Quick overview of our plan

Sustainable Agriculture is the future of farming.  The SA Ranch currently has 2,500 acres of tilled agriculture land.  We have approximately 20,000 acres of grazing land as well but for now we are focused on the agriculture land.  Our goal is to go chemical free with agriculture practices that are climate friendly, retain water, reduce erosion while growing crops that maximize nutritional value at yield rates equivalent (or greater) to conventional agricultural methods.

Overview

The Sandy Arrow Ranch (“SA Ranch”) is a 22,500 acre cattle ranch/dry land farm located in central Montana.  The ranch borders the Missouri Breaks National monument and Lewis & Clark came through this country in 1805.  In their journals, they commented that this area held more wildlife than any other part of their expedition.  What they witnessed was undisturbed, robust, bio-diverse native prairie that supported millions of buffalo and other ungulates.  The prairie was a perfectly balanced ecosystem that nature spent 100’s of millions of years to create.  In the last 100 years, man has upset this ecosystem through chemical focused conventional agriculture practices.  Instead of lush poly-cultures of native grasses, mono-cultures of wheat are grown in synthetic chemicals (e.g. nitrogen and potassium) which has compromised the soil and turned water tables toxic.  When the SA Ranch was purchased by Eric Dillon in the fall of 2013, the discovery of all the chemical abuse was eye-opening.  This discovery led to the realization that there had to be a better way and that realization is the catalyst for this project.  Detailed under the time line below you can find our “Declaration of Independence” which is the very long version of this project and details on how agriculture land in the United States has ended up here.  The short version of our “plan” is as follows.

“The Plan” is to use the SA Ranch’s productive land to prove that nature is still the best blueprint for life by returning the land to a balanced healthy ecosystem and then growing cash crops and cattle in that healthy ecosystem.  Under the concept of “bio-mimicry”, the SA Arrow ranch will be a giant Petrie dish to prove that there are agriculture practices which can heal the planet as well as improve the health of humans.  Many options to fix the land were considered.  Beginning in early 2016, Eric retained scientists (Dr. Elaine Ingham and Molly Haviland) to help him create the “soils first” regenerative program that currently is being applied at the ranch.

The SA Ranch execution team is convinced that the answer to the SA Ranch’s multiple missions (see “Our Missionpage) rests in having the proper biology in the soil.  Healthy soil is full of living things: bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, etc.  This teaming microbial community requires constant supplies of organic matter to survive.  Plants supply the organic matter and, like most systems in nature, plants enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the microbial community.  Get the soil right and plants will grow without chemicals, will produce more nutritious food and the organic matter will both retain and cleanse water.  Additionally, and importantly, nature’s natural bio-diversity and permanent root systems store multiples of CO2 (carbon) compared to conventional mono-culture farming (see “The Montana Carbon Project” tab).  To jump start the SA Ranch’s soil biology, we will be applying thousands of tons of compost to the land.  In addition, we will stop tilling and poisoning the ground with chemicals and will bring bio-diversity to all fields through perennial plantings of cover crops, even in the ranches core agricultural fields.  Eventually the land will evolve into organic land but we believe our process will be “beyond organic” as it relates to nutrition and other sustainable goals.

This “Plan” is far from trivial.  Making thousands of tons of compost to jump start the SA Ranch’s soil is a major undertaking and conducting all we do in a scientifically robust manner so others can follow and we can “prove” our thesis is labor intensive.  We are not aware of any other effort similar to ours in the northern plains so we are blazing trail.  Having said that, this is a multi-year project and we are resolute on seeing this through.  We will be posting regular progress reports on our web site.  As soon as we optimize the soil on the SA Ranch, it is our hope that our compost operation will deliver “biological gold” to neighboring ranches.  Having other ranches embrace biologically pure food/cattle brings critical mass to the product.  Long term we hope to prove that the food grown in healthy soil is far healthier nutritionally and supports the human biome while our sustainable farming practices cleanse water tables and make positive impacts to climate change.  If we have critical mass and prove out nutrition and other sustainable goals, consumer demand could materialize in a huge way.  That would be the game changer.

These are lofty goals to be sure.  However, the status quo is a disaster.  If something is not done, America will continue to lose its productive land, food will continue to make people sick, and the climate will continue to warm.

See the Full Plan here

The Sandy Arrow Ranch

  • 2016

    Accelerated learning curve

    In 2016, we acquired the experience, materials and equipment necessary to produce and spread 1,000 ton batches of compost. In the fall of 2016, the first commercial batch of approximately 1,000 tons was “fully baked” and spread on the soil.  Additionally, half the ranch began the conversion to organic where chemicals were stopped, cover crops planted and no-till farming began.

  • 2017

    Full conversion begins – 3,000 tons of compost

    In 2017, all chemical applications on the SA will cease and all fields will be managed towards long term beyond organic goals. All wheat fields will have a low bio-diverse perennial cover crop and new hay fields will be a bio-diverse mixture of native grasses. Over the year we plan on producing and spreading 3,000 tons of compost on all the SA fields which will complete the desired initial biological application project on the SA’s farmland. In the fall, we will harvest the first biologically pure winter wheat crop on the ranch.

  • 2018

    Carbon protocol acceptance

    We are targeting 2018 as the year that the carbon protocols for the SA Ranch composting practices are accepted by the American Carbon Registry. This milestone will enable SA Ranch (and other similar ranches) to implement the protocol to increase carbon sequestration on land and generate tradable carbon offset credits. Expect to produce and apply an additional 2,000 tons of compost on the land in 2018. In 2018 we will experiment with ancient and perennial grains (kernza) with the goal of developing high end specialty crops to market under a “bio-pure” brand. In 2018 testing will begin on the SA’s pasture and range land to prove health and carbon sequestration potential.

  • 2019

    Certified organic

    Expect to see half the ranch certified organic in 2019.  All fields in crops will be bio-diverse and have permeant living roots in the soil.  No chemicals will be deployed Our plan is to pursue organic certification for the crops in the top portion of the ranch in 2019.  Expect the biology in the soil to have stabilized by 2019, will still apply compost and/or compost tea to the land on an “as needed” basis but we expect the microbial community in the soil to be at optimal levels by 2019.  Hope to monetize carbon credits in 2019 as well as be in a position to publish results on nutritional value of bio-pure food we are producing.

  • 2020

    Full ranch certified organic

    We are working towards full organic certification for all the SA Ranch crops in 2020.  By 2020 it is our hope that we will have developed consumer markets for our bio-pure products.