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What Gabe Brown learned by testifying before Congress

Brown was invited to explain how climate change is affecting farmers and ranchers.

Note: Gabe Brown is the author of Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture, and co-founder of the nonprofit Soil Health Academy. Brown, along with his wife Shelly and son Paul, owns and operates Brown’s Ranch, a diversified 5,000-acre farm and ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota. He was recently featured in the critically acclaimed Netflix documentary, Kiss the Ground. Brown sent this account to Successful Farming:

It is no secret that our nation is divided on many fronts. This was never more evident to me than when, on February 25, I had the opportunity to testify before the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. I was invited to explain how climate change is affecting farmers and ranchers. Along with four other witnesses, I was to give five minutes of oral testimony, followed by two hours of questions and answers.

Chairman David Scott [D-GA] introduced the topic by stating that climate change is the biggest challenge facing us today and then expounded as to why he felt that was so. Ranking Member K. Michael Conaway [R-TX] followed by stating his belief that climate change was not serious and certainly agriculture was not to blame.

Committee members were then given five minutes each to ask questions of the panel. Well, what followed was nearly four hours of one ag committee member after another stating his or her opinion, strictly along party lines, followed by a brief question directed to the panelist they felt would best verify their beliefs.

I heard, over and over again, how great the current production model is and that we have the lowest cost food in the world. I heard one representative after another tout how farmers and ranchers in their districts are good stewards of the land and that these producers are not, in any way, shape or form, contributing to climate change. 

I also heard repeatedly how destructive fossil fuel usage is and that we need to shut down the coal, oil, and natural gas industries.

There were a few good questions asked but as I sat for hours, listening to each representative expound his or her beliefs, all I could think of was what a HUGE opportunity they were missing. These distinguished members of Congress were missing a genuine opportunity to UNITE for the common good.

At Understanding Ag, LLC, our belief has always been that we are all in this together. Political beliefs, religion, race, creed, none of those should divide us. Rather, we should focus on what is best for society and our planet.

Let’s consider how the House Ag Committee could have had a productive hearing if members would have looked at regenerative agriculture as a catalyst to not only UNITE society but to mitigate “climate change” as well.

1. Take carbon out of the atmosphere and put it into the soil. 

Carbon is food for biology. Carbon is a part of everyone and everything. By keeping diverse living plants in the soil as long as possible throughout the year, and integrating animals, we can move massive amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil. This was, supposedly, the reason the representatives gathered at that hearing and yet, not one of them advanced this simple fact.

In his 2016 paper titled “The Role of Ruminants in Reducing Agriculture’s Carbon Footprint in North America,” Richard Teague shows us that it is possible to do just that. If you do the math, it is possible that grazing livestock could lead to the sequestration of one-half of our annual CO2 emissions in the United States.

In addition, increased soil carbon levels lead to increased farm resilience. 

Can we agree this would be good for everyone?

2. Increase farm profitability. 

We have seen over and over again that if a farm adopts and implements the six principles of soil health, focuses on the four ecosystem processes, and practices the three rules of adaptive stewardship, they will increase profitability. In their landmark research, Jonathan Lundgren and Claire LeCanne showed that farms using regenerative practices were 78% more profitable.

Soil Health Academy surveys of past attendees show that an overwhelming number of them are able to enjoy increased profitability. This is due to a number of reasons including, but not limited to, lower input costs, increased biodiversity, and higher prices for their products.

Increasing farm and ranch profitability would help to revitalize our rural communities, and farm subsidies would decrease, saving taxpayers billions of dollars. Can we agree this would be good for everyone?

3. Improve water quality. 

By reducing tillage, having residue on the soil surface, and growing living cover crops as often as possible, we can keep nutrients on our farms and out of our watersheds. This would not only save input costs for farmers but would also provide cleaner water to towns and cities.

By increasing soil organic matter levels, we can hold significantly more water in our soils, thus not only making our farms and ranches more resilient but also alleviating much of the flooding issues we see every year. How many billions of dollars in damages could be prevented annually?

Can we agree this would be good for everyone?

4. Improve human health. 

We have a human health crisis going on in this world.  Cancer, diabetes, ADD, ADHD, Crone’s disease, auto-immune diseases, allergies, obesity – they are all at alarming levels. The U.S. spends twice as much per capita for health care than it does for food.

The nutrient density of the foods we produce today is much less than it was just several decades ago.  David Thomas has proven this in his study, “The Mineral Depletion of Foods Available to Us as a Nation.”

Why is this?  A main reason, in my opinion, is because of the degradation of our soil resource. Stephan vanVliet, Fred Provenza, and Scott Kronberg, through the use of matabalomics, are showing that foods grown and raised in or on healthy soils are higher in phyto-nutrients. These phyto-nutrients are essential for human health.

In his soon-to-be-released book, You Are What Your Food Ate, David Montgomery, shows that human health and soil health are intimately related. If we heal our soil, we heal ourselves as well.

Can we agree this would be good for everyone?

I could go on to state myriad other benefits that result from the adoption of regenerative ag, but you get my point.

And members of the House Agriculture Committee are not the only ones who are missing this transformative opportunity. It is time ALL of us to set our differences aside and UNITE for the good of our children, our grandchildren, each other, and our planet.

Regenerative agriculture provides a practical, profitable roadmap for us to restore the health of our soil, our bodies, our farms, and our future. Surely, we can unite in that common cause for good.

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