Book Review of Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country

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More people are learning about the importance of effective agricultural practices to improve land health. But many of those people have yet to make the connection between the vital importance of improving the carbon cycle. There may still be people arguing about the levels of CO2 in the air and what we should do about it, but when you start talking about carbon in the soil, most people are in agreement that increasing soil carbon levels creates a host of benefits.

In Grass, Soil, and Hope, Courtney White looks at the major issues facing humanity, issues like global hunger, water scarcity, environmental stress, economic stability, and climate change in the context of soil health. As agricultural producers we know how important soil health is. This is still a new concept for many folks who see soil as dirt that just needs some chemicals and you are ready to grow plants. What Courtney does in his title, Grass, Soil, and Hope, is make the linkages very clear between the soil (as a living medium teeming with life) and the grass that can bring so many positive ecosystem services that can resolve the intractable issues we face.

You may recognize some of the stories in this book, but there are many you may not have heard before. If you are interested in case studies of producers who are excellent examples of people improving soil health through no-till farming, composting, and livestock practices that improve natural habitat and biodiversity, as well as other practices like induced meandering and creative marketing to take the food produced from these practices to market at a price that pays the producer well, then you will find this book a treasure trove of ideas.

If you are not a fan of climate change arguments, you may want to skip the prologue in which Courtney makes the case for why we should care about CO2 levels. The chapters that follow have information for everyone on either side of the climate change issue. If you care about improved soil function and agricultural practice, that is the heart of this book (and the hope it brings to a burgeoning world population that needs more healthy food).

Stories of holistically managed ranches like the Sidwell’s JX Ranch and the work done by Gregg Simonds and Rick Danvir on the Deseret Ranch gives clear evidence of how improved livestock grazing practices can make a difference. Likewise stories about cover crop, no-till farming, and pasture cropping, as demonstrated by Dorn Cox, Gail Fuller, and Colin Seis, are all examples of how farming and ranching improves soil health and builds resilient landscapes.

What land practices does Courtney hone in on?

1)      Planned grazing

2)      Active restoration of riparian and wetland areas

3)      Removal of woody vegetation

4)      Conservation of open spaces

5)      No-till farming

6)      Building long-term resilience

More data would definitely be helpful to quantify which practices bring which results to encourage more agricultural producers to change practices and reap the benefits. As Courtney points out, no one is “immune” to the carbon cycle. We’d might as well understand it and use it to our advantage.

To purchase this book, visit http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/grass_soil_hope:paperback

 

 

Holistic Management Videos

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Here are a few videos we are using in our training programs. We thought it would be great to share with everyone interested in Holistic Management. You can find more videos on the HMI Youtube channel.

Biological Monitoring

For those practitioners who are interested in using the Holistic Management Biological Monitoring process to assess the ecosystem health of your land, this video is a quick explanation of some of the soil health indicators to look for and what they mean.

Plant Litter Explained

When agricultural producers are looking at litter cover on the ground to determine the rate of biological decay and the health of the mineral cycle on their land, they may be confused about the different stages of litter (plant material laying on the ground) and how to classify if on their Holistic Management Biological Monitoring data sheets. This video gives a brief explanation of what to look for and how to analyze litter.

Holistic Cropland Monitoring

Holistic Management Cropland Monitoring can help crop producers easily determine soil health from observing the soil health indicators on their cropland. This can be done in conjunction with soil sampling and testing. Watch this video to learn more about how to observe those indicators in the field.

Join us at the Ross Farm in Texas

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We are excited to announce another day out on the land as part of our Open Gate learning series. This time, we are heading to the Ross Farm in Granger, Texas.

Ross Farm Cows, Holistic Managment in TexasDATE:  July 12, 2014
EVENT: Ross Farm Day
TOPIC:  Managing Land for Drier Times
LOCATION: Granger, TX
REGISTRATION STATUS: Open, Register Now

At the Ross Farm Day, you’ll…

  • See what fellow land managers are doing to maintain land health and profitability in a changing environment
  • Learn how to identify indicators of good soil health and how to harness nature to improve its condition
  • Practice effective land monitoring techniques
  • Discuss practical grazing strategies to improve water use and land production
  • Learn selection criteria for cattle that perform well on grass alone
  • Learn the cuts, processing and packing considerations for grass-fed beef
  • Hear how Holistic Management enables producers to better manage risk, make better decisions and enjoy the benefits of sustainable agriculture

We’d love to see you there!

