Articles, Blog

Regeneration of Our Lands: A Producer’s Perspective | Gabe Brown | TEDxGrandForks

August 18, 2019

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney How fitting it is that this event,
which is titled “Roots to Wings,” is taking place here in North Dakota, for the motto of the state of North Dakota
is “Strength through the Soil.” And that’s what I’m going
to visit with you about today, it’s about our soil resource. Agriculture has been challenged. How do we feed nine billion
people by the year 2050? With today’s current production
model, we can do that. It is a model with which
one tills the soil. It’s a model of monoculture
production practices. No matter where you go
around this great state, there’s fields of wheat, fields of corn, fields of soybeans, and many other crops. It’s one of livestock
which are now in confinement; whether it be poultry housed
in poultry houses, or beef cattle in a feedlot, for example. However, these practices
have come at a cost. They have caused a loss of biodiversity. Healthy native range land
has hundreds of different species of plants, and animals, and insects. Monocultures have but very few. This lack of biodiversity has led to the destruction
of our soil resource. And that’s what I’m going
to visit with you about today. I’ll share some proof with you, and this is statistics provided
by North Dakota State University. In Walsh County, North Dakota in 1960,
the topsoil was 34 inches deep. In 2014, that topsoil
was only 15 inches deep – a stunning 56 percent loss. The organic matter level on that same soil
had gone from over 8 percent to less than 3 percent today. Look at the ramifications of that. The soil on your left
was the soil that had not been tilled, and had not seen monoculture
production practices. That’s the same soil
17 years later on the right, after 17 years of the production model of tillage and monocultures. It also destroys
the pore spaces in the soil. Those pore spaces are critical
for the life in the soil, are critical for water infiltration, because if we don’t have soil aggregates,
we cannot infiltrate water. I took this photo in a field less than
ten miles from where you’re seated today. That shows a half of an inch of rainfall can no longer be infiltrated
into the soil profile. If we can’t infiltrate water,
then what happens? We resort to things such as tile drainage. And you’re seeing this all over
the central United States today. What happens when we put tile drainage in and we do not have the soil aggregates
to hold our soils in place? That soil ends up in the watershed, and unfortunately, along with it,
goes all the nutrients that may have been applied
to those fields. That lack of biodiversity
also leads to lower nutrient cycling. If we don’t have
adequate nutrient cycling, we’re going to have to add
more and more synthetic fertilizers. Those synthetic fertilizers
come at a cost – the cost of fossil fuel usage, and, they also spur the decline
of the soil biology. We need to understand how soil functions. How soil functions is due to that biology, because the plants get
their nutrients via the biology. High synthetic fertilizer use
also aids in the propagation of weeds. Most weeds love nitrogen. The more synthetic fertilizer we apply,
the more weeds we get. If we have increased weed pressure,
what do we have to do? Spray herbicides. Now, unfortunately, many
of those herbicides are chelates. What is a chelate? A chelate binds metals. So any of the metals such as magnesium,
manganese, iron, zinc, copper, then become unavailable to the plants. If the plant cannot uptake
these micronutrients, it’s more prone to disease. Because plants cannot
ward off diseases on their own, we need to spray fungicides. Fungicides, then, are detrimental to what? Soil biology. Because plants are not healthy
enough to ward off pests, we then need to do what? We spray pesticides, on the crops which are meant
for human consumption. Because we spray pesticides,
we have a decline in what? The very predator insects
which would take care of the pests which we are spraying. We also have a decline in pollinators. You can hardly pick up
a paper or a magazine today without reading about
the plight of our pollinators. These pollinators are critical
in our crop production. The current production model
is all about killing. Whether it be weeds, a fungus, a pest, our diversity, or our profit. Take a look at these projections just put out by North Dakota
State University. They’re 2016 projections for some
of the major crops in our state. Every one of them
projects a negative return. What impact does that have on the quality of life
of those producing that crop? But take it a step further: What impact does it have on our schools? Drive around this state of ours
and you’ll see a lot of small towns that have fewer and fewer children
attending the schools. What effect does that have
on our businesses? And then on our communities? What effect does the current
production model have on our health? Take a look at this. The nutrient densities
of the foods that we produce have declined anywhere
from 15 to 65 percent in the last 50 years. This has had many negative consequences. The United States
spends more on healthcare than any other developed
country in the world. Yet look at this – we lead the world
in the incidences of ADD, ADHD, cancer, osteoporosis,
Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, and the list goes on and on. This is not acceptable. It cannot continue. But the good news is there’s another way, and I’m going to share that with you. It’s nature’s way. Look at how nature functions. In nature, there’s no mechanical tillage. Yet in our production model,
we’re tilling the soil. In nature, there’s always armor
on the soil surface, protecting that soil from wind erosion,
water erosion, evaporation. Yet in our production model,
the fields lie bare. Nature cycles water very efficiently. It’s able to infiltrate
into the soil profile, then, due to the large amount
of organic matter, it’s held there, for such a time
it’s needed by plants. By destroying our soil resource,
we can no longer infiltrate the water and store it for when it’s needed. Nature has living plant-root networks; there’s things growing at all times
