No-till and regenerative ag practices help farmers not only survive droughts but also improve profitability.Jason Bradley, president of Regener8ve Ag, Inc., organized a kind of seminar and movie screening on it late last year at the Alumni Centre in Olds — a town in central Alberta, Canada. Bradley served as MC for the event, called Striving For Common Ground – Soil Health. In essence, regenerative agriculture involves disturbing the soil as little as possible via no-till or reduced tillage practices. Cover crops are grown, thereby providing nutrients for the soil and chemical inputs are virtually, if not entirely, eliminated.
Proponents say that way, an ideal environment for biodiversity is created, including microbes and worms that benefit the soil. The emphasis is on growing nutrient-dense crops rather than simply increasing yield.“Regenerative agriculture is one of the best solutions to create ecosystem resiliency and drought tolerance for farmers and ranchers, not just in the biological sense, but also financial resiliency,” Bradley says. “Water use efficiency is increased and improves the producer’s chance to capture every drop of rain where it falls. Enhanced soil aggregation through sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide into soil carbon creates a sponge-like quality to the soil structure. Keeping the ground covered or armored with living plants and residue prevents excess moisture evaporation. Livestock integration creates higher functioning soil biology which increases the efficiency of water storage and use in the soil profile."During the event at the Alumni Centre, Bradley and several other speakers touted the benefits of regenerative agriculture. A Common Ground documentary was presented and a panel discussion on soil health was held."Here’s the question for today: how do we improve soil health through a regenerative agricultural lens to get to common ground?” Bradley asked during his introduction. “I think this is a place that we can talk today about what common ground is, these three things: profitability, soil health, nutrient density in food.”Bradley said over the last 50 years or so, great strides have been made to increase yields, allowing farmers to feed more people. But he argued that the use of chemicals, tillage and other practices, while improving yields, have actually hurt productivity, the soil and done little for a farmer’s profit.“Your soil should look like black cottage cheese,” Bradley says. “In every shovel of dirt it should be full of worms. I am not a believer in the fact that we need to be worried about feeding the world. We need to relearn how to feed ourselves and feed our neighbors.”However, fellow panellist Rob Saik, founder and CEO of AgvisorPro, an app that helps answer farmers’ questions, disagreed with that view. He said Canada is one of just seven areas in the world that grows more food than it consumes. As the world’s population expands, there’ll be more and more need for that food and Canada should do its part.Bradley wondered if there’s a way to balance those two goals. Saik also said while he understands the concern about profitability, many farmers now are obtaining $400 to $500 an acre, 10 times what farmers were obtaining many years ago.Also during the panel discussion, Bianca Parsons, executive director of the Alberta Food Processors’ Association and co-owner of a distillery business, promoted the province’s Made In Alberta program, urging people to buy local. Attendees were encouraged to participate in the Made In Alberta program.She admitted that isn’t always possible, and that many factors come into buying food, including price and religion. Parsons decried the national food taxation system, saying fish isn’t taxed to the same degree as other food is. She also said distillers, like her company, find it difficult to sell their product in other provinces.Panellist Mackenzie Fingerhut, a recent Olds College graduate, farms in northern Alberta. He pointed out it’s all very fine to try to make a living providing local food for local communities in some parts of the province, but he said that’s not easy up where he farms. The nearest community of any size is Fairview, with a population of about 2,500 people.A few farmers were given the opportunity to profile their businesses. One was Rick Kohut. He and his wife operate a 1,300-acre mixed farm growing organic livestock feeds, organic grains, ancient grains, grass-finished beef, forage-finished beef, lambs and some pumpkins and squash. They also operate a business in Olds; Health Street Wellness, a natural health food and wellness facility.Kohut says too much of farmers’ income is going to pay chemical companies, fertilizer companies, banks, fuel companies and others. He says the agriculture business has been “hijacked by the globalists.” As a result, he says farmers have been “forced to produce large quantities of industrial commodities for export, not just food to nourish their communities.”Kohut also says another problem is too much government intervention in the economy, including through regulations.“Our primary values now are soil health, human health, community health and independence,” Kohut says. "That’s why I’m excited about this regenerative ag thing, because it’s all about reducing those input costs and making better use of everything and at the end of the day, producing food, not industrial commodities.”Joell Friesen and his wife Nicole, who, along with their kids, farm 140 acres near Bergen, also profiled their Ear To Earth farm. The family recently moved back to Canada after working on a regenerative agricultural project in Senegal, in west Africa. They decided to use what they’d learned in Canada.“Our desire is to connect people back to their communities, to creation and to their creator by growing and supplying wholesome, nutrient-dense produce, along with pastured meat and poultry,” Nicole says. "We want to be good stewards of our land entrusted to us and we want to utilize it in ways that can help our community. We farm holistically, knowing that every decision that we make will affect the farm and every individual in our community and our environment.”Craig Cameron who operates Peony farms, a regenerative agricultural operation producing piedmontese beef near Lacombe with his wife also spoke. Cameron says he and his wife were inspired to switch to regenerative agriculture after their daughter was born with special needs. They wanted to provide her with the most nutrient-dense food they could from their own farm.
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