 

HMI Publishes 2013 Annual Report

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We are pleased to announce our 2013 Annual Report is complete and ready to download.  2013 was and exciting year for HMI. We continued serving our community with existing programs like Beginning Farmers & Ranchers: Women in the Northeast and Texas and we rolled out new programs like our Open Gate Learning Series. These programs, as well as our other offers serve to motivate, connect support, and train farmers and ranchers through the practice of Holistic Management.Annual Report 2013_Page_1

Once of the most important aspects of our annual report is the opportunity to thank the many individuals and organizations whole support is the lifeblood of our mission and our community. We could not serve the sustainable ag community without their support. Please join me in thanking all of them.

And if you care about agricultural land health, the environment, local food systems, and supporting farmers and ranchers, please join these folks in making a donation today.

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Texas Beginning Women Farmer Program Results

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

HMI’s 2014 Beginning Farmers & Ranchers: Women in the NE & Texas program funded by the USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmer/Rancher Development Program, has been going full steam through the winter and spring with some states beginning to wrap up. The Texas program coordinated by HMI’s Program Manager, Peggy Cole, completed all 10 sessions by the end of February. Lead instructor was Certified Educator Peggy Sechrist and mentors for the program were Tracy Litle, Lauri Celella, Kathy Harris, Pam Mitchell, Lauren Bradbury, and Katherine Napper. We’ve been busy entering the data and crunching the numbers. For the full report, go to the HMI blog to read more. Here’s what we’ve learned from our 32 Texas participants who graduated:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADemographics

  • 22 are currently farming
  • The average years of farming was  4 years (range: 1 – 10 years)
  • The average acres under production was 253 acres under production (range: 0.5 – 1900 acres)
  • The average age was 52 years old (range: 28 to 67 years old)
  • The race the participants reported was: 21 Anglo, 2 Hispanic, and 1 Native American, and 2 other
  • The types of farm operations were as follows:

o   Cattle/Cow/Calf (13), Vegetable/Fruit/Produce (13), Poultry (4), Dairy (2), Lamb (6), Goat (1), Pecans (1), Hay (1), Sorghum (1), Aquaponic (1), Agritourism (2).

  • The total customers of all participants: Retail – Average 52 (total 623); Wholesale – Average  2 (total 19)
  • Increased net income as a result of this training 71%
  • Intend to keep farming 100%
  • Overall satisfaction with program 100%

If you a women farmer or rancher in Texas and are interested in participating in our 2014/2015 season, we are accepting applications until July 15, 2014.  Learn More

 Results

PARTICIPANT BEHAVIOR CHANGE

% of Participants 

Forged Relationships That Positively Impacted You

100%

Created a Land Plan

96%

Engaged in Biological Monitoring

96%

Created a Holistic Goal/Whole Farm Plan

93%

Created a Holistic Financial Plan

89%

Developed a Business Plan Outline

89%

Developed a Marketing Plan

86%

Created a Grazing Plan

79%

 

Post-Program Outcome Changes % of Participants ExperiencingImprovement
Satisfaction with Ability to Determine Needed Profit

96%

Satisfaction with Time Management

96%

Satisfaction with Quality of Life

93%

Satisfaction with Communication

93%

Satisfaction with Ability to Make Complex Decisions

93%

 

 

Post Session ImpactsParticipants Experienced the Following % of Participants
Human Resources
Better Ability to Determine Resources Available to You

100%

Improved Communications on the Farm

100%

Improved Decision Making

100%

More Efficient Use of Resources

96%

New Policies and Systems Implemented

96%

Better Relationships

96%

Increased Efficiency of Farm Chores as a Result of Land Planning

75%

Financial Resources/Business Management  
New or Improved Record Keeping Systems

96%

Enhanced Understanding of Your Farm Finances

96%

Improved ability to determine most effective enterprises

93%

Improved Ability to Prioritize Expenses

86%

Improved Strategies for More Effective Reinvestment in the Business

82%

Improved ability to discern most appropriate market channels

79%

Improved ability to effectively market products

79%

Improved Business Systems

75%

Greater efficiencies realized

68%

Improved ability to receive desired price for your products/services

71%

Reduced Farm Expenses

57%

Increased Farm Profits

43%

Increased Net Worth

43%

Natural Resources  
Improved Understanding of Your Farm’s Ecosystem

96%

Improved Environmental Conditions on Your Farm

89%

Improved Ability to Determine Appropriate Management to Address an Environmental Issue