throughout the growing season. Not that way with production agriculture. So often we hear about
the production model that we have today as the “conventional model.” I would argue that nature’s way
is the conventional model, because it’s been around for eons of time. Think of it this way: what did
this land look like 400 years ago? You had a lot of diversity. There was diversity of plant species:
forbs, grasses, legumes, trees. And then also you had a diversity
of animals and insects, and all these worked together
to build a healthy ecosystem. So there’s five principles
that we must follow in order to follow nature’s model. They are, number one: least amount
of mechanical disturbance possible. On my own ranch, we have been
100 percent zero till since 1994; we have not tilled the soil at all. The second tenet of soil health
is armor on the soil surface; we always have the soil covered. That’s a picture of one
of our fields following seeding. That field is no longer prone
to wind erosion or water erosion because we’re keeping armor
on the surface. Third tenet of soil health is diversity. My son teaches range land management
at the local community college. He brought his students
out to one of our paddocks. They counted over 140 different species
of grasses, forbs, and legumes. Why don’t we have that
in production agriculture today? On our operation,
we’re trying to mimic it. These are just some of the cash crops
that we grow on our operation. We don’t just grow one
cash crop, we grow many. Along with that, we do not grow
cash crops as monocultures. In the upper left there, that’s oats
with three types of clover growing in it. In the upper right is a very diverse
cool-season broadleaf mix. The lower left, that’s corn
with hairy vetch growing in it. The lower right, that’s sunflowers with over 19 species
of covers growing with it. A tremendous amount of diversity
feeding soil biology. We also have orchards on our operation. These orchards, besides
providing us with the fruit, we’re able to have livestock
grazing underneath them, thus stacking enterprises. We have five acres
of vegetable production, but it’s not as monocultures. In between each of those corn rows
is rows of peas, beans, squash, zucchini, carrots, pumpkins,
and a variety of other species so that we get the benefit of diversity. Fourth tenet of soil health is leaving roots in the ground
as long as possible. You don’t have to drive very far
around this state to see that there are monocultures growing
for only a short period of time, and then the land lays idle. These are just some of the cover crop
species which we planted on our operation this past year. We actually planted
over 70 different species. From the time the snow
melts in the spring, until the snow stays in early winter,
we have a variety of species growing on our land to feed soil health. We’re optimizing solar energy collection. Because how the system works is,
we take sunlight through photosynthesis; it makes carbon; that carbon
is transferred down to the roots, where it’s leaked out as root exudates,
that’s what all the biology feeds on. We need that biology in order
to get the nutrients to the plant to nourish animals and people. For you see, if we have healthy soil,
we’re going to have clean air, clean water, healthy plants,
healthy animals, and healthy people. We have to focus on feeding biology. Along with this, then, we’re able to feed all of the wildlife
that’s on our operation. We also feed a myriad
of different insects. Insects tend to get a bad rap. We like a wide variety of insects including all the predator insects
which take care of the pests. We want to address our problems
through biological means not through chemical means. Dr Jonathan Lundgren,
one of the world’s foremost entomologists, told me this: For every insect species that’s a pest,
there’s 1,700 that are beneficial. Why in production agriculture do we aim
at just killing that pest, when we should aim at providing habitat
for all those beneficials? The reason producers have a pest problem
is because of a lack of diversity. We need to think biologically. Fifth tenet of a healthy ecosystem
is animal impact. On our operation we run
a herd of 350 beef cows. We also grass finish that beef
because we know it’s healthier, both for us and for the animals. We have a flock of sheep
and raise grass-finished lamb. We have pastured pork. We have broilers which are out on pasture. And we have a flock of 750 laying hens
which are also out on pasture. We also have bees. Those bees, besides pollinating our crop, provide us with honey. Here’s what we’ve done on our operation. When we started in 1993 on the left,
we had very shallow topsoil – 1.7 percent organic matter. We could only infiltrate
a half of an inch of rainfall per hour. We then went no-till. We started to diversify
the cash crop rotation; we noticed an improvement in soil health. From there, we started
to add cover crops – another improvement in soil health,
our organic matter levels rose, our infiltration improved. We then started integrating
all of these livestock species on top of it – another marked increase
in the health of our soil ecosystem. Now in 2013, we actually
have a plot of land which is now over
11 percent organic matter. The same soils that in 1993 could only infiltrate
a half of an inch of rainfall per hour, can now infiltrate
over 15 inches of rainfall per hour. We’ve done this without the use
of any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides. We’ve done it by following
the principles of nature. This has led to a ranch that is profitable
every year, regardless of price. And we do this without taking part
in any government subsidies of any kind, whether it be a crop insurance, EQIP, CSP, or any other form of government payment. Thus, we are not a burden to society. The stacking of enterprises has allowed us to produce many more
nutrient dense calories of food at a lower cost as compared
to the current production model. Yes, we can feed the world, and we can do it in a way
that regenerates our resources, thus, healing farms,
families, and communities. Thank you.


