Mark your calendars for NCAT’s second Soil Health Innovations Conference: Soil for Water, set for Tuesday and Wednesday, March 15 and 16, 2022. This will be a virtual conference offering plenty of networking opportunities with presenters and fellow attendees.

Join us to hear from presenters such as David Montgomery of the University of Washington and Dig2Grow, Alejandro Carillo of UnderstandingAg, and agroforestry expert Dr. Hannah Hemmelgarn.

Watch our conference website, SOILINNOVATIONS.NCAT.ORG, for a complete agenda and registration information.

We look forward to seeing you in March for this important event.

Adaptive grazing is a regenerative livestock production system that uses multiple paddocks, frequent moving of livestock with short grazing intervals, and long rest periods to provide full pasture plant recovery. It is a proven method of increasing the resiliency of pastures by building soil organic matter, increasing soil water infiltration, promoting water conservation, adding diversity, and decreasing surface runoff.

Dr. Allen Williams travels all over the world to teach about adaptive grazing. A former professor at Mississippi State University, he came to the realization that conventional methods of production were not working for many of the farmers he was trying to help. Farmers were having to use more and more inputs to get the same productivity and were having a difficult time staying profitable. This caused him to rethink his approach. He transformed his own ranch in Starkville, Mississippi, using adaptive grazing and, ultimately, he decided to leave academia to become a full-time rancher and consultant. He has been teaching other producers how to implement adaptive grazing on their land ever since.

In this video series, filmed at an in-person workshop at The Piney Woods School, Dr. Williams discusses and demonstrates the principles and benefits of adaptive grazing.

This video series was produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development. This video series also was supported a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as part of The Piney Woods School Sustainable Farming Outreach Project. The workshop was hosted in partnership with the Piney Woods School in Piney Woods, Mississippi. ATTRA.NCAT.ORG.

As Chief Executive Director and Founder of the Texas Tribal Buffalo Project, Lucille Contreras is committed to helping heal the generational trauma of native nations in Texas. The Texas Tribal Buffalo Project seeks to establish food sovereignty and reconnection to the buffalo by raising bison with good stewardship, offering quality bison meat that promotes the health and wellbeing of tribal members in Texas, providing Texans a chance to understand the buffalo, shared history and culture, and finally modeling regenerative agricultural practices.

The project prioritizes the three pillars of food, culture, and sustainability in everything it does.

Lucille says that since arriving at the ranch in early 2021, a wider variety of native grasses such as wintergrass and bluestem grasses are already beginning to make a comeback due to the bison’s grazing patterns. Lucille explains that on her property they gracefully chew the tops off the grass instead of yanking, they don’t overstress riparian areas, and their stomping and defecating are natural soil biological stimulators. Their large and sharp hooves serve to aerate the soil, create pockets that hold water when it rains, and help in planting seeds. Lucille has seen bison grazing help control the Mesquite tree population; a native but thorny and persistent shrub-like tree that beleaguers ranchers and dominates disturbed lands in the south and southwest. Lucille has observed bison feeding on tender mesquite leaves which, she suspects, may be causing her Mesquite trees to become stunted, and in some cases, die back completely.  

With a changing climate and more frequent droughts, the agriculture industry needs a new way of producing the food, fiber, and materials used to live. The Texas Tribal Buffalo Project, Lucille says, demonstrates the regenerative potential of working with bison to restore soil health and increase biodiversity for a more resilient food system. The Texas Tribal Buffalo Project allows people to learn about the bison’s history, their impact on the American landscape, and the indigenous cultures that developed with them. It provides a space that allows tribal people to reconnect with the buffalo relatives physically and culturally.

Lucille believes the spiritual and cultural importance the buffalo hold in the Apache tribe’s consciousness cannot be overstated. Bison are at the center of this cultural and spiritual reconnection for the Lipan Apache. According to prophecy, the return of the buffalo to Texas symbolizes native people of Texas regaining their strength.

“In taking care of bison, bison will take care of us,” says Lucille.  

Currently the Texas Tribal Buffalo Project sells frozen meat for consumption, bleached skulls for ceremonies, and tanned hides for aesthetic purposes.   To learn more about the Texas Tribal Buffalo Project, visit their website here. Learn more about raising bison in this free informational download published by NCAT’s ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program.   

