it’s a product of USA. So that Australian or New Zealand or Uruguayan cow or heard can be brought here, and if they cut it or grind it or repackage it is a product of USA.
Will: So those and there are other activities, like the multinational companies disclaiming, you know they’re buying little grass fed companies en masse so they can use that label. [Inadible]. But they are cheapening the product and the consumer never knows. And that is called… I transitioned from being the guy that feels young follows you all to consumer moving to your farm from the industrial commodity practice to more at what we do, which is like in five years, to me now saying, “You know Kyle, I really don’t know if you can afford to make that transition or not because the economics change.”
Robb: That’s crazy. This is something that I really wasn’t aware of. Like I’ve stayed on top of a lot of this stuff as a reasonably well informed consumer and somebody that’s interested in all this. And the crazy thing is any time you typically see improvements in technology and production and efficiency, we see a better product and typically some better margins for the producer. But in this scenario we’ve just managed to get the fact that this is a valuable item on the radar of the big players and then they’ve found kind of an end run around this process. Why is it that we can bring meat from out of country and ship it on a container ship and it’s still cheaper than what can be done here. Is this like a reflection of some of the labor laws and things like that, that we have in the United States that makes kind of the backend production of this more expensive to offset all of that other infrastructure that we see that doesn’t exist in other countries?
Will: I really cannot tell you why a grass fed beef can be raised cheaper in Australia or in Hawaii or New Zealand than it is in United States. I can’t tell you that, I have not been there and I’ve never visited those countries, never studied those systems, I don’t know. But I do know that the fraudulent rules that we have for example, allows big multinational companies like JVS or Tyson or Perdue or Smithfield to shop for product anywhere in the world where they provide it the cheapest, and bring it into the best market in the world and fraudulent labor live out of the USA. And the only, this is so inconvenient and so hard and why I’m not real optimistic. The only way the consumer can protect themselves from supporting that system or prevent themselves from supporting that system is to know who they’re buying the product from on a more like personal basis.
Will: And the personal basis don’t mean you come to White Oak Pastures and meet us, that could do, when we build cabins and build a restaurant or a store to accommodate people coming here. But the good news is with the social media, you can know, you can see what’s on social media. If I could go there and look and dozens of people do go there per day, then you can have the confidence that the product produced by again Gay Brown, Spencer Smith, Greg Goofball, Alexandra farms in California, White oak Pastures here, is probably what is supportive to you.
Robb: Right. Will, I’m guessing that trying to change that law would be a pretty uphill battle to get that transparency. I’ve heard folks kind of wax eloquent about things like blockchain where you could have a impromptu terrible history of where products come from, and there’s some interesting facets to that. Like, how can we change this? Like what can we do to affect change on this front? Again, I don’t know. Like is it even in the realm of possibility to try to get this FDA rule changed, and if not what are some other options? Like the only thing that kind of occurs to me is the possibility of blockchain getting plugged into this food production system so that we know precisely where everything comes from. But I still don’t know how that would ultimately, it wouldn’t change the economics that are undercutting this process. Like we would know, okay, it’s coming from somewhere else, even though the FDA says something different, but I don’t know that it would really change the economics in a favorable way for folks like you and Spencer, the other folks doing what you’re doing.
Will: But blockchain will be my favorite, I’ve heard that word, I don’t know about it. You are right, your assertion that getting those rules changed. American Grass Fed Association, AGA they have tried extensively and for years to get that rule changed, officials on the network register all those things, there’s no amount of [inaudible], so anyway, in the short run, long run, something like blockchain, whatever that is may be great. But in the short term, you just got to know your farm. It’s a shame, and sadly I thought that the farm certifications would be the answer for us. My farms, the first farm, we got all the certifications on the lands, sort of out organic certified Humane American Fed Association approved, it was all non GMO and animal welfare approved. I can’t even keep up with them. We got all those checks.
