The Story Behind an Early Adopter of Cover Cropping; Gabe Brown – Part 3

Taking his farm from failure due extreme climate adversity to a world leading example of soil health and profitability

And another thing about worms is Vermicast and that once Gabe had the density of earthworms that he described, he is now literally producing tons, many, many tons – 10, 20, 30 tons – of vermicompost per acre in his soil and he doesn’t even have to move it. It’s done for free. And the beauty of it is as he has moved into very diverse cropping systems and integrated cover crops into them, Gabe has found that the plant cover crops benefit soil life and in turn feed the earthworms. The cover crops become the compost that the earthworms cycle into usable plant nutrients. This is in vast contrast to when he started farming and he was growing mostly monoculture or two-species cover crops like triticale and hairy vetch or he would plant sudan grass and cowpeas during those years of hail.

Why did he change?
In 2006, he heard Dr. Ademir Calegari from Brazil who made the statement that cover crops need to be seeded in multispecies combination. He was upset with himself that he hadn’t thought of it earlier because what he had been trying to do in his operation was to mimic the native range with the diversity of plant life and the diversity of wildlife, insects, etc.
So today, he does not limit himself to 15, 20, 25 different species but rather he uses plant mixes up to 70 different species in a mix. What he is trying to do is mimic the diversity in nature.

What is the advantage of multi-species over monoculture?
If you plant a monoculture crop, that soil life is only being fed one root exudate. That’s it. But if you plant a multispecies with 20 different species in it, that soil life is being fed the root exudates from 20 different plants.
In other words, you are accelerating biological time. You are able to regenerate soils much, much faster than scientists think possible.

What observations have you made in the processes that you’ve implemented for instance, how much topsoil are you able to produce in a year or five years?

Gabe thinks it quite possible to add an inch of topsoil in a five-year period if as long as you have to use the five tenets.
You have to be no-tillage. You have to eliminate tillage.
You have to keep armour on the soil surface because it’s that armour that protects the surface from temperature extremes and from erosion, and it’s that armour that feeds the microorganisms.
You have to have a living root in the soil at all times because you need to have that living root producing those
exudates, putting armour on the surface so we leave the crop residues.

How we do that is we grow cover crops. We try and grow cover crops on every acre of our cropland every year. Now, those cover crops may be before a cash crop, along with a cash crop, or after a cash crop. But it’s those cover crops that are providing the carbon that becomes the armour on the soil surface.
Conventional farmers combine the cash crop, then bale the straw and haul it away. That’s just going to accelerate the degradation of your soil resource. You grow these cover crops to keep that armour on the soil surface.
Another one of his five principles is livestock integration allowing the livestock to run on his fields and graze but only grazing about a third of the above ground biomass; the other two-thirds is trampled by the livestock.
He says that even if you don’t have livestock, which is an important tool, you still need to be doing cover
cropping.

What will happen is as your soil gets healthier and has that biology, that plant will fall down and break down quicker, and then the biology will compost it through and convert it into usable forms for the plant.

 

Ref: Regenerative Soil Management: A Special Interview with Gabe Brown By Dr. Joseph Mercola