Despite falling commodity prices and the perils some producers find themselves in, one producer says agricultural production can be profitable if producers open their minds to the potential of their operations.
That’s the opinion of Gabe Brown, during the Soil Health U and Trade Show, an event sponsored by High Plains Journal and held at Salina, Kansas.
Brown, who along with his wife Shelly, and son Paul, owns and operates a diversified 5,000-acre farm and ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota. Their ranch focuses on farming and ranching in nature’s image.
The Browns are considered one of the pioneers of the soil health movement that focuses on regeneration of resources. They holistically integrate their grazing and no-till cropping systems. This include a variety of cash crops, multi-species cover crops along with all-natural grass finished beef and lamb.
They also raise pastured laying hens, broilers and swine. This diversity and integration have regenerated the natural resources on the ranch without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. They believe that healthy soil leads to clean air, clean water, healthy plants, animals and people.
The Browns are part owners of a state-inspected abattoir that employs eight people. This allows them to direct market their products. They’ve also developed their own brand—Nourished by Nature—under which they sell beef, pork, lamb, eggs and honey at pickup locations throughout the state.
The farm crisis predicted by agricultural lenders, Brown said, doesn’t have to be that way.
“I am determined to make a profit on every single enterprise I have,” Brown said, “because I’m not dumb enough to sell something at a loss.”
Brown’s “stacked operations” business model is based on the idea the entire operation is an ecosystem. To be a truly sustainable enterprise, it must be capable of being passed onto the next generation, Brown said.
“If your sons and daughters don’t want to farm, that’s OK. But please, let’s make sure we give the next generation a start,” Brown said. “There’s no sense in us just cashing out and selling the land. What are we going to do, put it in traveler’s checks and take it with us? Come on. Help somebody else get started.”
Brown said the last statistical data he had seen indicated American farmers receive about 12 cents of every dollar spent on food.
“I should not let anyone dictate what I make for what I grow. We need to demand more of the food dollar in order to stay in business,” Brown said. “The critical factors in marketing are know your costs and keep track of expenses.”
Brown also helps other producers become profitable through speaking tours and consulting. One of the best ways to determine whole farm profitability is to determine how much carbon is cycling in the soil.
“We focus on soil health so why not market that fact,” Brown said. “We let folks come onto our place and see what we do. It builds trust. If you build trust, they’re going to buy.”
Brown believes opportunities for profit are only limited by one’s imagination.
“I have a restaurateur in Denver who wanted apple-infused pork,” Brown said. “We started feeding apples to our hogs. We also fed rosemary to our lambs. He told me, ‘Name your price.’”
Brown left the audience with his axiom, “One’s ability to be successful with regenerative agriculture is directly related to one’s understanding of how ecosystems function.”
Larry Dreiling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org