A new vision for agriculture?
Agriculture has been in a tough places for years and now, with the coronavirus, there’s fear commodity prices will once again slip. Could now be the time that agriculture comes up with a new vision?
Threemembersof theEauPleine Partnership for Integrated Conservation (EPPIC) say yes. They are Jason Cavadini, a beef producer and UW researcher at the field station in Marshfield; Patrick Bula, a conservationist for Marathon County; and Matt Oehmichen, agronomist at Short Lane Ag, Colby.
Cavadini said there is a need for regenerative agriculture.
“We in agriculture work with degraded soil resources, degraded water resources and live in degraded communities,” he said. “We need an entirely new system of agriculture that isn’t just sustainable, but that is regenerative.”
For the trio, this ag renaissance starts with the soil. Cavadini said traditionally cultivated soils are compacted and tired, mined of nutrients and able to grow crops only after application of increasing amounts of fertilizer and herbicide. The soil is so packed, he said, that rain water rolls right off it, leading to erosion of nutrients, including phosphorus and nitrogen.
Oehmichen says this degradation hurts a farmer’s bottom line. “The break-even mark goes higher and higher,” he said.
Cavadini said today’s farmers have no memory of what it is like to grow crops on healthy, productive soil.
“Today’s farmers learned farming from their grandfathers who were already farming on degraded soil,” he said.
Cavadini said soil health in Central Wisconsin continues to worsen as more small dairies leave the scene, leaving behind hay land that is continuously planted into soybeans and corn.
“That is not a crop rotation,” he said. “That’s an alternation.”
The researcher said the trio do not have all of the answers, but he said ag producers need to take the first step on a ladder that leads to soil health.
“None of us really know how high the ladder goes,” Cavadini commented. “Nobody knows the potential of the soil.”
The threesome list five principles of regenerative agriculture. They are: reduction of soil disturbance; keeping the ground covered;leaving a living root in the soil; increasing plant diversity in the soil; and reintroducing livestock back on the land.
Cavadini said no-till cultivation and cover crops can help farmers start on the road to regenerative agriculture, but that’s only a beginning.
“I’m getting tired of talking about no till and cover crops,” he said. “What we are talking about is a whole lot bigger.”
Cavadini said regenerative agriculture is not just about helping farmers, but also giving consumers more nutritious food to eat. He said today’s consumers want high quality milk, meat and grain grown with farming techniques that both respect the environment and improve the nutritional value of food.
“People are sick of not feeling good,” he said.
Cavadini said regenerative agriculture, which requires fewer inputs, can help farmers make money or stay afloat when ag economics tumble into crisis.
“The draw of regenerative agriculture is that it helps create economic resilience,” he said.