  • Reply Gustav March 29, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    If we couldnt drain our soils we couldnt be here, low lands areas close to sea level needs to be drained, no way out.

  • Reply Clay Hooper April 16, 2016 at 5:42 am

    Mr Brown is a Superstar! He makes the most sense. I hope US Ag farmers and ranchers pay attention and follow this remarkable man's lead. I'd love to visit his operation some day and experience his nature's way production model first hand! Kudos to Mr Brown!

  • Reply Nicholas Miller May 9, 2016 at 4:35 am

    This type of farming reduces both flooding and the agricultural heat island effect versus the typical monoculture way, and best of all he's not suckling from the taxpayer's teats.  Would the Mississippi ever flood if everyone farmed this way?  Would we reduce the severe tornados/storms if the ground was kept cool by a continuous year-round blanket of cover crops?

  • Reply Benoit Lambert May 16, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I once said in a conference in Geneva "Gabe and Jill Clapperton are more a threat for biotech than Greenpeace". I think I was not exaggerating. What a clear, powerful, hopeful message!

  • Reply txwildflowers7 May 16, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    Mr. Brown.. truly my hero. Endeavoring to model this ranch after his.. Thank you for showing us the way…

  • Reply Mark Osborn July 6, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Outstanding and so logical. Thanks for the great work Gabe.

  • Reply bobbie triplett July 31, 2016 at 8:34 am

    BRAVO!!!!!!!!!!!!! im with you 100%… thk you and god bless you.

  • Reply Brian Stephens September 22, 2016 at 5:45 am

    Easily the most clear, concise, complete explanation of what all producers should be doing. Bravo!
    If only 10-15% of the world's agricultural land achieved about half of what you have in terms of organic material, and water infiltration – then the atmospheric CO2 would return to early 1900 levels, and floods and drought would soon be forgotten.

  • Reply Ralf Otterpohl October 6, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Gabe, thank you so much for what you do! A great model for the future! I am a university prof in the water profession at TUHH in Hamburg, Germany. My institute does research how farmers can assure clean and abundant water below their land. You are my teacher and I teach about your success in international classes.

