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Why shoot for sustaining a degraded resource when you can regenerate new life by promoting soil health? This is the question North Dakota rancher Gabe Ranch asks and answers in his new book, “Dirt to Soil.” (Amanda Radke / Special to Agweek)

'Dirt to Soil' promotes regenerative ag

North Dakota rancher Gabe Brown has been on a mission — to restore the soil and bring back life to his family's farm.

In his newly book, "Dirt to Soil," Brown describes how he implemented regenerative agricultural practices to reinvigorate the land. As he chronicles his journey of experimentation and innovation, he hopes to inspire other producers to work the land as nature intended.

"I wrote this book to tell the story of how my family and I changed from farming and ranching with an 'industrial' mindset to farming and ranching in nature's image," said the author, whose family operates a holistic, diversified 5,000-acre farm and ranch called, Brown's Ranch, near Bismarck, N.D., with his wife Shelly and son, Paul.

Brown recently spoke at the South Dakota Farm Bureau's Young Farmers and Ranchers 2019 Farm and Ranch Conference in Deadwood, S.D., where he discussed cover crops, grazing and soil health.

"The story of my farm is how I took a severely degraded, low-profit operation that had been managed using the industrial production model and regenerated it into a healthy, profitable one," he said. "All of us — whether farmer, rancher or home gardener — have the ability to harness the awesome power of nature to produce nutrient-dense food. We can do this in a way that will both regenerate our resources and ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to enjoy good health."

In his book, Brown describes the Five Principles of Soil Health, which include:

• "Limiting Disturbance" by protecting the soil structure through no-till techniques and avoiding all use of pesticides, insecticides and synthetic fertilizers;

• "Armor," which means keeping the soil covered at all times;

• "Diversity," which encourages producers to strive for a healthy mix of plant and animal species;

• "Living Roots," maintaining living roots in the soil as long as possible throughout the year;

• "Integrate Animals," by managing livestock using regenerative strategies like adaptive multi-paddock grazing.

"Our soil was broken. Our farm was broken. Our spirits were nearly broken. But when we transformed our soil, we transformed our lives and our future," he said. "One of my goals in life is to help other farmers do the same. Hopefully, 'Dirt to Soil' will help many more farmers, and even consumers, discover the hope in healthy soil."

It is Brown's mission to reshape the future of agriculture and the way farmers, consumers and policy makers think about the buzz word, "sustainability."

"Everyone talks about sustainable," said Brown. Why do we want to sustain a degraded resource? We need to be regenerative."

Brown isn't just talk and no action. The Brown family has received the Growing Green Award from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and the USA Zero-Till Farmer of the Year Award.

Ultimately, Brown's book highlights the benefits and potential of soil regeneration, which rely on a tiny soil microbe.

"Human existence is made possible by trillions of unseen microbial partners below the ground that enable carbon cycling, and improve plant and animal health, nutrition and productivity — all of which can support feeding a lot of people," he said.

Brown's message has been well-received from agricultural organizations to mainstream media. NPR called Brown, "Perhaps the most famous soil health pioneer."

Today, Brown travels the country sharing his passion for regenerative agriculture and how he transitioned his family's business from a conventional production model, which demands a larger and larger land base, to a smaller, more diversified one, which allows for multi-stacked enterprises on the same acres.

To learn more about Brown's journey, check out his book, "Dirt to Soil," available on Amazon for $15.49.

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