Will: Global Animal Partnership, which I’m not a fan anymore, none of those are affected, I thought they would be. Well what happened is again the ability of corporate America to morph, we reached a point that you can get a certification or any program from any shade of gray from snow white to smart white the certification for you. And the consumer understand understandably, is hopelessly confused because they say, “Oh I mean, you’re certified. That’s fine.” And it’s really about that. There’s some certification are fine, some of them are not, and you have studied all of that if you go to the consumer.
Robb: Right, and the consumer doesn’t have time to do that at all.
Will: If all was already mapped out, the consumer certainly don’t.
Robb: Will, so it’s not crazy to suggest that the current industrial ag system has an expiration date on it. Like we would agree with that, right? Like there’ve been some numbers thrown out there that there’s like 60 harvests left and it’s kind of hard to figure out if that’s accurate, but we could definitely make a case that there’s all this unintended consequence that’s happening. All kinds of knock on problems that seem to be accelerating like destroying waterways, pumping up aquifers, like it’s just everything that went into the last 50 years of like kind of a blip in what seemed to be really efficient production is actually it was taking out a high interest loan and that interest has been accruing for 50 plus years and that compound interest does what it does, it starts growing exponentially in the problems are growing exponentially. The big players have got to know this, right? I mean the Cargills and Tysons, I mean they can’t be ignorant of the fact that we’re driving this thing at high speed towards a brick wall. Like even just out of informed self interest, are these folks going to have to pivot at some point or is it just drive the train into a brick wall and we’re going to eat Impossible Burgers on the way there like does that make sense?
Will: Yeah. I mean, if it does and there’s no doubt there is an expiration date, I mean you can’t borrow yourself out of debt so there is an expiration date. To answer your question about how long will big multinational stock companies, first of all, we need to call them efficient that or multinational stock company is no soul. It operates quota report. And the answer is we’ll continue to go with the direction it’s going and as long as the quota report looks good, and if it crashes and burns, it crashes and burns. How long did big tobacco tell people that cigarettes are fine, they’re fine. So there’s an expiration date. I frequently hear people say, “Oh, I’m so worried about what we’re to the earth, we’re destroying the earth.” Don’t you worry about the earth.
Robb: The earth will be here.
Will: She’ll be fine.
Robb: We may not be, but the earth will be fine.
Will: Exactly. So I’m not storing up cartridges and canned goods, but I spend all of my working hours making White Oak Pastures more stable so that whenever what happens, happens that will be in as good a shape as we can be. I really don’t like talking like that. I’m a little unusual in that I am one of the good old boys. They came to this for that. Most of the people in leadership in this kinder, gentler on the food production or not graduates of the old school farm. And I actually have talked to my friends and relatives who were involved in industrial commodity production and the constellation will go something like, “Well, what you do is fine, it’s fine, but you can’t feed the world like that.” I don’t know.
Will: I’ll have that discussion with you, but before we have the discussion, let first stipulate that the earth has a carrying capacity and we can’t continue to have more population, more consumption, more degradation and it’d be fine, and they don’t do that. They won’t say, “well no, this technology no, we stay the hell out of that.” If you push them you can say, “Okay. All right. You can’t go so many people in a phone booth. That’s okay, good, good. We agree on that. I would go here, and can say to you right now that if the limiting factor is laying. How many eggs are laid and we got confused, you have a boat production system right there. You and I will be more efficient, more productive.
Will: Because I can’t produce as much or way of using all of these outside input. But if the first thing we’re going to run out of is petroleum energy, I win, I don’t use as much as you. And if we’re going to run out of water, I wind, I don’t use as much you do. If we’re going to run out of antibiotics that the pathogens are not immune to, I win because I don’t do that. If we’re going to attempt to kill the ocean with plastic and phosphate and nitrogen that runs off, I win. And I can go through dozens of scenarios in which my production system is exponentially more resilient than the current industrial commodity centralized. But if it’s just land, they win. So I’m convinced that the system we operate in denial does not have resiliency and will end poorly.
