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  • Writer's pictureZack Koscielny

Feeding the World, or Saving the Planet?

As I am sure you have heard, April 22, 2023 is Earth Day. Did you know the very first Earth Day was April 22, 1970? Some consider the first Earth Day to be the start of the modern environmental movement, perhaps fueled in part by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962. Obviously, individuals involved in Earth Day or broader environmental advocacy are concerned with the current state of our planet’s health and the direction it seems to be going. I would like to think that I am one of these individuals – I believe it is in my best interest to do everything I can in both my work & personal life to not just reduce my ‘environmental footprint’, but to reverse climate change and environmental degradation. Unfortunately, I commonly hear that ‘saving the planet’ – or as I prefer to say, regenerating the landscape – is going to be incredibly costly, or we can’t be good environmental stewards AND make money or maintain a comfortable lifestyle. So, in a farming context, do we have to choose between Feeding the World & Saving the Planet?

As a business that is largely influenced by the productivity of land, I find it odd that many farmers have embraced the ‘Feed the World’ mantra, but not near as many have invested in regenerating their land. Yes, as farmers our job involves putting food on the tables of families in our own country and abroad. But can we afford to put Feeding the World above good land stewardship? Do we even need to put one ahead of the other? Regardless, it does appear that extreme weather is getting more common. Last December I had the opportunity to attend the Manitoba Association of Watersheds conference in Winnipeg. One of the Watershed Districts made a presentation that mentioned the frequency of severe flooding in their watershed from 1974 to present. From 1974 to 2010, there were 2 years where severe flooding events caused significant damage. Between 2010 & 2023, there were 6 years with severe flooding. If that is the reality, I think farmers have no choice but to prioritize regenerating their land so that the land, and perhaps more importantly, their farm business, can withstand these extreme weather events. In my experience, prioritizing land & soil health on the farm leads to improved profitability of the business.

At Green Beach Farm & Food, we have made some specific changes that have led to improved profitability, as well as improved ecosystem health. The most impactful change I feel we have made so far is improving the management of our grazing. In a nutshell, we are striving to mimic how the bison would have moved across this prairie prior to the establishment of agriculture. Our cattle get small paddocks for short periods of time (typically one day), and do not return to this paddock for 12-16 months. The benefits of this change have been many – higher pasture yields, more ground cover, more plant diversity, more insect & wildlife diversity. Yes, in the midst of a global biodiversity crisis - in which the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) reports a two-thirds drop in species abundance on this planet - Green Beach Farm & Food is seeing increased biodiversity on our land. On our grain acres, we implement the same grazing concepts, utilizing annual full-season cover crops, as well as re-establishing perennial plants in areas prone to flooding or erosion due to runoff.

But that only covers the land benefits – how about benefits to our farm business? Over the last several years, we have gone from breeding 40-45 females, to breeding just over 100 in 2023. Our pasture growth has improved so dramatically we have doubled our cow numbers, while also grazing longer, all on the same land base. And if I am being honest, it already looks like we will be able to increase herd numbers again in 2024, barring an extreme drought this summer. These successes are by no means unique to Green Beach Farm & Food. We know of many farms in Manitoba, across the country and around the world that are seeing exactly the same results – improved land health and improved profits. The principles of Regenerative Agriculture offer a road map to simultaneously Feeding the World & Saving the Planet.

In my experience, regenerating the landscape and Feeding the World has gone hand-in-hand on many Regenerative farms. There is no need to put one ahead of the other. Our business model on the farm must consider both profit & agroecosystem health. What inspires me to keep making changes and regenerating our land, is that, contrary to popular opinion, Feeding the World & Saving the Planet can in fact go hand-in-hand. Maybe I get some satisfaction in proving the nay-sayers wrong, but ultimately, I am grateful that there is a way for me to continue as the 5th generation farmer on this land and ensure that our land and business will be healthy and viable for the 6th generation and beyond.

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