Gabe Brown, Bismarck, North Dakota – 26th June 2015

Gabe Brown is probably the most famous farmer in the sustainable agriculture circles for what he has achieved. He had 4 years of drought and hail and was almost broke so could not afford crop inputs so had to change his farm from a high input system. This has lead him down the current road he is on where the almost the only crop amendment he has is seed. He uses no fertiliser, no fungicicdes, insecticides or tillage. He has managed to build up his soils from 1.5% organic matter to today around 8%. He now has soil with incredible life and structure.

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This soil health is what has allowed Gabe to reduce his inputs so dramatically. He has done is by using no till, cover crops, very diverse rotations, intercropping and inclusion of livestock.

The first field we went to Gabe had planted sweetcorn plus beans.

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These crops will be for hand picking. Last year the field was his no till garden followed by a cover crop.

Gabe’s cover crop mixes are now having less legumes included because the residue disappears so quickly, so he needs crops with a high C:N ratio.

We then went to have a look at Gabe’s cattle. He is trying to have breeds that are hardy and have good eating quality as he sells a lot of his meat direct. He also likes breeds that are calm so the meat is more tender. So he has British whites in the mix.image

The cows are mob grazed so will often be moved twice a day. He normally has 500,000 to a 1,000,000 pounds of beef per acre. They basically take one bite then move on. The rest will be trampled. This means the plants have increased root depth and also means his forage increases along with rapid increase in soil health. The cows will be outside all year and during the winters will be grazed on covers until February and then be will give extra forage through bale grazing. They never receive a grain and are sold pasture fed.

Following the cows around the pastures are sheep and chickens. He has some for eggs and some for butchering

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Gabe also has hogs too. The hogs and chickens will be the only animals that receive grain. Neither are in permanent confinement.

With this system he has managed to grow 3 inches of topsoil in four years and finds that because his soil is so alive he has managed to extend his growing season due to the soil being warmer.

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The next field we looked as was rye and vetch. This was planted in October after a summer cover which was grazed. This field is for combining. It is a variety of vetch that he has grown for a long time and seed is running out so the grain from this mix will be kept mixed and used as cover crop seed. He has gone away from growing wheat and triticale as they have poorer rooting characteristics and do not promote soil health. The Rye is hardier and also gives him plenty of residue. Also Rye associates better with mychorizzae. There were weeds in the bottom of this crop but they were being shaded out by the crop.

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The next field was a crop of barley last year which was planted with two varieties of clover but the barley smothered them out. He has now planted a summer cover mix in which will be grazed later in the year

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The next field is some land he has taken on recently and was an old alfalfa stand which was losing production. So Gabe has seeded in some Rye and Vetch to help the soil life and improve the pasture.

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As you can see adding the annuals has invigorated the alfalfa. This field will be grazed and then he will plant some more rye and vetch to again improve the stand.

Then we went to see some of his corn. Gabe does not like to have large fields in one crop so either side of his corn he has planted some cover crops.

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The field was bale grazed last year as you can see. The idea of the cover crop is to attract pollinators so he does need any insecticides. The corn was planted with pole beans and they with act as a companion for the corn

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I had a fascinating morning with Gabe. It was great to see his farm with my own eyes not just You Tube. To see how someone has reduced his cost of production so much through holistic management was inspiring. Gabe doesn’t have any fancy machinery and doesn’t like to spend money. He also does not take crop insurance so has no government help. He also has three interns on the place so is helping the next generation. A true inspiration. Thanks Gabe.

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5 thoughts on “Gabe Brown, Bismarck, North Dakota – 26th June 2015

  1. Mark Middleton June 29, 2015 / 12:30 pm

    Is it all about the cattle or do your reckon we could improve the soil OM with covers

    Like

    • Andy Howard June 29, 2015 / 12:34 pm

      It is better with livestock but you can do without but won’t get to the same heights

      Like

  2. gustav soeborg July 14, 2016 / 11:18 pm

    You are lucky to have met Gabe, must have been some of an experience. I thought he did use some more species in his companion crops.

    Like

    • Andy Howard July 15, 2016 / 8:19 am

      I was only there a while. Not long enough to see and hear everything. It is the kind of place you need a week

      Like

      • gustav soeborg July 16, 2016 / 7:35 am

        He is doing real farming, good profit, stable yields and producing food from air, sun and water.

        Like

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