86%

Achievement of Environmental Goals in Your Land Plan

85%

Improved Environmental Conditions as a Result of Land Planning

79%

Improved Ability to Manage Animals

75%

Desired Change in Species Composition

75%

Less Stress for Animals

75%

Enhanced Land Production as a Result of Land Planning

71%

Reduction of Overgrazed Plants

68%

Increased Forage Production

64%

Less Stress for Farmers

64%

Reduction in Feed Costs

61%

Improved Herd Health

61%

Longer Grazing Seasons

54%

 

Soil Carbon Cowboys

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I’ve just finished watching a 12 minute video  by Peter Byck. “Soil Carbon Cowboys” features Holistic Management practitioners Neil Dennis, Gabe Brown and Allen Williams.  This is one of the best videos I’ve seen that really shows what Holistic Management is all about, how it’s practiced and the benefits to the both land and  ranchers. I strongly encourage newbies to Holistic Management to take a look.

SOIL CARBON COWBOYS from Peter Byck on Vimeo.
You can read more about Neil and Gabe in our case studies section.

Whole Farm/Ranch Land Planning Course Results

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HMI completed our second online course as part of our Whole Farm Planning Program for Agricultural Educators funded by The Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) Professional Development Program. The course began in March 2014 with 29 participants from 11 RanneyRanchdifferent states. This course provides key land planning principles and practices to help participants facilitate conversations with producers about land planning decisions they are considering. This simple approach to land planning helps agricultural educators and producers explore key infrastructure/land improvement projects in the context of a whole farm/ranch goal. Participants developed management consideration lists, land plan options and explored tool options and the return on investment of the different land planning options.

After surveying the participants, a high number of folks experienced knowledge and behavior changes as noted below.

HMI thanks WSARE for their funding of this program.

Holistic Land Planning Evaluation Results

Knowledge/Confidence Increase % Increase
How to prioritize land/infrastructure development/investments 82%
How to assess management considerations to guide your land planning 67%
Design strategies that can build resilient, diversified farms 65%
How to incorporate social/legal/contractual considerations into your land planning 63%
Behavior Change:        % of Participants
Ability to prioritize land or infrastructure improvements on your farm 88%
Ability to incorporate farm natural resources issues into your land planning 88%
Do you intend to complete or modify a written land plan as a result of today’s session? 88%
Ability to incorporate social/legal considerations into your land planning 75%
Do you intend to change any management practices as a result of this session? 75%
Overall Satisfaction of the course 100%

 

Testimonials:

“Although I’ve worked with many of the techniques and concepts covered in the class, I found it very useful to review the concepts and hear how others approach the planning (especially land planning) process. I had several aha moments. I particularly liked learning more about using the testing questions in conjunction with the land planning to determine the best next step.”

“It was valuable to learn ROI-the ability to calculate it and practice working with it on the example worksheets. Prioritization and implementation strategies to use once the land plan is created like finding the weakest link and identifying priority investments.”

“I’m able to learn how to read the land better in terms of utilization of resources and what to consider in the overall design plan of the farm or property.”

“I learned that you should aim for creative solutions, use input from those whom are not familiar with your land-that you should try and not borrow money, but reinvest the profit you make from your operation/enterprise.”

“I really appreciated the hands on practice sheets such as the ROI fencing and developing a property. It was great to go back to the basics and focus on simple parts of the larger land planning decisions. I also really enjoyed how HMI included prioritization and implementation into the Land Planning Curriculum.”

“I hope to encourage the landowners I work with to incorporate these ideas. I already find myself incorporating them into our conversations and planning sessions.”

“I’ve changed my entire plan from a more conventional, straight rows, approach to a more permaculture integrated into my overall design.”

Featured Participant

Patty Madigan

“…the content of the Whole Farm Planning course is comprehensive and widely applicable to farm and ranch, even small ag settings. I never thought I’d enjoy “school” again, but it has opened up a whole realm of possibilities for working with our producers to improve and sustain working landscapes.”

