Click to enlarge — No-tillage cotton field in California
Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. At conferences, like the one held here at a Best Western hotel recently, people line up to seek his advice…
Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.
He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.
Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.
He no longer needs to use nitrogen fertilizer or fungicide, he said, and he produces yields that are above the county average with less labor and lower costs. “Nature can heal if we give her the chance,” Mr. Brown said.
Neatly tilled fields have long been a hallmark of American agriculture and its farmers, by and large traditionalists who often distrust practices that diverge from time-honored methods.
But soil-conservation farming is gaining converts as growers increasingly face extreme weather, high production costs, a shortage of labor and the threat of government regulation of agricultural pollution…
Soil health proponents say that by leaving fields unplowed and using cover crops, which act as sinks for nitrogen and other nutrients, growers can increase the amount of organic matter in their soil, making it better able to absorb and retain water.
RTFA for lots of detail, information that might benefit more farmers – but, not corporations producing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides.
Understand that vested interests opposing no-till farming are so strong, own so many state and local politicians that when Terry McAlister makes mention of growing cotton like a West Texas farmer I know exactly what he means. Because if you drive through West Texas in March and April you will run into localized dust storms as dense as any Arizona haboob. Only these are the product of disc harrows on cotton fields – required by Texas law.
That law had a place decades ago as the only way to stop boll weevils; but, that hasn’t been necessary in decades. The law isn’t about to change because farmland ruined by this kind of abuse can be kept to some level of productivity by the addition of everything healthy farms don’t need.
And, by the way, if you visit some of the reservoirs, say, around Lubbock – make certain you practice catch-and-release if you go fishing. The fish are so poisoned by chemical runoff from the cotton fields they’re considered unfit for human consumption.