Regenerative agriculture brings animals to orchards

By Lisa McEwen

Benina Montes returned to the family farm after graduating from university, and she joined family members in slowly changing the way it was run. The conventionally grown almond ranch in Merced County transitioned to a diverse organic farm using regenerative farming practices.

“It’s farming for the future,” she said.

Montes co-owns Burroughs Family Orchards in Ballico with his parents, Ward and Rosie Burroughs. They grow organic almonds, walnuts and olives. Additionally, she and her husband Heriberto operate the Burroughs family farms, producing organic pastured eggs. The arc is completed by Full Circle Dairy, an organic, grass-based dairy of 500 Jersey and Jersey-cross cows that is co-managed by sister Christina Bylsma and her husband Brian.

The family farms now span 1,200 acres, all using cover crops, no-till, cattle and sheep grazing, diversified crops and hedgerows.

Burroughs Family Orchards is part of a research project led by the Ecdysis Foundation called 1,000 Farm Initiative. Created by former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Jonathan Lundgren, the foundation will complete research by 2023 to quantify the potential impacts of regenerative agriculture, with the goal of inspiring its methods nationwide. .

The principles of regenerative agriculture are similar to those of conservation agriculture: minimal soil disturbance, elimination or reduction of chemical use, avoidance of bare soils by using cover crops that enhance plant diversity and integration of livestock into the growing operation.

This integration was highlighted on February 17 when Burroughs Family Orchards hosted a field day to share information about the impact on farms and communities when these methods are used together or “stacked.” Montes said the attendance of 250 people highlighted a strong interest in regenerative agriculture.

Ecdysis’ Lundgren urged participants to consider regenerative management practices on their own almond farms in the face of climate change, loss of topsoil, rising production costs and declining availability. some water.

“All of these issues that we face are more personal than ever,” he said. “We all have to be more than we can be if we’re going to get out of this mess.”

Lundgren is a research co-author of “Defining and Validating Regenerative Farming Systems Using a Composite of Ranked Farming Practices” – work published last year on the open research platform F1000Research. The project brought together scientists from California State University, East Bay; University of Minnesota; Purdue University; University of Nebraska; and South Dakota State University.

Lundgren said research has revealed healthier soil, greater plant and insect biodiversity, and faster water infiltration rates in almond orchards using regenerative practices. Crop yields and profits were similar to conventional practices, but with fewer inputs needed due to livestock grazing the cover crops.

“Most conventional farms are ditching these inputs out of necessity,” Lundgren said. “I encourage you to understand the ecology of your farm.”

Montes said she started farming almonds conventionally with her father after graduating from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, in 2001. In 2006, they switched to almond production. organic and branched out into organic olive production in 2010, using a variety of crops which is a hallmark of regenerative agriculture.

“I always knew I wanted to get back into farming, and I knew we had to diversify because we were otherwise vulnerable,” she said.

Montes’ children, nieces and nephews represent the family’s fifth generation in California agriculture – more than 100 years old. She said: “It was exciting to see the changes on our farm, and I’m excited about what we can do with this type of farming.

Cindy Daley of the Chico State Center for Regenerative Agriculture has worked with the Burroughs family since 2006, while incorporating climate-smart agricultural practices into the college curriculum.

“Farmers are leading this effort,” she told guests at the field day. “It takes a psychological shift in your farming to adopt these practices. But that’s why you’re here today, to kick the tires and see what other people are doing.”

Farmers, educators, policy makers, vendors, nut processors, funders and activists gathered at the event to learn about regenerative practices. Research on soil testing, biodiversity, and ecosystem resilience were presented by experts from Chico State, University of California, Davis, and UC Cooperative Extension. Ecdysis Foundation scientists also conducted a variety of field seminars that allowed participants to scour cover crops for insects.

Four generations of the Jantz family gathered at the event, with 5-year-old Levi searching for bugs in the cover crop. Levi’s dad, Rylan Jantz, drove three hours from Colusa County with his dad, Linwood, to learn about regenerative practices, which he uses at his Chandler nut farm. They met local farmers, great-grandparents Cleo and Twila Jantz.

“I came today because I want to learn more about how to incorporate animals into the orchard,” said Rylan Jantz. He added that he was looking to network and find a lead to acquire Katahdin sheep, which do not need shearing, to graze in his orchard. Livestock are removed from regenerative orchards 120 days before harvest to address food safety concerns.

Joe Gardiner, national sales and marketing manager at Treehouse Almonds, a Tulare County nut processor, also attended the field day to glean more information for himself and his growers.

He said he had concerns about using livestock as part of the cycle and noted that a lush cover crop like that at Burroughs Family Orchards is likely not possible in Kern County, where it cultivates, due to different microclimates. Still, he said he was curious if he could benefit from regenerative practices.

“We have some of the best soil in the world, but we need to rebuild our soil health,” he said. “I’m here to see how these practices work and if we can adopt some of them. We’re trying to do some of the little things that will help our operations.”

(Lisa McEwen is a journalist at Exeter. She can be contacted at [email protected])

Permission for use is granted, however, credit should be given to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this article.

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