Columbia Star

Betting the farm, and winning


Jason Carter stands in a field of sunn hemp, sunflower, and buckwheat cover crop.

Jason Carter stands in a field of sunn hemp, sunflower, and buckwheat cover crop.

Jason Carter is an Eastover farmer trying to make changes for the sake of his family, farm, and his planet. His father was also a farmer who thought outside the lines enough to establish Mr. Bunky’s, a combination general merchandise, gas station, and food store, with a restaurant thrown in. Anyone who’s ever walked inside that place knows it wasn’t envisioned by a “color inside the lines” kind of person.

Jason Carter Farms plants crops on 1,000 acres of land, and primarily grows corn, wheat, and soybeans. For the last 10 years, the Carter farm has operated with a cover crop on every acre. This means they don’t till the land, and something is always growing on every square foot of farmland. They haven’t used lime, commercial phosphorus, or potassium for the last eight years, or Glyphosate for the last two.

This process has reduced chicken waste as nutrients by 50 percent, synthetic nitrogen by 75 percent, insecticide applications by 75 percent, and herbicide use by 50 percent. Carter hasn’t applied fungicide in seven years. The farm will also be 100 percent GMO-free in 2022. They are currently conducting a trial to see how much row crops, and the bottom line, benefit from the effects of grazing cattle.

In a reply to an inquisitive visitor, Carter talked first about forests, “No one is fertilizing or spraying true natural forests and the soil is thriving. Yet in the Great Plains, when we killed all the bison, ripped up the soil, started mono culture to plant just wheat, we destroyed the biology in the soil.”

With the introduction of GMO seeds designed to be resistant to the herbicide Glysophate (Roundup) in 1996, more farmers began to utilize no till planting. The GMO seeds initially reduced herbicide use and eliminated weed control tilling. But as weeds adapted to the GMO process, more chemicals had to be added for continued control. While erosion was reduced, added chemicals caused different problems needing different solutions.

Regenerative agriculture keeps the land covered at all times with some type of growth, which allows the soil to revert to a more natural process where nutrients keep the soil naturally active, fertile, and absorbent.

Our planet was formed about 4.5 billion years ago and, like our immediate neighbors, was a solid rock sphere for much of that time. Ice, rain, and wind eventually began eroding the hard crust. Life, primarily microbes, fungi, lichen, and other plants, began accelerating the process and decomposition began. Fertile forest soil first appeared on fossil records during the Devonian Period, between 420 and 360 million years ago. In addition to the benefits for the soil, the photosynthesis process stores carbon in that same soil.

Nothing changed until humans came along and began trying to improve on nature’s process. Farmers like Jason Carter are trying to eventually revert back to those days so farming soil will resemble the forest soil, that we can still see in abundance— untouched by humans.

Gabe Brown is a North Dakota farmer and author, and a pioneer of the Soil Health Movement. His five principles of soil health are—limited disturbance, armor, diversity, living roots, and integrated animals. Jason Carter and several other area farmers are checking those boxes and getting positive results.

They think they are on the right track. And bet the farm they are right.

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