Longtime local rancher Dave has been making hay in Montana’s Paradise Valley for decades. Chemical fertility inputs were his go-to, and the summer of 2018 was his best year using such products – he pulled 88 round bales off his front field. But Dave ranches with an eye towards the future and was always wary of the chemical fertility program. He wanted to get away from the negative cycle of more and more chemical inputs. At the time, he wouldn’t have guessed that transitioning to regenerative practices would also improve his production.
Aside from the fact that most of the chemicals in traditional fertilizers wind up washing into the pristine Yellowstone River to be swept downstream to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, their use doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint. More and more nitrogen is needed every season to attain desired yields, driving up costs alongside harmful side effects. When Regenerative Land Solutions Co-Founder Vern Smith explained to Dave how his salt heavy chemical program was negatively affecting his free soil microbial nutrient miners, he decided to take an Earthfort Advanced Biology Package test. This is what we found:
Dave had low activity levels in his soil microbiology. They were sleepy soils. The fungi, for example, were firing at a fifth of the level you would like to see for this time of year. His natural nitrogen cycling potential was only 100 to 150 pounds per acre range, a number we like to see at over 300. He was leaving a lot on the table from a biology standpoint and making up for it by forking over too much money on chemical nitrogen.
In the spring of 2019, he put down one gallon and one pound of Provide and Revive, probiotic and prebiotic for the soil, and cut out his entire chemical fertility program. He wanted to focus on improving his soil health and increasing the amount of natural nutrient cycling in his field. Vern talked him into cutting six inches higher than he did in 2018 to leave more cover, yet he still saw a dramatic increase in production. He went from 88 round bales in 2018 with full chemical fertility to 115 round bales in 2019 with our regenerative biology program.
A 31% increase in production is just the beginning of the benefits of healthy soil. Working towards improving the soil life will greatly improve overall soil health on Dave’s land. Higher functioning soil biology improves water infiltration and water storage capacity. In arid Paradise Valley, we only get about 16 inches of rain a year. Increasing the effectiveness of this rainfall is critical. It also improves Dave’s feed quality and nutrient density, reduces pest pressure, decreases weed pressure, slows erosion, and remediates physical properties of soil.
Dave put on another application of Provide and Revive after his first cutting and we will continue to monitor his soil biology and adjust his program as we go. Unlike the chemical system of increasing inputs for decreasing returns, biology builds on itself. Over the long term, he will need fewer inputs and be more profitable. Better biology will continue to improve his operation’s bottom line and help our valley live up to its name.