Patty MadiganFor thirteen years Patty has been a watershed coordinator and then a conservation programs manager for the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District (RCD). She serves as a technical peer reviewer for the North Coast Resource Partnership, as well as participant in the Wood for Salmon Workgroup. Patty’s at the RCD includes developing landowner relationships and restoration projects—as well as informing public policy and streamlining the permit process for landscape-level conservation efforts. She is involved in planning for the RCD’s ownership and management of the largest mitigation project ever conducted in northern California by the California Department of Transportation. Two years ago Patty attended a Holistic Management course and was intrigued with the possibilities of applying the principles to a wider audience, and its potential for building stronger families, communities, and ecosystems.

Results from our Open Gate: TomKat Ranch Day in California

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It was a cool and cloudy spring day at TomKat Ranch where participants gathered for coffee and conversation as they prepared for an interactive day of learning. After an introduction and orientation to TomKat Ranch, Holistic Management and our organization, the 50+ participants divided themselves into 3 groups based on interest. Holistic TomKat Ranch Day Group FieldManagement Certified Educator Richard King led his bunch in a discussion on building profit, productivity and biodiversity with livestock. Holistic Management Certified Educator Rob Rutherford led a discussion about the costs and effectiveness of Holistic Management, and Holistic Management  Certified Educator Kelly Mulville’s group discussed the role of livestock in farming and research showing the increase in productivity in vineyards when livestock are added. Each of these discussion groups took the time to let all participants introduce themselves and their interests.

After some networking time, the groups formed to either  experience stockmanship with Kent Reeves, hear the latest scientific research on carbon sequestration with John Wick, or to practice forage assessment with TomKat’s grazier Mike Giannini and Richard King. The folks had a chance to ask questions and apply techniques discussed.

Tomkat Ranch - Holistic Managment practitionersThis was a particularly savvy crowd with a diversity of interests and experiences expressed during discussion. Lunch was delicious and varied with pulled pork sandwiches and lots of fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables. After lunch, Jeremiah Stent and Carlie Henneman led a walking tour of the valley section of the ranch, which is set in a lovely bowl surrounded by steeper uplands. We discussed grazing strategies for both the cattle and the horses, looked at the differences in pastures grazed at higher stock densities for shorter time vs. lower stock density (more space to graze) for longer time. Patch grazing was beginning to be apparent in the larger pasture. We climbed into one of the higher meadows to look at the biodiversity of grasses and listen to Carlie talk about the increasing diversity in her bird census.

Back at headquarters, Carlie and Richard talked about the importance of monitoring and demonstrated a simple way to look at the land and record the results for future comparison. Questions and comments took us through the experiential section of the monitoring talk and into the wrap-up time. Evaluations were completed and rewarded by cowboy poetry from Kent Reeves. Tired bodies and full minds ended the day with more networking, relaxing or heading straight home to apply the lessons learned.

TomKat Ranch Dayhorse-group-crop-small

After surveying the participants who attended the TomKat Ranch Day Open Gate, a high number of participants experienced knowledge and behavior changes and had this to say…

“Very helpful and easily to manage as long as you apply it.”

“Fun, intimate, good vibes, generally people excited about doing good for the land.”

“Very impressed, both with what’s being done at the ranch here & with the variety of people engaged in related pursuits.”

“Excellent”

“Loved the place and the people-good management strategies.”

“Excellent networking and info sharing, many useful insights”

“Fantastic, inspiring, intellectually stimulating”

 

Participant Evaluation Results

Knowledge/Confidence Increase % Increase
Critical monitoring criteria to build biological wealth 82%
How to assess forage quantity and quality 76%
How to plan grazing based on plant recovery needs 73%
Grazing strategies to build regenerative and resilient soil 68%
Behavior Change % of Participants
Confidence in ability to analyze ecosystem health 68%
Confidence in ability to improve land health 68%
Confidence in ability to determine plant recovery 64%
Intend to complete a biological monitoring on their land as a result of today’s event 80%
Intend to change any management practices/apply ideas they learned in this event 90%
Expanded network today by meeting new people or learning about resources available 100%
Would recommend this event to others 100%
Overall Satisfaction of the event 100%
Facilitator’s Effectiveness 100%
Presenters’ Effectiveness 100%

“Harvesting Free Energy to Produce More Meat & Milk” with Ian Mitchell-Innes

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We are excited to announce that internationally-recognized grazing expert, Ian Mitchell-Innes, will be at the University of Vermont Extension for a full-day pasture management workshop on June 16th. Mark your calendars now and plan to attend! Ian brings a wealth of knowledge from being a Holistic Management educator and from practicing Holistic Management for 20 years on his ranch in South Africa and teaches these concepts worldwide. The workshop will include both classroom and in-field sessions.

