A Conversation About the Power of Regenerative Agriculture
- Ricardo Fenton, Estancia Monte Dinero
- Mimi Hillenbrand, 777 Buffalo Ranch
- Jim Howell, CEO, Grasslands, LLC
- Brittany Cole Bush, Sheperdess, Star Creek Land Stewards
- Moderator: Chris Kerston, Dir. Communications and Marketing, Savory Institute
RF – from Patagonia. Works with 60 farmers regenerating grasslands using holistic management. Training via savory Institute. Has partners in Chile. Currently impacting 2.5 million acres per year.
JH – works for Grasslands, an offshoot of the Savory Institute that facilitates the purchase of properties and implements funding from like-minded investors. Properties in Dakota, Montana, Hawaii and New Zealand. Farming 13,000 head of cattle and also red deer in New Zealand.
BCB – shepherdess, 1600 sheep and goats grazing 500 acres with 5 person team on the outskirts of NYC.
MH – 777 Bison ranch, practised holistic management for 30 years. 15,000 head on around 30,000 acres
CK: What are some of the challenges you face?
RF: Importance of utilising the whole of the animal. Different products should be explored. In Patagonia, support sustainable wool production. This retails at premium prices. We sell to an important group of consumers that tell us what they want (i.e. designers). Importance of good branding and quality assurance.
MH: there are many challenges marketing bison. Works with National Bison Association. Use mobile processing plant and good networking systems to deal with the challenges. There are only 500,000 bison in the whole of the US – not a lot!
BCB: It is important to connect with the urban population. I graze my animals on public land close to the cities. Being on the urban periphery facilitates discussion. Need to ask ‘Where does our food come from?’ Goat meat is becoming more popular with the influence of ethnic cuisines.
CK: What advice to you have for people looking for land?
JH: There is abandoned, under-utilised land everywhere. We need to tap into that. We have investors seeking a competitive economic return. Need scale with a relatively high stocking rate, also good access and roads. The Northern Great Plains and New Zealand offer this.
CK: What about utilising genetics?
RF: We have large areas where sheep are a monoculture so we need to regenerate the land and have a high stocking rate. Therefore we introduces multi-purpose Merinos (similar to primitive sheep). This doubled the income for farmers in a 5-6 year period. I would say that we need to look at land and production first and then genetics second.
CK: How do we get young people into agriculture?
BCB: Create relationships, learn tradition, be innovative, bold, and responsible. Create more respects for farmers and diversity. It is so important to support young people that want to go into farming.
CK: How important is the next 15 years?
JH: We are approaching a tipping point. We need to deal with the soil and with fossil fuels. We need to re-engage with landscapes. We need re-agrarianism.