  • Reply Kiss The Ground November 18, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    Thank you for your work and sharing it. Our vision is that a new view has emerged where people are reverent of our interconnectedness with nature, Humanity is living regeneratively and our planet is restored, balanced, and abundant. Together, we can do this!

  • Reply Maurice North November 23, 2016 at 6:19 am

    Superb and inspirational thanks, spent 1 year at agricultural college learning mixed farming and got taught none of this. The future of farming is clear to see in your message.

  • Reply Adem Paksoy January 18, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    gabe brown

  • Reply Philip Wischmeyer May 5, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    The greatest challenge is convincing farmers who are already thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars in debt to completely scrap their current model and switch over. Maybe Gabe, Joel Salatin, Colin Seis and others should develop a program to help farmers transition and make the switch.

    My dad has been farming for almost 50 years. He agrees that this is a good, sustainable system, but he has no hired labor and cannot afford to switch his 1,600 acre operation over to include cover crops and rotational grazing at this stage in his life. If he had known about this stuff 40 years ago he probably would have bought in.

    Unfortunately, our corrupt, inept, under-informed politicians are handing out subsidies so farmers can continue buying GMO seeds and chemicals from ag companies who lobby to convince them that this is the best method to feed the world. Where are our regenerative ag lobbyists? Nowhere, because people don't get rapidly rich from regenerative farming. No, they just merely heal the planet and allow our race to continue living here.

    If we don't fix our worldwide food system and turn it into a locally-based sustainable system, we will not be here much longer. The disease and lack of life within the skin of our planet will catch up to us.

  • Reply SemperAugustusBubble June 21, 2017 at 4:08 am

    This man is an absolute genius. We need more young people following and learning from these innovators.

  • Reply Riaan Botha August 21, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    This leaves me with a lot of excitement. This is a world solution for restoring our soil back to the way it is meant to be.. Cause we are connected to the soil..

  • Reply Riaan Botha August 21, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    This leaves me with a lot of excitement. This is a world solution for restoring our soil back to the way it is meant to be.. Cause we are connected to the soil..

  • Reply Riaan Botha August 21, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    This leaves me with a lot of excitement. This is a world solution for restoring our soil back to the way it is meant to be.Cause we are connected to the soil

  • Reply Riaan Botha August 21, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    This leaves me with a lot of excitement. This is a world solution for restoring our soil back to the way it is meant to be.Cause we are connected to the soil.

  • Reply Riaan Botha August 21, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    This leaves me with a lot of excitement. This is a world solution for restoring our soil back to the way it is meant to be.Cause we are connected to the soil.

  • Reply monkeymanwasd123 September 4, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    this is the most scientific pro permaculture thing ive watched yet

  • Reply Jon Hohensee October 4, 2017 at 2:14 am

    We should cut the human population in half.

  • Reply Tolba Szy October 16, 2017 at 11:32 am

    This is the most important speaker TED Talks has recorded. For Mr. Brown's sake, I hope he can keep talking, because he has a natural talent for speaking, and a wealth of common sense. My advice to him is he should have the same good sense about his own body, so he can have more years of teaching us how to live sensibly. He is a national treasure!

  • Reply For Goodness Ache November 5, 2017 at 4:52 am

    Gabe is the best . Why, oh why, is it taking so long for his wisdom to "catch on"? Fear, greed, habit, corporate intimidation & disinformation and political ignorance. 😐 This will change!

  • Reply Don Ready November 7, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    I have cashcropped for 40 years and no tilled for 30. Too bad I didn't find people like Gabe Brown, Dave Brandt and Dave Johnson until recently. Their revolution is in motion. Hope I last long enough to see it through. Higher organic matter, less synthetic inputs, and C02 reduction are an unstoppable combo.

  • Reply Atimati Mukti Ma December 16, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    One of the best!! So simple, so inteligent…why most people can't understand this??? Let's save our soils, letś save ourselves and the rest of all the animals

  • Reply Susan Wickman December 16, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    I have always said..we didn't get booted out of the Garden of Eden by any God..we ushered ourselves out…silly us…great logical presentation…Thanks!

