Dirt Rich

32: A Chat with Gabe Brown

June 9, 2021

Gabe Brown shares his ranch story and his 25+ years of learning about regenerative agriculture practices.

Before “soil health” concepts entered the mainstream, a few hail storms in the ‘90s, financial challenges, connections made with soil experts, and some serendipity prodded Gabe to try things that were rather unconventional in commercial ag; he stopped tilling, he started planting some cover crops, he grazed, and he ran side-by-side trials with and without chemical nutrient inputs. He’d never seen earthworms in the soil there before, but soon they were appearing. He noticed soil aggregate and improvements in water infiltration--which, by the way, has increased from a half inch per hour to 30 inches per hour. Something was working.

Another factor that Gabe attributes to his somewhat inadvertent foray into soil health is the fact that he didn’t grow up on a farm. He was a “city kid” who grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota, and he and his wife eventually took on her parents’ ranch over the years. Knowing his neighbors would laugh at him no matter what he did, he wasn’t too worried about doing anything unconventional. And it’s been worth it: healthy soil has made Brown’s Ranch both more resilient and more profitable than it used to be. But he didn’t do it alone, Gabe is blunt about the valuable role of connecting with and learning from others in his own success: “Gabe Brown’s not very smart, but I know a lot of smart people.”

Throughout their conversation, Gabe and Jared discuss how building healthy soils and stacking enterprises can boost farm profitability, and challenge the “feed the world mentality” as a promotion for high-yield, monocrop agriculture. Gabe also shares the ethos behind his “200-year plan” for Brown Ranch: “We don’t own the land that we farm and operate, we’re only borrowing it from our children and future generations.”

Now retired from the ranch, Gabe helps other farmers work within their farm’s individual context to implement soil health principles and benefit their triple bottom line. He co-owns Understanding Ag, a for-profit consulting company that is currently consulting on over 22 million acres across the country. An active presenter, Gabe Brown spoke at SFA’s virtual 2021 Midwest Soil Health Summit. All session recordings are available on SFA’s Youtube channel.

For more resources, visit Understanding Ag’s website, or their non-profit arm Soil Health Academy (there’s a June event in Cold Spring, MN for dairy farmers). There are also soil health and grazing resources and technical assistance available on the SFA website.

Jared Luhman, SFA Soil Health Lead
Gabe Brown, Brown’s Ranch, North Dakota; Understanding Ag

The viewpoints of the speakers expressed within or outside of this episode do not necessarily reflect the goals and mission of SFA.


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Dirt Rich is produced by the Sustainable Farming Association.

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