7 Questions with Dr. Frederick L. Kirschenmann
1. What do you see as the potential impact of regenerative grassland agriculture within the next 10 years?
As the cheap inputs (fossil fuels, minerals, fresh water) which sustained our confined, input-intensive system of the past decades become further depleted, we will need to create more self-renewing, resilient systems and regenerative, grassland agriculture will be an important part of that transformation.
2. What do you believe are the biggest opportunities for regenerative ranchers moving forward?
In my view challenges are always also opportunities. Most of us humans do not consider significant changes until the current things we are doing simply no longer work. As the farmers featured in David Montgomery’s new book---Growing a Revolution: Bringing Soil Back to Life----points out these farmers have mostly made substantial changes because their previous specialized monocultures were increasingly losing them money! Now that they have transitioned to systems that reduce tillage, incorporate cover crops and significantly increase biodiversity, including grass-fed animals, their input costs have decreased and their net profits have increased!
3. What brought you to this point? Was there a defining beliefs or experience that sparked a change?
I already discovered this on my own farm in ND and saw the benefits after transitioning to an organic and grass/forage fed livestock operation back in the late 1970’s and it is still working!
4. Where or to whom do you look for guidance and inspiration?
My major source of inspiration include the many luminaries who have pointed out since the early 1900’s that partnering with nature, rather than dominating nature, was the only long-term solution to agriculture---they include Liberty Hyde Bailey, Sir Albert Howard, Rudolph Steiner, Aldo Leopold, and, more recently Wes Jackson, Donald Worster, E.O. Wilson, David Montgomery, and, Of course the many authors and ranchers who have contributed to the grass-fed movement.
5. What is an important lesson you learned from a mistake?
Great question---one of the reasons I have so appreciated Stuart Firestein’s recent book. Failure: Why Science is Successful! Often it is what does not work---especially in the longer term---that motivates us to change. It became clear to me a long time ago on my own farm that input intensive agriculture was a failure in so many ways and it was the “mistake” of continuing it for too long that finally led me to change.
6. What do you think is the most important first step someone in your field has taken to move in the right direction?
That important first step is now beginning to be taken as more farmers are beginning to include cover crops and incorporate livestock into their systems---mostly still baby steps but we are on a path that will almost certainly increase in coming years.
7. What will be the # 1 take home message from people listening to you speak?
If you are a farmer/rancher and interested in the long-term future be sure to anticipate the changes that are on the way and get an advanced start in preparing for them.