  • Reply Manuel Vidal González January 15, 2018 at 7:17 pm


  • Reply Shelley Wilson January 29, 2018 at 4:09 am

    how do you sow large areas of land without tilling? What is the process you use to get the soil covered after planting?

  • Reply centpushups February 1, 2018 at 3:01 am

    Perhaps the new thing that can potentially solve every major problem we have and yet is not getting the attention it must have.

  • Reply SusanBailey AmazingEstate February 5, 2018 at 5:19 am

    It's impossible the large corporate farms don't know all of this. Think harder about our country's food production issues. You're missing it.

  • Reply partha saradhi reddy February 21, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    pls refer our indian zbnf ( zero budget natural farming)

  • Reply Agriculture Science March 12, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    What a long string of clichés.  Organic farming relies heavy on tillage.  Obviously it should be avoided.

  • Reply biospheres April 3, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Gabe needs to be made head of the corrupt USDA/FDA/EPA and turn this destructive way Titanic ag system around or we are really really doomed as a civilization.

  • Reply Jesse Otto April 11, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    Conventional agriculture uses no till, especially if utilizing Roundup ready seed, and this diminishes soil erosion and eutrophication.

  • Reply Jesse Otto April 11, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    Monoculture is a vague word. Does if mean one variety? Over how much space? Over how much time? Conventional agriculture rotates crops and uses cover crops, so it is not absolute monoculture.

  • Reply Jesse Otto April 11, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    How do we define confinement? There are trade offs to free range livestock. They are more vulnerable to the elements and predation and injury. Humane confinement may be better. See current research.

  • Reply Jesse Otto April 11, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    What biodiversity loss? Native? Intensive agriculture produces more food per acre than most organics that prohibit synthetic fertilizer and genetic engineering. This mean more land can be conserved (less land converted to agriculture) as population increases.

  • Reply Miss O.P. May 27, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    bet they also don't have poo looguoons.

  • Reply runandstuff July 6, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    Great presentation.
    Question: how do you kill the cover crop without till and without herbicide?
    Would this be feasible in a place of lower latitude that isn't so cold year-round?

  • Reply Jason Grandk August 21, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    19 Big Agra downvotes

  • Reply Johann Ekenhorst August 27, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Very interesseting. !! What is CSB CSG WSB?? Never heart that, (Warm Season, Cold Season??????) thanks

  • Reply Trump's Dingleberries August 31, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    2:19 The soil used to be 8% organic matter?!! Holy cow!

  • Reply downbntout September 7, 2018 at 3:58 am

    I was doing handsprings all through this but when he said 'no subsidies' I went happy-dance ballistic

  • Reply downbntout September 7, 2018 at 4:00 am

    Haven't eaten any beef or any other animal meat for 6-1/2 years but his beef I might not be scared to buy

  • Reply Jackal Hackal September 13, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    Fantastic presentation, thank you.

  • Reply Will Olson October 30, 2018 at 2:12 am

    Mr. Gabe Brown, should be the Sec. Of Ag! As a beekeeper, you offer a better future for our food system!

  • Reply Jonathan Ray November 10, 2018 at 12:26 am

    Inspiring and great information

  • Reply Robert Payne December 16, 2018 at 2:38 am

    Reclaiming carbon from the atmosphere ie….(carbon dioxide)is would be the the greatest economic boon to the world and human health in history

  • Reply stephen Schmitz December 26, 2018 at 3:18 am

    love your work big green hug

  • Reply Horace Lim December 26, 2018 at 4:03 am

    Thank you so much Gabe… we WILL win this for the earth!!!

  • Reply Chip Spencer January 30, 2019 at 12:29 am

    Self-reliance lived.

  • Reply Planting The North March 4, 2019 at 9:35 pm


  • Reply Svetla Nikolova April 1, 2019 at 8:48 am

    You are not feeding 9 billion people! You sure don't feed Bulgaria anything worth eating!

