A wholesale shift to regenerative agriculture is soon to become the primary choice for survival, Tom Cannon told audiences at Soil Health U, Jan. 22 and 23, in Salina, Kansas.
The farmer and manager of Goodson Ranch, near Blackwell, in north-central Oklahoma, warned of a potential extinction of traditional ways of growing food.
He stressed walking in harmony with nature, combining touches of technology and maintaining a passion for producing food.
To get started, he said, one must first learn that these shifts go from the ground up.
“I do believe that without significant change, a lot of these soils are going to continue to degrade to where you can’t be competitive with people who are doing regenerative ag,” said Cannon, 51. “Those who aren’t willing to innovate and move to a better production practice, will be left behind. Those who are being more productive with less inputs will be the ones who are able to lead on out and continue in business.”
Cannon’s main bullet point in January was “developing an intimacy with the soil.”
Success depends on a healthy relationship and a yearning to understand what’s going on in the root zones, he said.
“It’s quite similar and I believe on par with gravity as a universal truth. As you give you shall receive,” Cannon said. “As you give, you will receive 10-fold, 100-fold, and a thousand fold. That’s biblical, and nowhere is that more evident than with your soil.”
What amazed him is that letting natural systems work for you slashes the price of doing business.
“It’s so complex, and we know so little about soil biology,” he said, but once humans step aside and stop manipulating the land, the soil biological benefits are “almost entirely free.”
What’s happens is an “increase in photo synthesis,” Cannon said, by having more living plants in the soils for a longer period of time.
“The plants give that energy to the living soil, and those microbes in the soils give nutrients back the plants,” he said. “It’s really a never-ending flow of energy.”
Cannon is the fourth generation in his family to manage the ranch. His son, Jacob, 22, could be next in line.
“Jacob’s just as into it, but he’s smarter,” Tom Cannon said.
His father, the late Larry Cannon, often preached to “take care of the grass and that’ll take care of the cattle.”
But it runs deeper.
“We now take care of the soil life so that it takes care of the grass,” he said.
The ranch runs more than 1,000 head of cattle a year on 10,000 acres. He oversees the grazing of no-till crops on the ranch that has continued for 22 years.
Companion crops and cover crops are planted and harvested together, and then separated with a cleaner. For instance, wheat and vetch are planted together, harvested together and can be sold separately or together.
“I do the same with other blends of cover crops, and it’s worth more than wheat,” Cannon said.
He plans to use center pivot irrigation systems—that pumped less than two inches of water on his fields in 2019—to move cattle in a rotational grazing program.
“It could be significantly easier than an electric fence,” Cannon said.
He’s doing some long-distance networking with farmer-rancher Tom Robinson of Australia, who may test a newfangled necklace for controlled livestock grazing.
“The possibilities are unlimited,” Cannon said. “I think it would be amazing.”
Tim Unruh can be reached at email@example.com.