Agronomists and nutritionists know that soil health affects human health. But according to the USDA, soil fertility is in decline across the world, including in the United States. Without healthy soils near big cities, we can’t take advantage of modern four- season technology, as shown above, to grow fresh vegetables for local retail markets.
Starting in 1945, the USDA began tracking declines in pasture and rangeland in the United States. Their grassland pasture and range data show steady losses compared to relatively rapid increases in harvested crop acres. The pasture and ranges declines document a shift away from raising beef and dairy cattle primarily on pasture and rangeland in favor of feeding harvested crops in confinement. Petroleum inputs are required for nearly all of these crops.
These deficits can be corrected with organic, pasture-based farming systems where cattle and other ruminants are rotated through combinations of permanent and temporary pastures and cropland.
The permanent pastures (think carbon sinks) include nitrogen fixing legumes (like clover) along with grasses that thrive in cool and warm weather. The right grasses, in combination with careful livestock management return nutrients to the soil, and at the same time, eliminate the need for petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. This sets the stage for organic orchards, vineyards and gardens for near-by cities.
Regenerative Farm Profits = Soil Health = Human Health
Our initial plans center on beef, pork and poultry production and processing. Why meat and poultry? After all, most human health and animal welfare experts recommend that consumers reduce their consumption of meat, poultry and dairy products.
The short answer has two parts. First, our near term success depends on “center-of-plate” profits from the sale of organic meat and poultry in nearby cities. Second, if we earn consumers’ support, we can begin to rebuild soil health on many more farms using proven organic and regenerative methods that help reduce global warming and improve both soil and human health.
Regenerative Agriculture: Lower Costs for Healthy Foods
Over time, foods from pasture-based organic farms and ranches will compete in near-by grocery stores with conventional foods on health, price and environmental benefits. Replacing year-around confinement feeding of beef and dairy cattle will reduce costs for farm chemicals, water and energy along with capital costs for confinement buildings and equipment. Growing and processing organic grain for near-by free range pork and poultry operations will add to these savings, as will lower food miles. These savings will help offset higher labor costs required for regional organic food systems and healthy rural economies.
Farmland Succession Depends on Regenerative Agriculture
Farmland succession within rural communities is essential to regenerative agriculture. We need more people on the land with real institutional knowledge about sustainable production, processing and retail systems. Therefore, our ultimate goal is to build consumer demand in the Missouri Valley for profitable, farmer-owned brands so that farmers and ranchers can pass their land to the next generation. However, this goal demands new ways of financing local and regional food systems.
Posted 02-17-2020, edited 03-29-2020