Regenerative shift with international flare

Shifting to farming with nature, rather than against it, is on a global campaign, and the proof is in the testaments of international visitors to the United States of America.

Agricultural producers and scientists from many dots on the big ball-shaped map, regularly venture to America to share their stories—and listen to others—on the intricacies of melding farming with biology and science, and the need for change to feed the world without damaging it.

Three examples of this country’s global pull are farmers Tom and Cassi Robinson, of Hoyleton, Australia, and Laurent Lorre, who farms near Janville, some 50 miles south of Paris, France. They attended the High Plains Journal’s Soil Health U, Jan. 22 and 23 in Salina, Kansas, traveling 9,366 and 4,672 miles, respectively, “as the crow flies,” according to Siri.

The three were not part of the program, but aimed to glean more information to take home. In addition, the Robinsons were pupils at other agricultural conferences in the region.

“We came to learn,” said Tom, 32, who farms 4,000 acres with Cassi, 25, and his parents, Ashley and Kaylene, all of it with “100% zero till and using cover crops.”

They also raise cattle and are considering other livestock.

“I’ve been wanting chickens for awhile,” Cassi said.

Tom first visited the U.S. in 2013. He took in the No Till on the Plains Winter Conference then, also in 2015, 2016 and spoke at the conference in 2017.

Desert-like environment

Their farm has been zero till with cover crops in desert-like middle south Australia, since the turn of the century.

“Like most people, we are trying as hard as we can,” he said.

Lorre, 54, began farming with his mother in 1990—on 40 acres. The operation has mushroomed to 800 acres—and has been a no-till farm for 20 years. He attended a no-till conference at St. Louis in 2012, and NTOP’s Winter Conference in 2017 in Wichita.

“I am learning many things with speakers,” he said.

Asked if his farm has improved with the new information, Lorre replied, “I hope so,” but added that he would prefer relocating.

“Nobody is happy in France. Farmers are jealous of people with more than us,” Lorre said. “Thirty years ago, I should have come (to America). I see farmers who want to learn more and not rely on government agency to progress. Government is much involved in farming in France and is making it more difficult.”

Regenerative agriculture

The world needs more than “just believing” in the methods that are advocated at Soil Health U and NTOP.

“We need science and facts, more work with universities,” Lorre said. “Regenerative agriculture can change the world if more people do it.”

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The Robinsons have experienced heavy resistance to change Down Under.

“What we find in Australia is that nobody wants to talk openly about regenerative ag,” Tom said. “We’re going against the norm, and I’m told I ask too many questions that they don’t have answers to.”

The notion of no-till, cover crops and other regenerative strategies is “almost taboo,” Cassi said.

Only the “one percenters” are interested, Tom said.

“I’d like to think I’m in the top 1%,” he said.

He said the same about those at Soil Health U.

“Just being (at Tony’s Pizza Events Center) made them in the top 5%,” Tom said.

The Robinsons and Lorre have a growing legion of backers in North America.

Regenerative agriculture is the “future model of agriculture,” said Ray Archuleta, agroecologist from New Mexico, who opened and closed Soil Health U 2020.

“It’s a growing movement,” said Tom Cannon, representing the fourth generation to manage the Goodson Ranch near Blackwell, Oklahoma.

Conventional farms “are going to become dinosaurs,” he said in presentations at the Salina conference, and those producers will eventually “not have a choice” than to join the regenerative movement.

“I think agriculture is going to come to a new age where we focus on soil health, and that’s going to become the norm,” Cannon said. “Regenerative practices will be mainstream because other producers, who tend to lag, will see healthier crops that are more resilient, with resilient soils that will be producing in the midst of weather events that are more extreme.”

Farmers in the “conventional industrial ag model are going more and more in debt,” Archuleta said. “Margins are tight, people with more equity are doing OK, but they’re hiding their heads in the sand because this model won’t work.”

Archuleta gave examples of farms getting smaller while producing more per acre while spending less on inputs. He advocates a shift toward natural systems, and young people are in lock-step with those ideals.

“Millennials want jobs with purpose, not with materialism. I’m very hopeful for the future,” Archuleta said. “I couldn’t bare the thought of Earth being destroyed and farmers being pushed into financial slavery.

“There is a revolution coming. I see it and the people are demanding it.”

Tim Unruh can be reached at [email protected].