Long-time Holistic Management practitioner and consultant Walt Davis wrote an article on the Beef Producer website titled “We’ve Been Plowing Our Lives Away” in which he makes a very interesting point: We now know how to take care of soil, yet many producers are still not making that change. Walt also notes that we have survived or averted many other human disasters and epidemics through the application of some “common sense,” but we don’t see the vast majority of agricultural producers making a shift toward practices that increase soil health. Why?
Walt writes: “Humans have the ability to reason; we can develop management techniques to replace, or at least greatly reduce, the need for what one wise pundit called ‘toxic chemistry.’ The starting point should be building soil health. Plants growing in truly healthy, biologically robust soil are amazingly resistant to pest organisms; insects, root-eating nematodes, and pathogens. It follows that animals, including people, who consume healthy plants gain health, and science is showing us such results.”
It’s not that these soil building health practices cost money. They should actually make money. According to four case studies published by the National Association of Conservation Districts on farms in the Midwest, cover crops actual can improve the net profit per acre by as much as $100 by:
- Cutting fertilizer costs by up to $50 per acre;
- Cutting erosion repair costs by up to $16 per acre; and
- Increasing yields by up to $76 per acre.
There are some USDA programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that help farmers and ranchers invest in and transition to new practices like cover cropping, no-till, or planned grazing. These programs are in sharp contrast to the millions of dollars spent by big agri-biz or the government supporting conventional agricultural practices that do not build soil health. Consumer demand drives some change on the land, but crop subsidies are a far greater influence. Ultimately it comes down to each producer learning the true costs of an agriculture that doesn’t build soil health and making a decision what kind of agriculture they want to practice. At HMI, we are working hard with our other regenerative agriculture collaborators to show there is a choice and that creating biologically active soil doesn’t mean that your net profit has to suffer. In fact, it should help improve your net profit!
Certainly transitioning to any new practice can take some additional investment in terms of new equipment, training, and mistakes made along the learning curve. But with the Holistic Management decision-making framework you can determine which practices are the right ones to trial and at what level. One place to learn more about this user-friendly, decision-making tool is through HMI’s Online classes. HMI’s Online Holistic Financial Planning Course is filling up fast but you there are still some spaces available in our class starting October 3rd. Click here to learn more or register for that class.
To learn more about how Holistic Management creates biologically active soil and the results farmers and ranchers have achieved, visit HMI’s A Holistic Approach to Soil page.
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