By Steve Groff
This is an excerpt from Steve Groff’s book The Future- Proof Farm published by Advantage Media Group. Reprinted with permission.
Here it is, in a nutshell so to speak. This is my message to my agricultural friends who make a living off the land:
You are in danger of becoming obsolete. Major market changes are coming that will force farmers to make difficult decisions. If you adjust to those changes, you can avoid the danger and capitalize on a huge opportunity. If you don’t, you’re a goner. To preserve your livelihood, you must act now.
Here’s why: consumers these days are demanding food that is produced responsibly and sustainably. The trend is unmistakable and accelerating. Many of those folks don’t live near a farm, and they don’t know a farmer, but they do know what they have heard in the news or read on blogs or wherever they get the scoop on what’s happening. They learn about chemical-laden waterways and hormone-infused livestock and denuded forests, and though there’s plenty of blame to pass around, somehow it’s the farmer who often gets the black eye.
On the other hand, consumers deeply appreciate farmers who, in their estimation, do the right thing. People want good food that’s good for their bodies and good for the planet, and they will line up to buy from the farmer who they trust can deliver it. Whether they are right or wrong about it all isn’t the point. This is what more and more consumers clearly want—and the first lesson of economics is that when supply is limited and demand is strong, prices rise.
Low market prices hurt farmers just as surely as drought or flood or blight. Many are struggling to eke out a living. No surprise there. They face high production costs and dwindling returns. It’s a matter of survival. As they try to keep a business going, they naturally will be looking for ways to trim their expenses to make some kind of profit on what they produce. Otherwise, why bother to produce at all? As much as they love it, they might have to leave it.
So what can you do, other than calling it a day? How can you ensure a profitable future? How do you future-proof your farm so that you can keep doing what you love?
One way that some farmers are getting a better price and reducing their costs is by getting on board with what has become known as the regenerative agriculture movement. Now, that might just sound like fancy words, but it really comes down to
farming much as it was done in the old days, in the ways that farmers always knew was best—but now they can do it with the advantages of advanced machinery and twenty-first-century technology that will allow them to get back to the basics on a big scale, producing food profit- ably that is pleasing to both the palate and to the health- conscious and environmentally concerned consumer.
It comes down to waking up the soil—that is, regenerating it, rejuvenating it, restoring it so that it once again can do what it was designed to do. Modern agriculture often has been unkind to the land. Trying to boost yields from overworked fields, farmers for decades have poured on pesticides and fertilizers, paying a fortune to do so. For whatever short-term benefits they got year to year, the food wasn’t tastier or more nutritious, and the soil suffered. The farming methods messed with its biology, basically putting the soil to sleep. We kept it going artificially, like a patient on a respirator.
The land, though, is resilient. Give it a chance, and it will breathe freely. Once the soil begins to function again, the farmer can set aside some of those chemical crutches. By going back to time- tested farming practices, we all benefit. The farmer is happy to spend less money on fertilizers and pesticides. The consumer is happy to spend more money on the farmer who has reduced or given up on all that stuff. And the night crawlers? Start counting. When they’re happy, everyone’s happy.
What’s old is new. Our founding fathers understood a thing or two about good farming, and they never heard tell of the concoctions that distant generations would dump and spray on their crops. They did know how to enrich and stabilize the soil, keep the weeds and pests at bay, and produce bountiful yields. After each harvest of their cash crop, they grew an interim crop to fortify the soil until the next planting. They called it green manure—a living fertilizer that nourished and protected the ground in both dry and rainy seasons.
Today, we call it a cover crop—and I am on the road regularly, far and wide, spreading the news about a concept that is very old. I am a longtime advocate, as well, of a newer concept that also protects the land, and our waterways, too—and that’s planting without plowing. Seeds will grow just fine without upending and disturbing the earth. No-till and low-till methods not only safeguard the ground, but also save the time and expense and compaction of all those trips around the field. For decades now I have been urging my fellow farmers to put away their moldboard plows and cease slicing and dicing the soil.
Cover crops and no-till farming are at the heart of regenerative agriculture. They have the power to enrich both the soil and the farmer who employs those methods. They are the building blocks for the future-proof farm.
Learn more about preparing your farm for the future by getting your own copy of The Future-Proof Farm by Steve Groff.
About the Author
Lifelong farmer Steve Groff (www.stevegroff.com) is the founder of Cover Crop Coaching, which educates farmers and farm advisors about effective cover crop use. He also does international regenerative agriculture consulting and is the author of The Future-Proof Farm. He has conducted well over 150 webinars and online training sessions, and has consulted for private companies, as well as for the USDA and several universities.
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