There’s no shortage of Americans wanting to know where their food comes from and how it is produced. And with the buzz of “sustainability” at the forefront, regenerative agriculture is gaining popularity amongst growers and consumers, alike.
With six core regenerative agriculture principles propping up his agronomy degree, Jake Bevan, has been consulting and offering agronomic advice for farmers and ranchers in south central Kansas for the last decade. Bevan, owns and operates, EcoLogical Ag Solutions, a new approach to agronomic consulting that offers regenerative agriculture solutions that focus on soil health monitoring with a complete ecosystem approach.
Incorporating the six core principles of regenerative agriculture, Bevan says he is focused on are keeping the ground soil covered, having a living root always, integrating livestock, minimizing disturbance and understanding the context of your situation.
“From the agronomy side, it’s just a matter of finding where in your operation to implement these principles without breaking the bank in short term and helping build a more sustainable model going forward,” Bevan says.
On a typical field visit, Bevan says he does a mix of non-conventional and conventional crop consulting, monitoring plant fertility and weed pressures. “With any field, it is more of looking at mother nature because she is always going to show you with weed indicator species, water infiltration and monitoring soil compaction issues with my penetrometer,” Bevan says.
With an emphasis in creating a holistic agro-ecosystem approach, key techniques and practices include conservation tillage, plant diversity, diverse rotations, implementing cover crops and reducing disruption between microorganisms and plant roots. Bevan says in his consulting experience, it is typically a gradual transition for growers to begin implementing regenerative practices. “Most folks I am working with are primarily conventional farmers that have heard about or seen the benefits of regenerative practices, but they just don’t know where to start or need some additional support,” Bevan says.
As regenerative agriculture has become more mainstream, cover crops are playing a vital part in reducing erosion, improving water quality, controlling weeds, attracting beneficial insects and reducing nitrogen runoff. Bevan says when consulting farmers on incorporating cover crops, he encourages at least a three species blend but also recommends adding in vetch, turnips or radishes into the mix. “The main reason for encouraging three species into a cover crop mix is biodiversity above and below ground and nutrient cycling for those who are rolling their cover crops for ease of termination,” Bevan says.
Between 2012 and 2017, the usage of cover crops in the United States increase by 50 percent with a change from 10.3 million acres reported to 15.4 million acres. With additional financial and technical assistance now in place, the usage of cover crops continues to increase.
Ultimately cash crop rotations and practices influence the specific type of cover crops one chooses to plant. Aside from understanding a grower’s rotation and soil health goals, Bevan says integrating livestock also plays a vital role when deciding their cover crop mix rotation in terms of their length of crazing and the type of animals.
When focusing on soil health, one key factor in regenerative practices is understanding the carbon-nitrogen ratio. One way to examine total organic carbon and nitrogen is by doing a Haney Test, a test used to track and learn about changes in soil health based on recommended and management decisions. Bevan says, “The Haney Test is a very good management tool that gives you a soil health score, tells you about your microbial life in the soil and gives you an idea of what kind of organic nutrients are in the soil.”
Not only does Bevan run soil health tests, he provides agronomic advice on cover crops, herbicide recommendations and will help growers find cover crop seed or facilitate any relationships in the process. As Bevan continues advocating on behalf of regenerative agriculture for healthier farms, healthier communities and healthier ecosystems, he says, “I encourage you to try new things and don’t be afraid to reach out to your neighbors or your friends. Build a community, let folks know what you’re doing and share information with each other.”
To learn more about regenerative agriculture approaches and to see this CoffeeTalk in action, visit the AGI Community News page.