The views expressed in this featured story do not necessarily represent the views of NCAT. 

New Mexico is among seven states where the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Soil for Water project is expanding this summer. The Albuquerque Journal spoke with one of project’s Texas participants, rancher Maggie Eubank, who said soil, plants and water are just as important as the livestock on the land they manage.

“In this area of Texas, we get, on average, a good amount of rainfall, but it happens maybe twice a year,” Eubank said. “Water retention is paramount for us. We need to be able to capture as much water as we can and, if it all comes at once, we need to slow it down.”

The ranch team has cleared invasive plants, used no-till planting and rotational grazing, restored riparian areas and monitored native grass growth. 

NCAT Sustainable Agriculture Specialist Kara Kroeger explained the peer-to-peer network is now enrolling commercial livestock producers in New Mexico, Colorado, California, Mississippi, Arkansas and Virginia.

“One benefit most ranchers see when they start changing their management is an increase of organic matter in the soil,” Kroeger said. “That helps create that sponge effect so the soil can hold more water.”

NCAT will work with the local Natural Resources Conservation Service and the New Mexico Healthy Soil Working Group to help land managers adapt the regenerative practices to their own ranching and farming businesses.

For ranchers like Eubank, the soil projects are worth the effort.

“We have two young boys, and they’re able to see with their own eyes how the work pays off when we do it right,” she said. “Seeing how the landscape changes the longer we’re here is amazing. All it takes is a different way of thinking, and some hard work.”

Read the Albuquerque Journal’s full piece here.

Column by Steve Thompson, NCAT Executive Director 

The soil that covers 93 million acres of sprawling Texas rangeland holds a remarkable story. It’s a tale of opportunity and ruin. At its best, the soil beneath our feet is the source of life, food, and economic security. At its worst, that same soil can crumble ranchers’ livelihoods and put at risk our local food systems and entire communities.

Much of the western United States is in the throes of a megadrought. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that nearly 60 million people now live in parts of the West plagued by drought. Farmers and ranchers are making hard choices about which herds to cull or land to leave fallow. But in the midst of this megadrought, an expanding network of farmers and ranchers is quietly taking steps to catch and keep more water in the soil that nourishes our food.

First-generation farmers Jeremiah and Maggie Eubank manage 2,000 acres in Texas Hill Country. They’re raising cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, and ducks on rugged land between San Antonio and Austin. It’s beautiful, tough land that Maggie Eubank says has been beat up on for a century. They’re working to change that. They’re using above-ground livestock to take care of the microscopic livestock living underground, which grows more grass and keeps more water in the soil. The Eubanks are turning overworked dirt into healthy soil.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Soil for Water Project is connecting the Eubanks with monitoring tools and a network of other ranchers who are doing what they can to use animals to keep more water in the ground. The USDA estimates that each 1 percent of organic matter in the top six inches of soil can hold about 27,000 gallons of water per acre – or more than an average swimming pool. When livestock are appropriately managed, those animals help build heathy soil that holds more water.

Regenerating farm and ranchland across the United States will have significant and lasting economic, environmental, and social benefits: Allowing vast swaths of the country to withstand drought conditions and bounce back faster after natural disasters like wildfires, floods, and decades of dryness. We know that regenerative agriculture can increase forage production, drought resilience, animal health, access to lucrative new markets, and therefore profitability. Environmentally, it can improve soil health and biodiversity.

NCAT’s Soil for Water project is expanding beyond Texas this summer into Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Mississippi, Montana and Virginia, supporting a nationwide movement of agricultural producers who are leaving the land better than they found it.

For the Eubanks in Texas, they got into ranching in-part because of its powerful mystique, an undeniable connection to the land they grew up on, and their desire to prove that large-scale regeneration can not only repair a century of misuse, but also provide for a profitable business.

Their grass-fed meat is sold at the local farmers market, and they’re selling subscription-style to consumers across Texas. At the same time, the ranch they manage is now sprouting native grasses and water seeps are opening in places that were once bone dry. It’s incremental progress that will take time to fully realize, but the Soil for Water project is ready to be a key player in regenerating and making more resilient farms and ranches across America.