Robb: I agree. I mean, I see a lot of parallels with the way that a Fiat currency economic system has been driven since early 1970s and it’s looked like we’ve had all kinds of economic growth, but maybe all of that type of stuff is borrowed time. But that all gets doomsday bunker and like you said, we’re not stashing cartridges and canned goods quite yet, although I’ve got a few of those around just in case. So we had the discussion in the Healthy Rebellion. Like Diana Rogers and I are working on this book and film project, Sacred Cow. And it’s been a really interesting process because there are some things that pop up, like if we had a little discussion about this via email exchange, when we really dug into the nutritional characteristics of pastured meat versus conventional meat, there wasn’t as big a difference as what we would like for telling a story.
Robb: Like if we kind of ignored what I feel like is some of the best information available, then we could tell a really nice cohesive story much the way that the folks kind of in the vegan camp, it’s like they’ve got a beautiful story. Meat gives you cancer, meat gives you diabetes, meat gives you heart disease, it destroys the planet, you’re unethical to eat it, mystery examples. Like it’s an elevator pitch on kind of a gut level, it’s like, Oh, that kind of makes sense. And then every one of these topics for us to unpack that is virtually a PhD dissertation to try to get in and give it some type of a nuance. And one of the frustrations that folks in the regenerative agriculture scene have had with folks like us is that when we highlight the fact that it’s better for the environment, pastured dairy is far more nutritious poultry is, like eggs are better.
Robb: It’s the only way that we could have a sustainable system that if we came back 5,000 years from now it would still be here and would still be moving forward. But for the small scale producer, that topic of kind of the nutrient benefits of pastured meat, that’s something that they really have to kind of hang their hat on and it’s not as strong a position as I think any of us would have liked to have. Like how do we navigate that? Like I almost feel like in some ways, I don’t know if at the end of the day the work that Diana and I are doing is helping us or hurting us. Like if we could just leave all that stuff somewhat oblique and in the background and we can kind of wink, wink, nod, nod and just kind of move forward. But I mean Will, how do we navigate that so that I’m not actually undercutting the ability for folks to do something similar to what you’re doing?
Will: Well the work that you have done is essential and we need it. And the reason is we need it, well you did it, we can’t do it by ourselves. When I first started in this business first I started trying to market my product to extract more, to get more for it so I can extract the increased costs production, I made all the claims that I thought you could reasonably make. Your option is healthier, safer, more nutrient dense, tastes better, whatever. And after a year or so in trying to sell my product, I realized that I was giving up all authenticity on doing that. So I literally had my daughter go through all our material and remove any reference to those things. Safety, health, density, flavor, all those things. There’s not of thing, we have a superior product I think we do. But what I know is we’ve all must look stupid in saying that.
Will: I can speak as a subsidiary, I can speak with authority, on land management, animal welfare and impoverished local community. If I have that look don’t see any in and discuss those things with Dr Pat Brown of Impossible Burger, the CEO of Cargill, Smithfield or JVs or whoever. But when I stand up, the 65 year old farmer with an animal science degree, a 50 year old animal science degree from University of Georgia and start talking about conjugated linolenic acid, Omega threes, Omega sixes, I’m excused, and I need you people to do that.
Robb: Well we’re doing what we can, but some days it’s interesting.
Will: Let me interrupt you [inaudible].
Will: So because I have had no experience in marketing or sales or advertise more of those consequence, I have found it very interesting on this journey to hear about how so many times, different things motivate different people who make a purchasing decision. And when we first started, as I told you, it was all about animal welfare. And I think that most of the people that bought my product in the late nineties, early two thousands did so because I could show them, I could demonstrate clearly to them that my animals had a better life and death than industrial products, and that, that sold us enough product that we successfully grew. And then this whole environmental aspect became a focus of many people. And I would say probably, maybe even more people. I think that movement is probably bigger than the animal welfare.
Will: There was this overlap to it and we were fortunate in that we could without question demonstrate that our system’s better for the land and the water and air and that sold some product, and now I hope that people will, you mentioned the economic monetary of all that you’ve been in. I hope that people will start to realize that when you buy from people like White Oak Pastures, Gay Brown, Spencer, Greg, these guys, you’re enriching rural America. When you buy from Impossible Burger or Tyson or Smithfield, JBS, you’re enriching Wall Street and Silicon Valley and multinational corporations that operate on a quarterly report, those of us operate generational.
