David Zirnhelt. Photo submitted

Zirnhelt: Food chains and cultural handcuffs

David Zirnhelt returns with his regular column

If you keep doing the same thing and expect different results you are probably delusional.

I am paraphrasing Einstein. But what did he know? Enough to set some scientists on a path that could threaten the earth with another great “Big Bang.”

If your ranch doesn’t make money, then you can’t just keep doing the same thing and expect that it will. Something just has to change.

The changes you make might not solve all the problems overnight, but the changes that don’t work will at least rule out some of the options and maybe bring focus to solutions that do work.

Last week I wrote about the hope and determination young people in farming have. I remember, of course, all the things that went wrong over our decades in the business.

Young people have not had time to make the mistakes yet.

There are times when the mistakes of the pioneers in something have been analyzed and new prescriptions are formulated and presented as advice.

One such formulation has appeared in the last six months or so in a book published in 2017.

Gabe Brown, from a North Dakota ranch, wrote “Dirt to Soil: One Family’s Journey into Regenerative Agriculture.”

After four years of crop failures, He finally began to build his topsoil as the source of production and profit. He did not think he could sustain his ranch if it was unprofitable and the soil unhealthy.

In his introduction he sets out the five principles of soil health.

The first is Limited Disturbance. He says one must limit mechanical, chemical and physical disturbance of the soil. Tillage destroys soil structure which houses the living organisms which create the natural fertility and allows water to infiltrate.

The second is Armour. Soil needs to be covered all the time. Bare soil is unnatural. Cover keeps erosion at bay.

The third is Diversity. This is diversity of plant and animal species. Different species thrive on one another.

The fourth is Living Roots. Living roots, kept for as long as possible, keep feeding soil biology its basic food which is carbon. Growing things late into the fall and beginning early in the spring is the objective.

The fifth principle of soil health is Integrating Animals. Gabe Brown says, “Nature does not function without animals.” For example, the grazing of plants stimulates them to pump more carbon into the soil which in turn drives nutrient cycling by feeding biology.

This book builds the program one rancher and his family undertook to return to profitability. It took many years to get where he is today,and he did it by doing things differently.

He dared to go against everything he was taught in agriculture school. He dared to measure his results and learn from his mistakes.

He has become the champion of using cover crops to build fertility and make living soil from mere physical dirt.

Soil to produce the food we eat, involves a long unbroken chain of activities from the soil microbiology to the plants and animals we eat.

The farmers and ranchers in that chain must not be constrained by the handcuffs of outdated and destructive cultural practices on the land.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Quesnel council proposing 6.7-per-cent tax increase for 2020

Tax increase reflects added RCMP and bylaw resources, plus new snow levy

UPDATE: One dead after multi-vehicle collision involving logging truck on Highway 97

DriveBC says highway expected to remain closed until 8 p.m.

New Feb. 22 Casino Night event raises money for two Bouchie Lake societies

The Friends of Bouchie-Milburn and Bouchie Lake Watershed Stewardship societies are partnering up

North Cariboo MLA wishes provincial budget offered more support to forestry workers and small businesses

Coralee Oakes was happy to see more funding for Foundry programs, high school mental health supports

Voice for North Cariboo Seniors Feb. 20 guest speaker will speak about seniors’ care at hospital

The Quesnel-based group is also looking for volunteers to help move food products once a week

Blair says RCMP have met Wet’suwet’en conditions, calls for end to blockades

The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project

Petition seeks to remove local police department from Lindsay Buziak murder case

American woman starts online petition in hopes of helping Buziak family

Health officials confirm sixth COVID-19 case in B.C.

Woman remains in isolation as Fraser Health officials investigate

Study says flu vaccine protected most people during unusual influenza season

Test-negative method was pioneered by the BC Centre for Disease Control in 2004

Saskatchewan and B.C. reach championship round at Scotties

British Columbia’s Corryn Brown locked up the last berth in Pool B

B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

In November, Nova Scotia’s mental-health court program marked 10 years of existence

COLUMN: Not an expert on First Nations government structures? Then maybe you should calm down

Consider your knowledge about First Nations governance structures before getting really, really mad

Meet the Wet’suwet’en who want the Coastal GasLink pipeline

Supporters of the pipeline are upset only one side is being heard nationwide

B.C. teacher gets 15-year ban after lying about having sex with just-graduated student

Teacher had been dishonest with the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

Most Read