Questions with the Speakers - Will Harris & Randall Hastings

By
Mar 8, 2016

We are excited to have our first installment of our blog series “Questions with the Speakers” for the upcoming conference on April 27 and 28 in Perry, GA.   In preparation for the conference, we asked these speakers a common set of questions concerning the future of grassfed production and the story of their experiences and insights that led to their leadership in our industry.  This will be a short sampling of what you can learn and discuss while attending.   If you have not signed up for the conference yet go here.  There is still early bird pricing through March 31st.  Enjoy and get your questions ready!  In the weeks to come, we will share their answers here.   We begin with Will Harris and Randall Hastings.

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Will Harris

1. What do you see as the potential impact of regenerative grassland agriculture?
Regenerative grassland agriculture offer the opportunity for livestock producers to mitigate the environmental damage done by industrialized farming practices, while producing great foods and offering promising careers to people who are interested in humane and sustainable livestock production.    

2. What do you believe are the big strategies and behaviors required to move us toward this?
We need increased focus, by consumers, on climate change, health, food safety, animal welfare, etc.  

3. Why are you doing things the way you are today?
I became disgusted with the excesses of monocultural industrial centralized animal production.

4. What brought you to this point?  Was there a defining moment that sparked a change?
No defining moment, just a growing dissatisfaction with the excesses of the system that I was operating in.  

5. Where or to whom do you look for guidance and inspiration?

We are figuring it out as we go.  

6. What is an important lesson you learned from a mistake?
Producers must be careful to not put more value into a product than can be extracted from the market.  

7. What do you think is the most important first step someone in your field can take to move in the right direction?
Go and work with an established producer that you believe has a sound program that you would like to emulate.  

8. What will be the # 1 take home message from people listening to you speak?  
That humane and regenerative agriculture can be scaled up to a point in which the farm can be successful, and a significant number of consumers can be fed. 


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Randall Hastings

1. What do you see as the potential impact of regenerative grassland agriculture?  
There is a tremendous potential ahead for grassland agriculture as the demand for grass fed livestock is growing faster than production. This means supply and demand will make especially grass finishing more profitable.

2. What do you believe are the big strategies and behaviors required to move us toward this?
One of the main things that needs to happen is there is going to have to be more research on soil health and grass production as we use some of the old ways along with new technology to enhance grass production and soil health. There is going to have to be changes in the lending institutions to understand this type of farming especially to help young farmers. There is going to have to be changes in commercial applicators views to help with the application and availability of healthy soil amendments.

3. Why are you doing things the way you are today?
Most of all, it’s the right thing to do for the earth, the animals, and the future generations. It has also made the farm more sustainable.

4. What brought you to this point?  Was there a defining moment that sparked a change?
I sold chemicals and commercial fertilizer for 25 years, but I was always amazed at how as I spread fertilizer in fields as I approached the end of the field and looked out into the forests it would be so green and growing with no help from commercial fertilization. Then one day about 15 years ago I watched a video of living, healthy soil. When they showed in 1 tablespoon of healthy soil there were more microbes than humans living on earth I began to look at soil as a lot more than something to hold the world together. I knew if I could get all of this microbial activity to go back to work on my farm maybe I could keep some of the “transfer of wealth” as they say to make our farm more sustainable.

5. Where or to whom do you look for guidance and inspiration?
I depend a lot on the school of hard knocks as we try different things that work on my farm because what works for one farmer may not work well for me. I look for guidance from a few “old timers” as there is a lot of wisdom with age, and some with current tech knowledge to help blend the old with the new.  Some of my mentors have been my father and grandfather, Mr. Gerald Fry, Doug Gunnink, Mark Eagan, Dr. Steve Campbell, Gabe Brown, Doug Peterson and many more.

6. What is an important lesson you learned from a mistake?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is not to push the land as hard for high production by lowering the stocking rate, rotational grazing to rest the soil and using natural deep rooted plants to help with water retention by breaking the hard pan.

7. What do you think is the most important first step someone in your field can take to move in the right direction?
The first step for someone wanting to start in this direction is having commitment. This is not easy because grass finishing is a very complicated event. When you look at all the aspects involved if you are not committed you will scratch your head and realize it is much easier to pick up the phone and call your local fertilizer and chemical dealer and tell them to take care of things and send the bill. The infrastructure for applying healthy soil amendments has not caught on yet from commercial applicators so you have to apply them yourself. The good thing is you don’t have the “transfer of wealth” but it does take commitment.   

8. What will be the # 1 take home message from people listening to you speak?
1-This is the right thing to do for the earth, the animals, and the health aspects for us and our future generations.
2-For people to think about how much there is being left on the table because we are not diversifying our farms, so a farmer can make a living and not “have a job in town” to support the farm.
3-Most meetings I have attended put on by “academia” have things geared for bigger farms.  How do you make a living on a small farm being a full time farmer? I can help answer this question.

For more information and questions on the conference go to our website.  See you back here for the next installment.

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