Powder River Hosts Workshop with Healthy Soils Guru, Gabe Brown

On November 10, the Powder River Basin Resource Council hosted a day-long soils health workshop led by award-winning regenerative farmer Gabe Brown. Over 150 ranchers, farmers, producers, and agriculture students attended. Also hosting the event were the Sheridan County Conservation District, Plank Stewardship Initiative, Sheridan College Department of Agriculture, and Barnyards & Backyards, a publication of the University of Wyoming Extension. The workshop was aptly titled “Regenerating Landscapes.”

Gabe and his family engage in holistic management on their 5,000-acre ranch, where he says improving soil health is a number one priority. The family has practiced no-till farming since 1993, along with diverse cropping strategies, including cover and companion crops.

These management practices have allowed the Browns to eliminate the use of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides, while increasing the production and profitability of the ranch. To learn more about Gabe Brown’s Ranch, visit http://brownsranch.us/.

The workshop opened with an Agency and Producer Q&A session during which Gabe responded to participants’ questions about the details of his operation and helped troubleshoot problems they might have encountered on their own farms and ranches.

After a quick break for lunch, the workshop resumed with an update on the Northeast Wyoming Invasive Grass Working Group by Dr. Brian Mealor of the Sheridan Research and Extension Center, and a primer on soils presented by Dr. Caitlin Youngquist from the University of Wyoming Extension. The rest of the day was taken up by Gabe Brown’s presentation on regenerative farming and ranching.

Gabe began with a discussion on soil function and his five principles for achieving a healthy soil profile. “Plant diversity is the key to enhancing soil biota in the long-term,” he explained. “I see our farm as an ecosystem and I try to imitate nature’s design from the ground up.”

Gabe uses animal “impact” as a tool to treat invasive, noxious weeds and to restore landscapes through an approach he calls adaptive multi-paddock grazing. When asked how he has achieved such amazing success, Gabe replied “it’s all about the soil health.”

Gabe also shared his experiences with direct marketing and what he termed “stacked enterprises,” which he described as adding new revenue streams on top of existing ones. For example, Brown’s ranch stacks livestock enterprises by raising multiple species on the same land base. Gabe said on their ranch they strive “to grow with their clientele” in order to be positioned to offer the range of products their customers want.

Brown’s operation sports its own label, “Nourished by Nature,” and the family currently operates 17 different enterprises, including grass-finished beef, lamb and pork, eggs, heirloom vegetables, cut flowers, and honey.

Gabe direct-markets his products, which means he gets to interact with his customers and set his own price. “We need to get back to knowing our farmer or rancher,” he said. “We have an open-door policy at the ranch, and we are not going to do anything on our ranch to jeopardize our customer’s trust.”

Gabe admits that his approach to ranching is unorthodox, but he shrugs it off by saying “they laugh at me because I’m different, but I laugh at them because they are all the same. To ranch regeneratively you have to observe, adapt, and change. But most importantly, you have to have the ability and humility to unlearn and relearn.”

– by Megan Taylor, Powder River Staff, from the Powder River Breaks

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