Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life is the latest book by author David Montgomery who has also written The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health and Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. If you are interested in soil and regenerative agriculture, this book is well worth the read.
Montgomery is a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington and is now on the lecture circuit promoting this new book and helping more people understand the power of soil life to not only address our human health issues but also many of our environmental issues as well.
Montgomery has clearly been focused on the soil for a long time, but his evolution from “dirt” to “microbes” to “soil” mirrors many people’s journey in understanding how soil functions and how we have mismanaged our agricultural lands to the tune of billions of dollars and countless environmental ills. In this book he moves quickly past the problems of conventional agriculture and the myths that surround it to the innovative, cutting edge work of researchers like Dwayne Beck and farmers like Holistic Management practitioners Gabe Brown and Neil Dennis–two of the stars from the movie “Carbon Cowboys.”
In the chapter “Green Manure” Montgomery interviews Dwayne Beck who is the Director of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm and someone who has completed a great deal of research on cover crops, no-till, and the incredible power of weeds to become resistant to herbicide. If you aren’t sure that there is good research being done in this country, this chapter alone will restore your faith in good agricultural research and education. Key takeaway for that chapter: “Do your own cooking… don’t be afraid to ask for advice, but accept no recipes from others,” says Beck.
All the key components of diversity, keeping soil covered, and minimal disturbance are discussed in this chapter. The goal of creating an environment where the crop can out compete the weeds is the name of the game and a challenging concept for farmers who have been told that killing the weeds with herbicides and tillage are the most effective means to profitable farming. Beck does use some herbicide, but is working to educate farmers on the options beyond that tool and all the challenges that go along with using it. That’s why Beck notes we need more demonstration farms to encourage farmers to try new, but proven, methods of farming.
In the chapter “Carbon Cowboys” Montgomery tells about his time visiting with Gabe Brown on his ranch in North Dakota. He captures Gabe’s ability to explain the importance of livestock integration to not only improve soil health but also increase farm profitability. As Gabe notes: “On the two key arguments of net production and price, I can blow conventional farmers out of the water. And, in doing it, I have a positive environmental impact.” His commodity yields are 25% higher than the county average at a much lower cost.
Montgomery also shares Neil Dennis’ story of going to a Holistic Management training and then going home to try to prove the instructor wrong, but failing to do so. In the process of that experiment, Neil became one of the leading ranchers on improving stock density and using it as a tool to “massage” the land and increase soil fertility and water infiltration on his ranch in Saskatchewan, Canada. In turn, he has also quadrupled his stocking rate. The big picture about using livestock to improve soil health is that over the past 40 million years, grasslands and grazing animals co-evolved to cover 40% of the Earth and contributed to our last Ice Age. Montgomery also notes that currently livestock manure could meet as much as a third of global fertilizer needs.
At the end of his book, Montgomery makes the point that “humus” and “human” share the same Latin root meaning of the earth or ground, making the connection between the soil and humans. Indeed, it will ultimately be a community of determined individuals and organizations that will shift agriculture from a heavily-subsidized industry that increases the profits for agribusiness more than it does for the individual producer to a regenerative agriculture that can improve the environment, provide a financial return for the farmer, and produce healthy food.
Click here to learn more about the Holistic Approach to Soil and Conservation, or visit our Free Download Page to download a Holistic Management e-book.
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