9:30 am – 12:45 pm: The day will start at the Sudbury Community Hall for a classroom session with Ian on energy, animal performance, and the bottom line. Then lunch will be served before heading to the field.

12:45 pm- 3:30 pm: The participants will head up the road to Mountain Meadows Farm for a pasture walk with Ian and farm manager, Brian Kemp. Mountain Meadows, owned by Dr. Amiel Cooper, is an organic beef farm raising 350 cow-calf pairs on approximately 900 acres of pasture land. Participants will learn about soil biology, forage quality, animal body condition, and animal behavior.

For more information visit: http://www.uvm.edu/extension/agriculture/news-events/pdfs/2014-grazing-workshop.pdf

Register online by going to:

http://grazingfieldday.eventbrite.com

 

Field Day on June 20th: Grazing and Nutrition for 100% Grass-Fed Dairy Cows Featuring Ian Mitchell-Innes, Forrest Stricker, Mark Bader & Ned MacArthur

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Demand is growing for 100% grassfed milk.  This is driving higher pay prices for no-grain milk, with premiums of up to $5/cwt over organic being offered in some states. Those wanting to know more about grain-free milk production and marketing opportunities won’t want to miss this upcoming field day at Spring Creek Farms to walk the pastures and learn more about animal performance, grass conditions and how to meet energy needs with minimal supplementation.

Presented by Lancaster County Graziers & Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO), and hosted by Stricker’s Spring Creek Farms, 3880 North Church Street, Wernersville PA 19565.

Agenda

9:00 - Welcome & Introductions

9:30 - Pasture Walk with Ian Mitchell-Innes

Observing cows grazing, pasture condition ahead & behind the cows, cow condition and behavior

12:00 - Lunch

Intro to PCO’s new 100% Grass-Fed Certification program

12:45 - 100% Grass-Fed Milk Markets in the Northeast

Discussion with milk company representatives

1:15 - Mark Bader

Energy supplements throughout the year

2:00 - Q & A with Ian & Mark

3:00 - Adjourn

 

Ian Mitchell-Innes is a Holistic Management educator and practitioner. He owns a large ranch in South Africa where he has quadrupled the amount of cattle he raises on the same land by grazing management.  He will be in the pastures with Stricker’s dairy herd discussing how to optimize animal performance, pasture growth and soil biology without supplementing the cows with grain.

 

Mark Bader owns Free Choice Enterprises in Lancaster, Wisconsin.  He manufactures vitamin, mineral and energy supplements for dairy and beef cattle.  Mark offers complimentary nutritionist services to his customers.  He helps grazing farms balance the hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen as the seasons and grasses change throughout the year.  Ian Mitchell-Innes is a customer of Mark Bader’s mineral and energy supplement program.

 

Ned MacArthur owns Natural Dairy Products.  This organic milk company processes the milk from 23 grass-based dairy farms in Southeastern PA.  Ned managed his own herd of dairy cows until he started the company in 1994.

 

Forrest Stricker has been grazing his dairy cows since 1993.  PCO certified Spring Creek Farms as organic in 1999.  Forrest adopted Ian’s taller grazing techniques after hearing him speak in May 2011.  No grain has been fed to calves or cows since April 2011.  The 135 cow dairy herd is supplemented with Mark Bader’s Corner Post, molasses and soybean oil at varying amounts throughout the year depending on the grass maturity stage.

Registration

Early Bird Discount:

$95 first person, $50 additional persons from same farm

After June 2nd

$150 first person, $50 additional persons from same farm

To apply the discount for multiple attendees from the same farm, all attendees must be registered together as a group.  Walk-ins are welcome!

For more Information and to register call 814-422-0251 or visit:  www.paorganic.org