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Regenerative Farming: Getting Back to our Roots

Approaching our agricultural system on a smaller scale: local farms on land we know, producing goods for those within our communities, makes us put more thought and care into what we are growing and where it is going. Regenerative farming looks at our food system in a web approach rather than the linear fashion that is currently being used to run our industrial agricultural economy. Regenerative farming helps improve the health and quality of not only ourselves and who we are growing our goods for, but also the health of our land, water, wildlife, and soils for future generations.

Starting with the health of our soils is imperative. Since the industrial revolution, our agricultural system has prioritized quantity over quality. It takes more than five hundred years to create one inch of healthy topsoil. Through erosion, this nutrient-rich resource is currently being lost at a rate of ten to one hundred times higher than soil formation. If we want to continue to farm on our lands and provide for our families and our communities, we must care for the health of our soils.

There are five principles to improve and maintain soil health. These principles include 1. Armor soil: keeping the soil covered with a cover crop or plant residue. 2. Keep a living root: having roots grow in every season is crucial and can be done by integrating warm and cool season perennials. 3. Diversity of plants above and below ground: helps with pests, reduces disease, and promotes pollinators. 4. Minimize disturbance: reduce tillage so roots can establish waterways for infiltration and micro and macro flora and fauna can prosper. 5. Incorporate grazers onto your land: allowing for natural fertilizer to be input while also compacting plants in a healthy way to further armor your soil. Recently there has been a 6th principle added to soil health which is “knowing the context” of the land and user. These principles tie together farming and ranching into a symbiotic relationship that allows for higher carbon storage, improved water filtration and storage, reduced weed and pest pressures, increased biodiversity, reduced costs, and more. 

Healthy soil is similar to a healthy gut. Soils with a diversity of microorganisms help fend off a variety of diseases and pests and allow for healthy plant growth. A diversity of happy plants means you are able to use these crops in a variety of ways: feeding livestock, armoring soil, providing habitat for wildlife, consuming these goods yourself, and nourishing your community. When you eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods you accumulate a diverse microbiome in your gut. Allowing YOU to fend off a variety of diseases that can inhibit your health. Thus, healthy soil supports a healthy community. Not only is regenerative farming good for your gut- it’s good for your wallet as well. 

Implementing regenerative practices can cut the costs of production significantly by reducing synthetic substitutes like pesticides and herbicides, and implementing biological solutions such as rotational grazing practices. There are many types of grazing such as continuous, seasonal, deferred, and twice through. Rotational grazing is when grazers such as cattle, sheep, or chickens are rotated through fenced off paddocks on a piece of land while the other portions of your land are able to rest. A high stock density of grazers in a small area shocks the system, inputting nutrients, and armoring soil while feeding your livestock. Just as your animals must be fed, so does your soil!

By joining farming and agriculture once again, we can return to our roots…quite literally. Implementing these practices will help mend the relationships between our soils, waters, land, wildlife, and our communities. 

If regenerative farming interests you, the Gallatin Conservation District is hosting a “Rancher Roundtable” series monthly from March-June. Guest speakers Dave Scott (Highland Sheep Farms), Pete and Meagan Lannan (Barney Creek Livestock), and Sam Wyffles/Thomas Bass (MSU Extension) will be sharing the stories of their lands and regenerative practices. Admission is free and we encourage you to come with your own story so we can learn from each other about how to better our lands around us. Learn more at gallatincd.org or RSVP by following this link!

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