Robb: I mean this should be a topic that if we could figure out how to spin it properly should kind of be a across the political spectrum, we should be able to get some buy in regardless of where folks play out on that. Like there should be something in this for virtually everybody, unless they’re just kind of a super dyed in the wool ethical vegan, that you’re never really going to have a meeting of the minds, but virtually anybody else and even thinking about things like national security and stuff like that. Like we’re facing this interesting situation with the expansion of technology and all these predictions that we’re not going to have any jobs. Like doctoring and lawyering looks like it’s going to be some of the first things to go away due to AI. I have a sneaky suspicion that the creativity and the kind of labor intensive elements of holistically managed food production, maybe one of the holdouts that in which this is where people work because it’s going to require a degree of creativity and the type of information processing that artificial intelligence is either never going to get or it’s going to be very far down the road.
Robb: But this like the revitalization of rural America and decentralizing our food production and our economic base seems like a massive, like a national security position. Like what do we do to get this on more folks radars and you know, people like Dan Crenshaw and some people that really get in and champion some topics like this.
Will: Well, this is a case study for me, to plow over the ground again, in the last 25 years, we have that’s like quadruple on almost triple, almost quadruple the amount of land that we control. But our labor force’s gone from three to 160. I mean, what do you mean? This is the law, White oak Pastures make the largest private employer in this County. Early County is the poorest County in the state of Georgia, and Georgia is not a big state. 159 counties,] this is the poorest. White Oak Pastures writes payroll checks over a hundred thousand dollars every Friday. So from the perspective, I really do hope that the next focus is own this re enrichment of rural America because A, it’s so bad and then B, it’s doing, and then this is not a North, South East West thing, this is a rural America.
Robb: Which is virtually all of America
Will: Yeah, because it is or should be so nonpartisan. I don’t think I’m a Republican or Democrat, I don’t like Republicans or Democrats. But this shouldn’t be partisan. I mean, who does not want to see rural America made a vibrant all of the economy again. Who’s against that? Other than the big multinational vegan. That’s what that would be.
Robb: Right, we’ve got our work cut out first. Like we will not run out of a job trying to crack this nut over the next 20 years.
Will: Yeah, Leave a little bit of difference in me and you in all that. You’re trying to save the world, I’m trying to save White Oak Pasture. So your job’s a lot better than my job but, but we’re on the same team going in the same direction.
Robb: Absolutely. And you know I would have very little of a leg to stand on were not for folks like you, Joel Salatin, Allan savory. It’s funny, like this idea of ancestral eating got on my radar in 1998. I was super sick, had some serious GI problems and this idea of kind of like a low carb paleo type diet got on my radar and I did it and researched it and it made a ton of sense. And then as I started thinking about it, like what are the kind of sustainability implications of this story? And just kind of in the back of my head, I was thinking this is the only way that you could have a food system that could last 5,000 or 10,000 years. Like it is the only way that you could do this. And but this again was an in 1998 and I’m not a farmer.
Robb: It was just an intuitive thing because I’m a little bit of a student of economics and stuff like that. So I had a gut level that this was really the way to go. But it’s only been the work of folks like you and the other people in this regenerative scene that now we have the beginnings of kind of, I guess a front to be able to push this narrative back and have a counterpoint to the industrial food kind of narrative. That is crazy that things like Impossible Burger, kind of the ultimate manifestation of like that this is supposed to be the savior of us all and I think the life cycle analysis for Impossible Burger, there was a caveat on it that was basically, if you wanted to make that process sustainable, you had to plug animals back in on the grain and legume production to be able to make that thing work which you alluded to that already. Well, Will, it’s been incredible having you on the Healthy Rebellion. Let me, I think I might have an outside question here.
Robb: Okay. Yeah. It looks like somebody is telling me you have to jump here to another appointment. Nope. Okay.
