By RACHAL PINKERTON
There is a movement that is spreading over the country to rebuild dead and nutrient-deficient soil. It is called regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture is set of principles that when enacted on help restore life and nutrients to soil. The main principles that are employed are to quit tilling the soil, keep the soil covered, keep living roots in the soil, use crop rotation and employ livestock. The benefits of instituting regenerative agriculture principles include a reduction in pests and weeds, an increase of soil productivity, soil health and soil growth, more nutrient-dense soil, a major decrease in soil erosion and an increase in water absorption.
While there are farmers all over the country who are implementing the principles, there is one farmer in Mansfield who is passionate about implementing regenerative agriculture principles and rebuilding the health of his soil.
When Douglas Poole returned to farming in 2011 after being away for many years, he looked at the fields he had farmed in high school and saw that the soil was gone.
“We don’t farm that field anymore,” Poole said. “It was farmed down to bedrock.”
The disappearance of soil pushed Poole to search for alternative ways to farm.
“I found Gabe Brown and read up on his stuff,” said Poole. “Once I saw his stuff, it became obvious – the invention of the plow started all this.”
To compensate for the issues that plowing had created, new chemicals and fertilizers have been invented to fix the problem. But those chemicals have negative consequences.
“We ask, ‘What is the next silver bullet? What chemical will allow me to continue to do what I’ve always been doing?” Pool said. “We add input to try to sustain. I’m getting away from sustainable and going back to regenerative.”
For as long as Poole can remember, he had been told that the Mansfield area could only grow wheat. When he started into regenerative agriculture, he added canola to his crop rotation. Now he grows more canola than wheat.
“Where we thought we could only grow wheat, we’ve been giving the soil macaroni and cheese,” said Poole. “I’m getting back to what nature did and getting back to what it was 150 years ago. I keep a living root in the soil, plant cover crops and put cattle on that.”
Before Poole started using regenerative agriculture, he had been told that he probably wouldn’t see results right away.
“We saw it in the first year,” said Poole. “I could pick up the soil and it would stay together in my hand.”
Poole has also seen a decrease in pests.
“With canola, I was told to spray for seed pod weevil,” Poole said. “I haven’t sprayed for three years. It is amazing what predators come to take care of pests. For every pest, there are 1700 beneficial insects. Spray kills them all.”
That isn’t to say that Poole hasn’t had issues with pests. Last year, he had 150 acres decimated by the seed pod weevil.
“There was nothing around it,” said Poole. “This year, I’m going to seed buffer strips around the south and west edges of the field. It is another case of losing 30 to 40 acres, but I save spraying.”
Poole also plants sunflowers.
Poole’s uncle introduced him to the no-till seed drill planting method on a large scale in 2013. Now, he said, his ground doesn’t blow away anymore. Poole believes that there is a way to everything without tilling the soil.
“There is starting to be a movement to put a premium on regenerative ag,” said Poole. “There is no nutrition in food anymore. People are noticing that what we are doing (traditional agriculture) isn’t working any more, especially Millennials. If I don’t pull my head of the sand, my products will be worthless because they have no nutrition. I am trying to get back to something I can market.”