In February, Jeanne Merrill and Tessa Salzman of the CalCAN team attended a regenerative almond orchard field day at Burroughs Family Farms in Ballico, CA, where Rosie, Ward and their family grow organic almonds, cattle, sheep, chickens and olives. Over 200 people attended this event including organic and conventional farmers, commodity trade group members, university researchers, technical assistance providers and advocates. The benefits of regenerative agriculture systems were showcased with a focus on cover crops, which promote soil health and water infiltration and retention. The Burroughs also run sheep in their almond orchards, incorporate compost across the farm and maintain high levels of biodiversity–a system in sharp contrast to the monocrops, bare soil and synthetic fertilizers that dominate the Central Valley.
Field day highlights
The field day was co-led by the Burroughs family, Jonathan Lundgren and his research team at Ecdysis, a South Dakota-based organization that works to redesign agroecosystems by increasing biodiversity and reducing disturbance. Burroughs Family Farms is a lighthouse farm implementing the principles of regenerative agriculture that Ecdysis seeks to validate in their ambitious 1,000 Farms Initiative. This initiative is a 10-year study to measure the outcomes of regenerative agriculture systems and to develop the data needed to support farmers in the transition. While the team is incredibly animated and enthusiastic, they are more dogmatic about the principles than the label.
1) reduce or eliminate tillage
2) never leave bare soil
3) maximize plant diversity
4) integrate livestock and cropping operations
5) reduce or eliminate synthetic agri-chemicals
The field day co-hosts walked the enthused and curious participants through hands-on activities to show us the benefits of the Burroughs’ farming techniques first hand. At one point we all got down on our hands and knees to count how many bugs we could find in the shelter of the thick cover crop on the floor of the almond orchard. We also witnessed a water infiltration demonstration that illustrated the effect of cover crops below the surface of the soil where the roots help build healthy structure and moisture, increase infiltration rates and improve water holding capacity.
Civil Eats and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Share the Details
As reported in a Civil Eats article that threads together the details of the field day, Lundgren’s history and the Ecdysis organization, Lundgren acknowledges that:
“There’s a good chance that by the time we save the planet using our food system, we’ll call it something other than regenerative. I’m not going to get hung up on the name. But the principles have to be there for this to work…”
“It’s getting to be this fever pitch. But none of them are actually putting data behind it or actually testing to find out whether it works… I’m not saying our matrix is perfect, but we’re the only ones who have an actual matrix of regenerative practices (that can be shown to contribute to regenerative outcomes) that is in the peer-reviewed literature.”
In addition to this important research taking place on the family farm, Rosie Burroughs also advocates for state and federal policies that support farmers with funding, tools and technical assistance to mitigate climate change and maintain economic viability. In a recent testimony to the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, detailed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Rosie told the committee that:
“All life starts in the soil and all health starts in the soil. When we use regenerative practices, we are creating the most nutrient dense food, doing the most for sequestering carbon, and for protecting the environment.”
While there are short term benefits of certain regenerative practices, it takes time to transition to a new system founded on a set of principles instead of inputs. Rosie elevated the key connection between sustainable farming, farmland conservation and land access by appealing to the Subcommittee with a message that would resonate with farmers across the conventional to regenerative spectrum:
“Most importantly, our greatest resource is our farmland and our farmers. We need to protect that resource and ensure that economic viability is in place so that they can succeed in their vital work.”
You can read the full NSAC article here.