An upcoming conference in Brandon will examine how to build up land, rather than just harvesting from it.
The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association is preparing for its first-ever regenerative agriculture conference Nov. 27 and 28, with the theme “Adapting to Today’s Food and Farming World.”
MFGA says it’s hoping a lineup of producer testimony and expert advice at the Victoria Inn will sway farmers to this way of thinking about farming.
Why it matters: They might be in it for the finances or for the environment, or some combination of both, but farmers who have bought into regenerative agriculture are about to have a one-stop shop for professional development this month.
Regenerative agriculture, the collection of management styles based around things like improving soil health, and growing biodiversity, has garnered growing attention in recent years. In Manitoba, it has become a key feature in the summer farm tour circuit, and adaptive grazing, cover crops, or livestock integration in cash cropping were all repeat topics this summer. At the same time, advocates also insist that the philosophy falls in line with profit or, at the very least, reduces financial risk by making land more resilient to flood or drought.
The two-day conference will play on that financial promise, according to Pam Iwanchysko of Manitoba Agriculture and one of the event organizers.
“I really do feel that producers and people, the general public, are becoming more educated and more aware of how regenerative agriculture works,” Iwanchysko said. “I think they’re really seeing the benefit of practising and utilizing some of these practices. I do see interest building momentum.”
MFGA has thoroughly embraced the regenerative agriculture movement. The organization signed on to host the conference in an effort to pitch regenerative agriculture to farmers and contacts in the farm community.
“This is where we’re putting the tires on the road,” MFGA executive director Duncan Morrison said. “We’re trying hard to be a lot more relevant and we’re certainly on the path.”
A similar conference was held in Alberta last year.
David Montgomery, David Johnson and Burke Teichert will spearhead the speaking lineup in Brandon.
Montgomery, a professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington, knows all about soil. His first major book, Dirt, featured a hard look at erosion’s impact on ancient civilizations. The modern farmer, however, may be more interested in the more recent, Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life, drawn from Montgomery’s conversations with farmers and their efforts to reduce tillage or improve their soils.
Johnson, likewise, is a big name for anyone interested in microbial biodiversity and how it relates to carbon sequestration. Part of New Mexico State University’s Institute for Sustainable Agricultural Research, Johnson is well known for his work developing high-fugal, biodiverse compost out of dairy barn waste, a mechanism he then argues could be used to both jump-start crops and trap more carbon in the ground.
Teichert, meanwhile, will approach the conference as an industry member with four decades of multi-ranch management. Since his retirement in 2010, he has regularly contributed to BEEF Magazine on strategic ranch management and is listed on the advisory board for the Western Ranchlands Corporation, an agricultural investment firm in Alberta with an eye to conservation management.
About 200 have registered for the conference so far, Morrison said, about two-thirds of the MFGA’s goal. Conference registrations are being taken through Manitoba Agriculture’s Dauphin office.
Ducks Unlimited and the MFGA are also partnering for Regenerative Agriculture Week, Nov. 26-30, to add on to the conference. Two workshops will bracket the conference, one led by Johnson Nov. 26 at Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiatives north of Brandon and one in Pipestone Nov. 29, led by Teichert.
“We’ve got the speakers out here, so we might as well capitalize on that,” Iwanchysko said.
Iwanchysko expects that farmers already using regenerative agriculture methods will be more attracted to the workshops, drawn by the chance for more detailed information and interactions.