Yes, the problem at hand is larger than the SA Ranch. However, we are committed to developing an economically viable model for regenerative farming which can serve as the optimal framework for agricultural practices across the world. Central to this model is the thesis that carbon can be sequestered at a level that can be impactful to climate change through biologically based soil focused programs which meet other sustainable goals. Most of the soil in the Northern Plains has been severely compromised by conventional, chemical-based farming. Non-stop applications of RoundUp and other chemicals have destroyed the microbial community, turning the soil into dirt. Additionally, many ranches have not employed holistic grazing practices which has compromised both pasture and native grazing land. To turn this dirt back into healthy soil, we are working to jump start the biology through the use of compost. Using local organic materials (old hay, straw, wood, and manure), the SA Ranch is making thousands of tons of biologically robust compost on an annual basis. The resulting impact that this compost has will be tested across a broad range of application levels across both farmland and grazing areas. We will test carbon levels as well as assess soil quality, compaction, and moisture retention both through soil samples and crop results.
We are not delusional about the task at hand. No matter how compelling the “bio-pure organic” food produced on the SA Ranch is and even though the ranch is as big as Manhattan Island, it is a tiny chunk of land on the northern plains. We will never be able to supply Costco or Whole Foods. Getting to scale is critical for projects like this especially to attract the mind share of the consumers as well as to get the attention of the corporate participants in the global food complex. For our approach to get to scale, it has to gain widespread acceptance. The only way it gains widespread acceptance is if there is an economic model embedded in the sustainable benefits that is compelling to the typical northern plains family farmer. Our model dramatically lowers input costs (no chemicals) and the products it produces receive premium pricing thanks to the consumer driven momentum for healthy, sustainable food. If we can help establish proper carbon protocols, it may be the case that the carbon we sequester could be monetized. Even at today’s pricing, that could be $30-$50 an acre of pure profit. This seems small, but it would be highly accretive to dryland farmers in the northern plains. The bottom line is that we hope the Montana Carbon Project will help us find fellow travelers to get our concepts to scale. The principles that the SA Ranch project is based upon are applicable across timber, agriculture, and range land.