Publication: Montana Free Press
COMMON GROUND, PART 1: ‘The writing is on the wall’
How organic and regenerative agriculture are revitalizing rural Montana economies
By Emily Stifler Wolfe
Wind and water have eroded Montana soils since the first plow turned earth on the Northern Plains more than 150 years ago, taking with them one of the state’s most important resources. Since then, tillage, plus the fertilizer and pesticides common in industrial agriculture, have continued to degrade the soil that agriculture depends on. With climate change threatening almost 25,000 Montana agricultural jobs in the next 50 years, many farmers, ranchers and researchers believe the status quo is no longer adequate. And though conventional farming continues to account for the overwhelming majority of Montana’s $4.6 billion ag sector, things are shifting.
Part 1 of this series, supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, explores two responses to soil degradation in the age of climate change: organic and regenerative farming systems.
Organic has been a USDA certification since 2002, while regenerative lacks a codified or even consensus definition, but generally includes a suite of techniques like cover cropping, crop rotation and livestock integration that decrease erosion, improve biodiversity and capture carbon. Both systems have challenges and shortfalls, which are considered here, but a growing number of Montana producers are using them to build topsoil, become more resilient to drought, capture carbon and increase profits.