“Sustainable” is a word we often overuse. Sure, it has plenty of appeal – a sustainable farming operation is good for the land, wildlife, and future generations. What often gets lost in the message, however, is the benefits of sustainability for the farmer himself in the here and now!
The reality is farming “sustainably” does have these benefits. As 20-year no-tiller Matt Bainbridge can attest, sustainable practices can lead to great benefits in the short-term.
“I’m excited because I think that our efficiency is getting better,” Bainbridge says. “I think that we’re building a more resilient soil. We’re building a soil that helps us more. We don’t have to put everything in there and get everything out every year. We can kind of use the soil to help us along to store the water, store the nutrients in there and we don’t have to add every single thing that we need to get out of that for a good crop.”
Creating an environment for soil where it can make use of its own readily available resources is one of the core pillars of sustainable farming. Bainbridge has seen these benefits and so many others in his 20-plus years that he couldn’t imagine farming without them. In fact, when asked if he would take $50 an acre to till his land, Bainbridge had this to say:
“Maybe if I know I’m not going to be farming it for the next 30 years I’d do it for $50 [an acre], but no… I don’t want to till my soil. I have no interest in it.”
For those who have followed the soil health movement, hearing this may not come as a surprise. The benefits for the soil, crops, and the environment have been well documented. But what often gets just as overlooked as short-term sustainability is the increase in a farmer’s quality of life.
QUALITY SOIL, QUALITY LIFE
Farming is labor intensive! This is nothing new. Everyone knows that farmers spend long, hot (and cold) days, sun up to sun down, laboring away in their fields. What’s more, farmers generally work weekends, and often don’t even break for holidays.
Farming is tough work. There’s no way around it. Even so, or perhaps because of this, quality of life should be a central issue when it comes to how we run our operations. And when it comes to soil health, we’ve found that it’s not just good for building up healthy soil and growing quality crops, but also is a means for the farmer himself to increase his own quality of life. No one knows this better than Matt Bainbridge.
“We only have three people that work on [our] farm – my dad, my brother and myself,” says Bainbridge, a no-till farmer of over 20 years. “In the spring we’re pretty busy. We spread all of our fertilizer, do all of our own spraying you know, we do all the planting and we’re calving at the same time. So it’s pretty busy. I don’t know how we would have time to do all the extra tillage. It would probably be at night or we’d probably [have to] let something else slip or hire somebody. So [no-till] fits into our operation with a small labor force.”
Matt Bainbridge isn’t the only one on the farm to note this. His brother and sister-in-law see this benefit firsthand as well.
“My brother was talking to his wife about it,” Bainbridge says. “We had been out combining soybeans pretty late that week. I think he told her, ‘Imagine if we did tillage and we had finished combining soybeans at midnight then [have to] go run a chisel or disc ripper till 4:00 in the morning. Imagine how little you’d see me then. Be thankful that we’re no-tillers.’”
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