Will: I’m good.
Robb: Okay. You’re good. You’re good. Well, I do want to be respectful of your time, but what are some things that we can do to move this discussion forward? So clearly this ft to where we should have a burgeoning and expanding local decentralized food production system. It’s being stymied because of artificially cheap imports that are bypassing this country of origin stamp. Like what do we do to affect change like today and then whether it’s some things that we could have for goals, maybe like three to five years down the road to really start changing this?
Will: Well I know this is more frustrating or less frustrating. But I’ll tell you that the decision of whether or not there will be more of these farm is purely absolutely in the hands of the consumer. So I don’t know, this is not a sales pitch for White Oak Pastures. White Oak Pastures model is not super scalable. We’re probably about as big as we ever intend to be, believe me they’re [inaudible], but it’s highly scalable. It can be a White Oak Pastures or two or three in every ag County information. But it won’t happen, this is important, it won’t happen because of government regulation. It won’t happen because farmers just think, “Wow, I think I’ll go with that rich.” It won’t happen because big multinational companies won’t see it go there. If it happens, it’s going to be because consumers choose to support a White Oak Pastures. I wish I could tell you that there are tens of thousands across the country, there’s not, there’s dozens.
Will: But if consumers will support these kinds of farm, there’ll be another one, and another one, and another one. Farmers are entrepreneur, it wasn’t to survive and Billy will respond to the market demand. Today the market demand is for cheap commodity production. You’ve consumed the shift that demand in the model of window bear, you vote with your dollars, then consumers will drive this whole production to the forefront, or they can keep stumbling into big box stores and supporting a stock company that’s driven by quota report, which [inaudible] get to decide. When you decide which [inaudible] you got any consumables. I’m not real proud of that.
Robb: Well, Will thank you so much for the work you’re doing. And the sort of support that you’ve put into this whole regenerative ag scene. Remind folks where they can track you down on the internet and any other things that you can provide for folks to learn more about what you’re doing.
Will: Our website is whiteoakpastures.com. Oak single, pastures plural. Or my email address is willharris, my name Will Harris, @whiteoakpastures.com and yeah, I appreciate you having me on today, and I appreciate it the people who listen to us today.
Robb: Huge honor to have you on the show and I can’t wait to see you in real life here at some point.
Will: Please come to visit.
Robb: We’ll do it.
Will: We got cabins in our farm. We cook three meals a day, seven days a week. We have some employees, I love if you and your family… So you’ve got two little girls?
Will: Oh, I got, I got grown daughters that work in the farm. Hope you’ll come see us.
Robb: We’ll do it. I have a strong back and a weak mind so you can put me to work too, so.
Will: I will.
Robb: Okay, awesome Will thank you. Take care.
Will: Thank you.
Robb: Okay, bye bye.
Robb: Holy cat.
Nicki: Holy cats. That was good stuff.
Robb: I might need a smoke and a cup of coffee and maybe even a hug.
Nicki: That was really good stuff. Thanks everyone. I hope you enjoyed that interview. Please share this one. This one is one that needs to be shared far and wide. This message needs to get out there. As always, please subscribe to the podcast.
Robb: If you find some value. Let folks know about it.
Nicki: Remember to check out our show sponsor. Perfect Keto go to perfectketo.com/rebellion10 and use code rebellion 10 for $10 off your orders or $40 or more. You can go there and grab your salted caramel MCT oil powder, and then finally join us in the Healthy Rebellion. Go to join.thehealthyrebellion.com and now’s the perfect time to join in advance of the cars reset that we mentioned earlier, and we’ve got a lot of great stuff lined out for the rest of this year. So join.thehealthyrebellion.com. And that’s a wrap.
https://regenerationinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/4987064147_923e0b27a3_o-1170x789.jpg7891170Regeneration Internationalhttps://regenerationinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/RI-Logo-New.pngRegeneration International2020-04-22 10:47:382020-04-24 14:43:34Interview with Will Harris of White Oak Pastures