To kick off ICL’s Farmer Spotlight Series – a collection of blogs centered around farmers in southern Idaho who are putting the planet first at their farms – we sat down with Rich Bupp of Twin Falls.
Rich is the Executive Director of EarthKnowSys, an Idaho-based nonprofit that helps farmers and other natural resource managers select more sustainable practices for their operations. This includes helping farmers incorporate regenerative agriculture practices and serving as a problem-solving “pit crew” for others. Rich uses his educational background in water resources management and agriculture systems management daily in his work.
When it comes to environmental impact, agriculture often gets a bad rap. Conventional practices are known for pollution of nearby water sources, degradation of the land, and harmfully impacting the atmosphere. Here in Idaho, these negative impacts can be seen across the state. But some farms are changing their ways.
Regenerative agriculture practices, including the ones Rich educates others about, prioritize soil health and water conservation – leading to a healthier and more sustainable use of the land, a smaller carbon footprint, and higher yields for farmers. As more farmers adopt these practices, regenerative agriculture is appearing to be the future of Idaho food.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, Rich experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of both conventional and regenerative farming. Given the hilly terrain of his family’s farm and the consistent rain Pennsylvania gets, surface soil erosion was a regular battle on their farm. In an effort to save their soil, the Bupp family began implementing low/no tilling practices in the 1980s. This opened the door for Rich to begin his own career pursuing water and soil conservation, specifically in the agricultural industry.
Today, Rich helps other farmers embark on their own regenerative agriculture journeys. He customizes unique regenerative approaches for each farm he works with. Given that fear often comes with changing operations, Rich eases farmers into change by starting small. He works on simple, inexpensive initial projects with the goal of using less synthetic inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides – allowing farmers to experience and learn about unconventional approaches without the worry of possibly losing a harvest. He also starts the conversation about reducing soil disturbance and introduces farmers to low and no till techniques, while also providing mechanical support for new equipment.
Along with implementing trial projects, Rich works as a “counselor” for the farming community. He talks to individuals about their concerns with changing their operations and overcoming the “cultural growing pains” that come with leaving behind conventional practices that have dominated agriculture for the last 50+ years in Idaho.
By helping more farmers alter their operations to prioritize high plant residues and low disturbance on the soil, Rich is not only improving the soil’s quality and reducing environmental impact – he is teaching farmers practices that will help them for generations to come. Farmers are able to see firsthand how regenerative agriculture leads to reduced soil erosion, smarter water use, higher yields, and a better environmental impact – all while ensuring the upfront costs don’t hurt their operations. By placing monetary benefits on the positive impacts regenerative agricultural practices brings, Rich is able to demonstrate the economic viability and prosperity that can be achieved from unconventional farming. While Rich may not “start” anyone on regenerative practices, he plays the critical role of “helping farmers continue to try to perfect their systems.”
Rich’s nonprofit, EarthKnowSys, recently applied for a grant from the Idaho Department of Agriculture that would allow for the establishment of The Agriculture Ecosystem Academy. This would be a mobile organization that would provide training, education, and other supportive resources for regenerative farming. If they receive the funding, this program would further educate and assist farmers across the state to begin or continue their own regenerative agriculture operations.
Agriculture is a massive industry in Idaho – we’re ranked in the top 10 in the U.S. for production of more than 25 crops and livestock. The size of this industry makes it a key component in efforts to combat climate change in Idaho, which is one of ICL’s goals.
Another one of ICL’s goals is to restore the Snake River as it flows through southern Idaho to safe, swimmable, fishable conditions. The agriculture industry plays a huge role in this mission as well, as pollutants from farms and dairies have polluted the Snake and its aquifer for decades. These factors show that regenerative agriculture can help both restore the Snake River and improve the industry’s impact on the environment – all while making farmers more successful and prepared for a future facing the impacts of a changing climate.
Stay tuned for the next installment of our Farmer Spotlight Series, or get them sent right to you by signing up for our Snake River emails. Want to take immediate action for the Snake River? Let Idaho leaders know you value the health and safety of our groundwater and the Snake River and want to see it restored to safe, swimmable and fishable conditions by clicking the button below.