Just preaching the good word

From the Ground Up with Steve Kenyon

But which word is the good one? We have so many in our industry. Many years ago I was introduced to holistic resource management and my world changed. Allan Savory was preaching about better grazing management, desertification and climate change long before any of us were even in the game. “The Word” at the time was holistic planned grazing.

“Holistic planned grazing is a planning process for dealing simply with the great complexity livestock managers face daily in integrating livestock production with crop, wildlife and forest production while working to ensure continued land regeneration, animal health and welfare, and profitability,” states a document on Savory’s website.

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It was and still is a great term. But many people at the time thought that holistic resource management was a cult or we were all a bunch of “crackpot crazies.” I have learned a lot from holistic resource management over the years and am proud to say that I am still one of the long-time crackpots who preach the holistic resource management message. In our world, if you are not criticized at the local coffee shop, then you need to step up your game.

But there are other groups or individuals over the years that have also taught a similar message, myself included. I love going to ag conferences. For years, I have categorized the speakers at a conference into three groups. There are the sustainable presenters, the academic presenters and the industry presenters. All of these have their place in agriculture and I am not inferring that there are no exceptions, but in general, the pasture preachers are the sustainable presenters. We are preaching about how to build and maintain a sustainable food system while protecting our environment.

We use many different terms to describe what we preach. Have you heard of management-intensive grazing? Intensive-cell grazing? Mob grazing? Adaptive multi-paddock grazing? For years the generic term was “sustainable grazing” and now the latest term is “regenerative grazing.”

They are all great terms that generally mean the same thing. I don’t want to get into a debate over which is the best word or phrase to describe what we do, but for simplicity’s sake for this article, I will refer to all of these terms as regenerative grazing. I have heard the debate now between regenerative grazing vs. sustainable grazing many times. I agree with both sides and I would simply state that we need to regenerate the land back to a point where it can be sustainable. Fair enough?

The point I want to make is that we are all on the same team. Whichever pasture preachers you follow, whatever terminology they use, we are all aiming to get agriculture back on track, to rebuild and sustain our soils to maintain a long-term food system with minimal disruption to our environment.

So what are we preaching? Here are a few points that I think all of the pasture preachers out there would agree with.

We need more roots

We need to increase the polyculture of plants. By adding in a diversity of plants, we get a diversity of root systems. I have said it before: the plants do not grow from the soil, it is the soil that grows from the plants. The plants get over 95 per cent of their growth from water and the air. They convert these into sugar through the magic of photosynthesis which is then added to the soil through the root systems and through leftover residue. With good management, we can use plants to grow soil.

We need more bugs

As we build our soil with more root systems, we are improving the environment for our soil life to develop. We need to take care of all of our underground employees: bacteria, fungus, dung beetles, earthworms, yeasts and nematodes, just to name a few. These employees work with the plants and, in exchange for sugar, find and trade the needed nutrients. There are rarely any nutrient-deficient plants in nature. This only occurs in our current agriculture model. We need the soil life healthy and active to provide the free fertility for our plants.

We need more water

Water-holding capacity is an important aspect of agriculture that is not emphasized nearly enough. Water is our most important nutrient. If we need 50 pounds of nitrogen to grow X amount of crop, we require approximately 10,000 pounds of water in comparison. That is a pretty significant difference. We should spend more time and money on improving our water-holding capacity than on any other nutrient management. This applies even if you are in a high-rainfall area or under irrigation. Building up your soil and water-holding capacity will allow better retention and a more stable soil. Would you rather pump 12 inches of irrigation in a season or 25?

We need more solar panels

Agriculture is in the business of capturing solar energy and converting it into usable forms of energy. The energy that flows from the sun, to the plants and to the animals can become more efficient with proper management. By providing proper graze/rest periods, we can simply capture more sunlight. Catching more sunbeams should be every farmer’s goal because that is exactly what we do.

We need to recycle

Nothing can be created or destroyed — it simply changes form. Every element and nutrient we deal with in agriculture has a cycle. It just changes form throughout its cycle. As a manager, can you take those nutrients that you need to grow a crop and recycle them back into your farm? Can you recycle the carbon back into your soil? How about the nitrogen that is in your system? Can you recycle it without having to export it and then pay to import it again? Our advantage is that our livestock are 80 per cent inefficient. We just need to have the byproduct deposited in the right place.

Of course there is a lot more to the management than just these basic five principles. I am just looking big picture here today.

Our mission statement at Greener Pastures Ranching is “economic and environmental sustainability for generations.” This is pretty clear on what we think is important for our operation. To be sustainable, we need to be profitable and maintain that ability to remain profitable for many years. Making a quick buck is not our priority. If there is a production practice that makes money but degrades the environment, it will not pass the test here.

I have been a pasture preacher for many years now and I will continue to stand up on my soap box to spread the good word. We have to be regenerative. We need to heal the land. Once we have healed the land, we need to be sustainable. It is our job as farmers and ranchers to build the soil, not degrade it. That should be our number one priority if we want to be sustainable for generations.

God Bless.

About the author

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Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta., www.greenerpasturesranching.com, or call 780-307-6500.

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