Back in April, ICL staff toured Ernie’s Organics near Shoshone. Owned and operated by the Brossy family, Ernie’s Organics has been a leading advocate for regenerative agriculture in Idaho.
Conventional farming can often cause pollution of nearby water sources, degradation of the land, and harmful impacts to the atmosphere. Regenerative practices are more sustainable, prioritizing soil health and water conservation and leading to healthier, tastier food.
The Brossy family were early adopters of regenerative agriculture. After starting in hay and pasture, Fred and Judy worked on organically growing small grains, vegetables, vegetable seed crops, dry beans, potatoes and other row crops. Their journey eventually led to purchasing Ernie’s Organics. Fred and Cooper co-manage the farm and enjoy collaborating with other farmers and regenerative practitioners, such as Rich Bupp. Their intent is to apply regenerative practices across their operation wherever possible to improve their bottom line and improve their quality of life. To learn more about how regenerative agriculture has shaped the success of Ernie’s Organics and inspired future endeavors for the Brossy family, we spoke with Cooper Brossy for our Farmer Spotlight Series.
What practices are used on your farm?
“Many years ago, we developed a series of sediment collection basins and filter strips adjacent to the riparian zone. While these reduced suspended sediment from entering the river, the real
problem was that our production practices created an environment of loose soil that is vulnerable to wind and water erosion. We were treating the symptoms rather than the cause in this case.
We developed dedicated pollinator habitats in cooperation with NRCS, the Xerces Society, and the Northwest Coalition to Alternatives for Pesticides to expand on the diverse habitats in our riparian zone located adjacent to fields. We do our best to keep living roots in the ground for as many days of the year as possible to reduce impacts from wind erosion and to support an active, living soil ecosystem.
All that said, the most regenerative practices we implement on our farm revolve around our effort to develop a no-till production system for dry edible beans (i.e., pinto beans) using a roll-down cover crop.
We’re taking a page from producers in Midwestern states who grow cereal rye as a winter cover crop, terminate the cover crop with a roller-crimper that kills without herbicides, lays down and flattens the cover crop, and then plant directly without any other tillage into the resulting thick mat of flattened plant material. Many acres of corn and soybeans are grown with this approach in the Midwest. We’re trying to apply the key principles and adapt the approach to dry bean production here in Idaho, but it has been very challenging due to the differences in how dry beans germinate and grow compared to corn/soy plants. It’s also tough in our case because we’re trying to do this within an organic production system. We’re several years out from being comfortable with this approach – we need to find better winter cover crops and different beans that can tolerate these conditions, which are vastly different from the growing conditions edible beans are traditionally bred for.”
What benefits have you seen from these practices?
“Successful implementation of no-till bean production reduced labor and fuel costs by reducing trips through the field with tillage equipment. In both the long and short term, this approach keeps the soil covered through the winter– reducing soil erosion from wind and water. In the long term, we expect to see a further increase in soil health parameters including increased species richness of macro and micro fauna, reduced need for inputs derived from off-farm, and more nutrient-dense crops.”
Roller crimping the cereal rye cover crop, to prepare for planting
Why did you make the switch to regenerative agriculture?
“We wanted to find a production system that would reduce the amount of time-consuming spring field work that resulted in highly-disturbed soils susceptible to wind erosion. Also, in our organic system, we rely on a lot of mid-season soil disturbing cultivation to control weeds. We’d rather spend our time doing other things, so we want to develop a production system not so reliant on hours.”
What would you say to other farmers who don’t use regenerative practices?
“There are a lot of regenerative practices out there, and not all of them work for every operation. But, there are probably some that might well fit with your operation, and many can improve your bottom line by improving soil and plant health, reducing expensive inputs, and improving your quality of life. The challenge is to find the practices that you can comfortably trial and do them on a scale that you can learn from but not suffer from the learning curve. Then, once you’ve gotten familiar enough with them, implementation more broadly can be more successful.”
The Idaho Conservation League is working to address the growing issues of water pollution and climate change in Idaho. By working directly with individual stakeholders, we work to address climate change effects via carbon sequestration, improved soil health, and restoring the Snake River in southern Idaho to swimmable and fishable conditions. In the agricultural sector, conservation efforts such as low and no-till practices, cover cropping, crop rotation methods, and other methods help to reduce runoff from reaching the Snake River or groundwater resources. These soil and water conservation efforts benefit the economy and the environment beyond water quality and soil health, encouraging ICL to work to implement them throughout the state.