High-quality soil is crucial to grow nutrient-dense plants. Tragically, most of our soil is being significantly damaged, thanks to modern farming methods. Gabe Brown is a true pioneer in teaching about regenerative land management, which helps restore soil health.

    Gabe was originally trained as a traditional farmer of the conventional mindset, using heavy tilling, genetically engineered (GE) crops, and chemical principles in his challenging growing farm environment of North Dakota.

    I actually had the opportunity to personally met Gabe last week when I was keynote speaker at the ACRES USA conference in Columbus. He is every bit as knowledgeable and inspiring as his interview suggests. I had a chance to listen to his full day seminar and learned loads of great info..

    At this point, his operation is not certified organic, but he's implemented a number of land regenerative practices. He doesn't till his land anymore, does not use herbicides on crops that are growing. He's stopped using glyphosate altogether and has integrated cocktail cover crops and livestock rotational grazing.

    In 1991, he and his wife purchased the family farm from her parents, and they began farming conventionally using heavy tillage, low crop diversity, and season-long livestock grazing.

        "Not being from a farm or ranch, I always tended to question why we do certain things," he says. "I had listened and attended a class that Alan Savory put on, talking about rotational grazing.

        I started doing some rotational grazing. I [also] had a friend in the northern part of North Dakota who was a no-tiller… In 1993, I went 100 percent no-till. Immediately, we started seeing some benefits… We were conserving moisture."

The Importance of No-Till for Soil Regeneration

    This is a rather crucial point. Tilling is probably one of the most destructive aspects of modern-day industrial agriculture, as it disrupts and destroys soil biology.

        "Tillage is the act of taking either a plow, a chisel plow, a field cultivator, or any type of steel or implement and destroying the soil's structure and turning the soil over.

        By reducing the tillage, we leave those soil aggregates, those pore spaces intact, which improve water infiltration and also provide home for soil biology," Gabe explains.

    Tilling is especially harmful for the mycorrhizal fungi—important soil fungi that attach to the roots of plants. Their thread-like filaments connect the plants together in an underground web that can stretch over long distances, forming a virtual "plant Internet," though which plant communication takes place.

    When Gabe quit tilling in 1993, he was the lone no-tiller in Burleigh County, North Dakota, where about 60 percent of the land is farmland. Today, about 70 percent of the farmland in this county is no-till. The fact that no-till has really caught on in the Northern Plains is very encouraging.

    Other important factors for soil health are crop diversification and cover cropping. Gabe learned the importance of this through a series of crop failures. Four years in a row, the farm lost most or all its crops to hail or drought. To keep his livestock fed, he grew various crop cover plants, and began noticing that his soil was slowly improving.

        "We had four devastating years of crop failure in a row. I tell people that's the best thing that ever could have happened to me, because it taught me that I had to learn how to take care of the resource," he says.

    When he first started, soil tests on his land revealed organic matter levels of 1.7 to 1.9 percent. According to National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA) scientists, organic matter levels in the area used to range around seven to eight percent some 200 years ago. So about 75 percent of the organic matter in the soil has been lost in just the last two centuries.

        "One of the buzz words today is 'sustainable.' Everybody wants to be sustainable. My question is why in the world would we want to sustain a degraded resource? My operation today is still degraded. We need to be regenerative. We need to work on regenerating our soils, not just sustaining a degraded resource," Gabe says.