  • Reply Izwan Baha April 29, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    thank you so much, so inspiring talk with relax presentation. i bet all the human with common senses realized about the important of soil preservation watched this video. this video also greatly helping me with my current study on soil fertility management in Malaysia. Thank you boss.

  • Reply Mats Holmberg May 22, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Wow! Very inspirational. We need a change in legislation – applying this way of agriculture should be made law. We need to get off fossile fuels and toxins. This lecture shows the way forward.

  • Reply Georgi Marquisee May 26, 2019 at 4:20 am


  • Reply lizbleakley June 6, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    This TEDX is from 2016. I would really love to know what Gabe Brown thinks of the historic flooding in the Midwest this year and how soil health (or lack thereof) has contributed to the ability of industrially-farmed fields to handle unprecedented amounts of precipitation. Gabe, we need an updated lecture from you!

  • Reply TheMoringa123 June 11, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    Check out @0-zs Super! We all live from the soil, but when was the last time you heard a candidate even mention it? Visit @t One theme after another where she stands for veterans, jobs and the environment. $1m creates 1 job in the military and TEN JOBS in education or health care. Keb' Mo' – Put a Woman in Charge

  • Reply Cron Kite July 18, 2019 at 9:09 am

    check this short film "What I ate in 38 years" by Yuri A / R. Mond , he is Swiss and now follows a carnivore diet ​​@​

  • Reply John Rah July 30, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    I started my first cover crop in a small corner of my balcony. Very exciting. Breaking the rules.

  • Reply farmermatt629 July 31, 2019 at 2:30 am

    If I’m not mistaken half or more of Gabe’s land sits fallow every year… if my land sat fallow I’d be out of business in less than a year… we put tile drainage in because we get 10 times the amount of rainfall that Gabe brown gets on his farm…

  • Reply Jeffery Jeffery August 9, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    Now….I like Gabe!! He's great!!

    BUT…..corn, soybeans, and wheat. Do NOT….feed the world. Fruits and vegetables do!! Now….as I say this!! I own a large family farm, that's been in the family 200 years. In Illinois, growing corn and soybeans!!

    BUT….Im changing it out into growing fruits, and vegetables!!

    He's very right….except we need to trade out, and get rid or commodity crop production…and into more fresh produce!!

  • Reply Sam Lair August 11, 2019 at 5:42 pm

    Some channels and their descriptions (as well as some comments) are well worthy of saving and sharing in a manner other than merely hitting the share icon. In those instances:
    “Copy and Pasting from YouTube”—
    When you want to copy some of the description, comments etcetera of a YouTube video, realize that you will need to first click on that video’s ‘share’ icon. This will allow you to next hit the ‘copy link’ icon. This copies the link’s address. Now paste this into your browser’s search box. Hit search, and the YouTube video comes to you in a format that allows you to copy the description, comments, etcetera.

    I sometimes do this because I want to effectively provide the video link and related pertinent information to others in a direct and easy-to-read format.

  • Reply Claude Armstrong August 12, 2019 at 4:03 am

    Sadly, I MEAN, Sadly, the plant nutrients are NOT nearly the nutrients healthy people require for sustained health. Healthy body metabolism requires 70+ minerals, healthy plant metabolism requires less than 12.

    Sadly, the very same deadly poisonous synthetic medicines that the Rockefeller medicine world monopoly produces are modified to apply to insecticides, herbicides and growth stimulators, including the modification of DNA in food plants with deadly insecticidal enzymes designed to work in tandem with the herbicides and pesticides. In the case of the Bayer pharmaceutical division of the Rockefeller drug monopoly, the now proven cancer-causing glyphosate in its Roundup is used to sprout DNA modified food plant seed, which cannot sprout without this deadly cancerous element that is NOT biodegradable.

    So, listen to this man, yet be aware he states just the barest minimum of sustainable healthy soil knowledge everyone NEEDS to know about the foods on grocery store shelves.

  • Reply e schwarz August 12, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    Politicians; please listen to these people who actually produce food in conjunction with scientists; they have dedicated their life; respect them by heeding advice.

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