Extraction, Restoration, or Regenerative Agriculture

We’re glad that we live in a neighborhood of diversified farming operations. Naturally, the Kanaranzi Creek valley dictates that grazing and livestock are one way for the pastures to pay their way. The corn and beans on the surrounding uplands generally have a different business model and landscape management than the grazing areas along the floodplain.

In order to live and work in a rural setting, people have to be able to make a living. Row crops have provided some great opportunities in the past, although not so much currently. Industrial agriculture is a corporate construction that tends to extract a return from the available natural resources like soil and water, but it also exploits local human resources and doesn’t pay for a variety of intangible benefits. Agronomy may be a data-based science, but it has been harnessed into a huge supple chain infrastructure that makes flexibility and resilience very difficult. Most of the recent “shortages” during this past year have been because of problems in the infrastructure rather than problems with producers. To paraphrase an old country song: “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be NIMBLE.”

I’ve recently been listening to some “Prairie Podcasts” put out by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. You can Google it to get some excellent environmental science with some practical suggestions on how to apply that science to manage the land. The presentations are geared to prairie restoration because that’s what the DNR is supposed to do, among other things. They’re just responding to their funding source. But, it’s hard to establish what the restorations are supposed to look like. Pre-settlement landscapes are a commonly cited target, but even the Native Americans actively worked with the land. And as a State agency, the DNR is mainly dealing with public lands to provide short-term excursions for people who live in cities to go hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, and canoeing. That’s different than the private lands along the Kanaranzi Creek, which are mainly a “working landscape” where people are trying to earn a living and living on the land for multiple generations.

There is an emerging new way to look at farming opportunities. It’s currently called “regenerative agriculture”, but most of the ideas have been around for a long time. It’s not the old organic farming model, but regenerative ag does pay attention to soil health and is getting a lot of “buzz” from both consumers and producers. Some of the earliest information sources have come from two independent farming operations, one in central North Dakota and one in central South Dakota. But, now big industrial ag companies and big governmental agencies are getting on board with the concepts. The simplified check list of best management practices is basically a balance of economics and ecology: 1) use cover crops to keep the soil covered; 2) integrate livestock into a diversified operation; 3) rotate both row crops and grazing paddocks; and 4) minimize soil disturbance with reduced tillage. These are not new ideas, but are now being pulled together into a new business model that aims to improve soil health and keep people on the land.

We’re lucky to have renters who are engaged in these best management practices. Some of our neighbors are doing some of the suggested things, but the Leuthold Family Farm is doing them all. And, they’ve been doing most of the practices for several generations even though it hasn’t been called “regenerative agriculture” until recently. What it could be called is: “working with Nature to put together a successful farming operation”. That’s basically the message from the farmers in the central Dakotas who were early advocates of regenerative ag. To emphasize the business aspects, one of those guys says, “It’s better to sign the back of the check than the front”. And, “Reducing input costs goes a long way towards increasing profits without increasing production numbers”. The Leuthold family is doing all of that and has been doing that for several generations. Congratulations to Dan and Amy for being recognized as the Rock County Outstanding Conservationists of the year.   

About Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek

Recovering academic, earth scientist in phased retirement, farm manager by default, son, husband, father, grandfather.
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2 Responses to Extraction, Restoration, or Regenerative Agriculture

  1. sallyliggettelgin says:

    Dear cousin George,
    Thank you for your wonderful blog. This one reminds me of a book I love…you might be interested too. The book is “1491”, by Charles C. Mann. The later part of the book discusses agriculture in the Amazon basin, and humans living WITH the cycles of flooding and enriching the poor jungle soils with mulches and Biochar. There is also a TEDx talk on YouTube, and after that more Agriculture Regeneration films, which are very exciting and give me a feeling of hope for our planet’s survival.
    I mostly, this morning, am concerned that you weren’t harmed in last week’s Derecho in Iowa, since that state is right across the road, as I remember.
    May you be safe and serene!
    Cousin Sally Liggett Elgin
    (Marvel Shurr’s daughter)


    • Hi, Sally~

      Thanks for reading the blog and for writing. I read 1491 a while back and had forgotten about the Amazon agriculture, so I just paged through it again. I had marked the section on Cahokia which is interesting because in the past 4 or 5 years I’ve been looking at archaeology around here and there are some speculations about trade connections with Cahokia.

      Regenerative agriculture really is an exciting concept. It touches on a lot of traditional rural values while at the same time making both environmental and economic sense.

      We escaped the ravages of the Iowa Derecho; it was another 100 miles or so south of our State Line gravel road. However, the farmers down there got hit hard. I’ve read that 30 to 40% of the crop was destroyed and people are still without electricity.

      Hope this note finds you healthy and safe~



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