Tag Archives: regenerative agriculture

Cover Crops and COVID

Change is hard, and COVID shows us again how adapting to a new regimen is necessary for human survival.

Conventional farming is another example. For decades, farms became more productive by adding more acreage, more equipment and more chemistry.

Conservation tillage may be the equivalent of mask-wearing, social distancing and immunization requirements during this pandemic. It’s tough medicine. It’s aggravating and inconvenient. And the older we are, the more reluctant we may be to embrace those new ways.

Walking in the woods, while often relaxing, is also a way to see how change is normal in nature. Fallen timber, once upright and vibrant, are now “nurse logs” for a host of microorganisms, fauna and flora that rely on the decay of carbon in the tree for new life in so many forms.

Cover crops are like nurse logs in that way. When the cover crop is eliminated, the residual top growth and decaying roots become organic matter, the life blood of other forms of life.

When soil becomes naturally healthy again, when no-till and cover cropping allow the myriad life forms to return, the crops grown in that improved soil will pay dividends.

regenerative agriculture | Re-Source

That’s why younger farmers are embracing new methods with gusto. Just as we old timers did in our day, the younger men and women are not afraid of hard work, nor are they afraid of change. They’re in it for the long haul, and they know their investment in cover crops and regenerative agriculture methodology will pay off for them and their children.

The great thing about regenerative ag is that it will also pay off for the rest of us…everybody up and down the food chain.

Transition to Cover Crops – Cornerstone to Sustainable Ag

Check out this video on YouTube – of Rich Clark, Field to Market’s Farmer of the Year in 2019. Rich is a fifth generation Indiana (Williamsport) farmer and his claim to fame is making conservation tillage and cover cropping into a full-time affair. The term for this type of ag – “regenerative”!

He began no-tilling and cover cropping only a decade ago, but said his first year with it (annual ryegrass) convinced him he was on the right track. He said after only one year doing a cover crop in corn, it produced the best average yield of his entire 7000 acre farm!

Since then, Rich has converted his entire acreage to cover crops. He’s gone all NON-GMO seed, which has given other farmers the incentive to try it too. Massive food companies like Dannon and Unilever contract with farmers like him to grow products sought by more and more people seeking food health and safety.

He said, “We have a diverse mix of crops and we have cattle. We are 100% non-GMO on all crops and we don’t use any starter fertilizer, fungicide, seed treatment or insecticide at all.”

One of his key practices is crop rotation, because it (and cover crops) contributes to a natural bonus of nitrogen into the soil. It also reduces weeds, interrupts the life cycle of pests and thus eliminates the need of pesticides. Here, from an article in the Sustainability Alliance website, Rick describes how he manages the rotation. “One-third of our farm is in a three-crop rotation – corn, soybeans and wheat. Another third is in a four-crop rotation – corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa for a nearby dairy. The remaining third is in transition to organic. We have just got approval for our first organic certified acres, which I’m very excited about.”

Among the outcomes of this switch to a Nature-oriented growing is that Rick says he spends LESS per acre than he used to…less on fertilizer and other chemicals, and less on equipment (he doesn’t need as much power so he sold off some of his more powerful tractors in favor of smaller ones, which saved him $35,000 in fuel in the past nine years!)

And the frosting on the cake…his choice to move to regenerative ag has him working with other customers who pay premium for non-GMO, locally raised crops and livestock,

Cover Crops – Part of a Hopeful Future

In the midst of a crisis that few alive have experienced, the future of agriculture is being debated while, on the ground, innovators are populating the debate with examples.

In the midst of a melt-down in commodity pricing, thanks to trade restrictions, historically low fuel prices and the pandemic, the future of the crop monoculture is teetering. Dan Towery, an Indiana crop advisor and soil conservation consultant said this yesterday: “The price paid to corn growers this year is between 25 and 50 cents below what it takes to break even.”

But in the next sentence, Dan said that those who have found their way to growing non-GMO, organic corn are getting a premium price for their product: about $12/bushel versus about $3!”

The era of “regenerative ag” has begun and because everybody says you should “start small”, it’s a model that brings hope: hope for better incomes, hope for a healthier soil, and hope for a loyal, local customer base that demands high quality and rewards it with patronage.

The next couple blog posts will outline some ways to start small, and will also point to those who started a decade ago and are showing how it can be applied equally to large scale farming.

But, at the bottom line, the common denominator is healthy soil, and doing agriculture in concert with nature. Once the tide is turned, away from conventional tillage and towards no-till and cover crops, the next steps will be done in stride with nature’s wishes, not ignoring them. For example, when the soil comes into balance, you need less equipment, fewer passes over the field, less inputs of fertilizer, herbicides and fungicides. With healthier soil, productivity will improve as costs are reduced. With less hours spent trying to break even, more hours can be spent starting new, profitable initiatives, driven more by local demand than by a broker hundreds of miles away.

The switch from conventional monocrop agriculture to something more diverse and more sustainable is not an overnight, “presto-chango” affair. But the nice thing is, the benefits can been seen in just one year, watching how cover crops begin to make a difference in how the soil feels and how the corn and beans respond.

Covering Cover Crops – Democratic Candidates Converge in Iowa – Get An Earful About “Regenerative Agriculture”

A story in the New Yorker magazine today is raising the national visibility about “regenerative agriculture”. https://www.newyorker.com/news/campaign-chronicles/how-an-iowa-farmer-used-the-campaign-stop-economy-to-push-climate-action-on-2020-democrats

In a nutshell, Lacona, Iowa farmer Matt Russell managed to attract a half-dozen of the 2020 Democratic contenders for president to his farm. His pitch…climate change is real and regenerative ag practices can do a bunch of things to mitigate some of the issues. No-till, and cover crops are part of the solution, and he said farmers need the federal government to invest in that future.