This Nuffield scholar shares some experiences from his family farm operation
By Rebeca Kuropatwa
As farmers face increasing weather volatility, they have a growing willingness to look outside the box for solutions.
Producers like Ryan Boyd find that regenerative ag (RA) is a great means to a remedy. He’s a 2019 Nuffield scholarship winner and he farms with his family near Forest, Man., just north of Brandon.
A 2005 bachelor of science graduate, Boyd was looking for a way to return to his mom and dad’s farm, and for the farm to support his parents as well as his growing family.
When Boyd joined the operation, it was a struggling Prairie grain farm in need of new revenue streams in order to be sustainable.
Today, the 3,000-acre farm only has 1,000 acres dedicated to grain. The rest of the operation is perennial pasture for the family’s growing herd of beef cattle (currently at 300 head).
“Grain farming was not very profitable and we were trying to figure out a way to make room, I guess you’d say, for me on the farm – how I was going to make a living farming,” said Boyd.
“I saw an opportunity to focus on expanding the cattle operation, and focus on grazing management as a way to create a profitable operation that could support two generations.”
By managing the perennial pasture with intensive grazing, using movable electric fencing, Boyd can minimize capital investments on inputs or machinery.
“I also feel that managing cattle in a grazing scenario is the easiest way to improve the soil, add carbon to the soil, making the whole system more resilient,” said Boyd. “It makes for better use of our available water, and also cycles nutrients quicker and more efficiently, growing a better crop.
“And, as for RA, for me, it kind of evolved from focusing on adding carbon into the soil into thinking more holistically about the way we farm.”
Adding carbon leads to a more resilient farming system that can better withstand shifting weather patterns. The carbon or organic matter acts like a sponge, a storing system for water and nutrients, that, in turn, allows soil to house an ecosystem of organisms on which plants and animals depend.
“It also works to enhance the natural environment we’re farming within – things like increasing biodiversity of plants, insects and wildlife, and also regenerating farm profitability and sustainability in terms of financial reward for what we do on the farm,” said Boyd. “Further, when farms are profitable, rural communities benefit from having a thriving rural economy.”
One of the biggest pluses with RA, Boyd said, is that it requires no strict plan. So, each farmer can enhance the natural environment, their farm’s profitability and overall holistic mindset – equalling a triple bottom line.
“There must be financial viability, environmental enhancement, and positive social impact,” said Boyd. “In the long run, to make a living on the farm, we have to look after the resources – soil being the most important.”
Practices the Boyd family employ to regenerate the farm:
1. Intercropping a legume, like peas, to fix nitrogen with canola, suppress weeds and provide a pea-climbing structure.
2. Keeping soil covered year-round with living plants.
3. Maintaining crop debris in place, providing soil coverage.
4. Having an intensive grassing system, moving cattle several times a day and not allowing them to return to the grazed area until the pasture has fully recovered.
5. Eliminating tillage by seeding with a disc and never inverting the soil to allow soil micro-organisms to develop.