Gabe Brown was drawn into agriculture while in high school. After college Gabe and his wife Shelly took over management of her parent’s ranch, which had seen very little diversity. The pastures had been grazed season long with cow/calf pairs and the heavily tilled cropland had only seen monocultures of small grains for many decades. The lack of diversification turned out to be an issue for the Browns because three years of intense hail and one year of drought forced them deep into debt and into off-farm jobs just to make ends meet. Regarding the natural disasters; Gabe says it is the best thing that could have happened because it forced them to look at things differently.
Gabe and Shelly Brown’s lives changed when Gabe went to hear Holistic Management Certified Educator Don Campbell speak at a conference. “It just made sense to me,” says Gabe. The first step was creating a holistic goal. Once that was completed, they began to make changes to their operation. “It’s all about having a plan with options, so you can roll with the punches,” says Gabe. “Now we have a drought management plan in place. When you practice Holistic Management, decisions are so much easier. You just have to ask yourself if that decision will help you achieve your long term goal.”
“Holistic Management will work anywhere in the world.”
For Gabe, diversification and zero tillage were key components of his holistic plan. “Now we utilize dozens of different cash and cover crops along with high stock density grazing. We move our livestock daily. We’ve also added sheep, laying hens, broilers, turkeys and we make our land available to bee keepers,” says Gabe. By focusing on the regeneration of their resources, they have been able to eliminate the use of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and fungicides, all while seeing increasing yields. The county average corn yield where the Browns live is 100 bushels per acre yet their average yield is 127 bushels per acre which is achieved at a cost of only $1.42 per bushel. The average cost to produce a bushel of corn in the United States is over $5.00 per bushel. “It is much easier to make money in agriculture when you practice Holistic Management,” says Gabe. “In twelve years we went from facing a mountain of debt to having enough money to retire.”
Gabe remains concerned about the state of production agriculture. “We can’t continue down this path. Our practices do not just impact farmers and ranchers. It has ramifications on all people as well as future generations. We are headed for a crisis. We need all farmers and ranchers to manage holistically, so we can regenerate our resources while producing more nutritious foods for everyone,” says Gabe, who remains very optimistic about the future for small farm and ranch operators who practice Holistic Management. “The interest is really picking up. People are starting to see the writing on the wall. Change is coming.”
“Life is so easy when you practice things holistically.”