Panel shares unique insight into practices
A panel that ranged from organic farmers to prairie experts gathered online during the Grain Place’s annual field day to share changes and information covering the landscape of organic farming and agriculture in Nebraska.
Speaking first to those in attendance was Bill Whitney, the recently retired director of Prairie Plains Resource Institute.
“Basically, what we need is a new societal vision,” he said. “It’s about revitalizing agriculture and communities along with a new educational process to learn about land, science, nature, history, culture and agriculture.” Whitney’s hope is to make
Whitney’s hope is to make people creative stewards of their surroundings through the constant discussion about the common good. Through this, he expressed the need to change the way people live.
One way they plan to help the process along is their goal of encouraging the growth of prairies along where water flows.
“We want to maintain and restore native plant biodiversity, preserve local and regional flora and fauna and protect existing-working grassland,” he explained. “We are working to create an innovative land stewardship culture. We want to restore crop watersheds from top to bottom.”
That goal, he noted, is going to be a “visionary task” as they work to change the water quality and how the water flows on the land.
“We need to exploit the native grasslands functional qualities to make water cleaner, hold soil, provide for insect diversity and develop crop agriculture,” Whitney voiced. “In the process, we add great native grazing land and biodiversity and we improve existing native prairie through land management.” He continued, noting that
He continued, noting that they hope to revitalize smalltown farm culture and the local economies through the work of growing and selling food.
Places where this project has been put to the test include Aurora’s Lincoln Creek Prairie and the Platte River Bluff Prairie in northern Hamilton County. Visitors to those projects can see how a vision started in 1980 has grown into larger concepts.
Speaking next for the field day was Graham Christensen, who is part of a family-run farm near Omaha.
“Our farm is definitely in the phase of moving away from what people would call a conventional operation into a more regenerative path,” he said. “We have goals to marry regenerative into organic a few years down the road.”
Christensen explained that he has been working on environmental issues which focus on the food production system in regenerative agriculture.
“We have a two-step process,” he explained. “Number one, expose the bad things that are going on out there with agriculture with facts and science so that more people can start to see what is happening. Then offer the solution -- that regenerative pathway.” This process
This process has led to the establishment and creation of different projects that are joined by diverse groups looking for a new form of agriculture. He then went on to describe
He then went on to describe another project they are working on that is based around the pandemic and the threat it brings to rural areas, urban areas and the ecological transformation.
“The first topic we put together with this large network from all across the country is called ‘Fixing COVID-19 Disparities and National Security Threat of the Fragile Food System,’” he described. “There are about 80 entities that form this group. It is extremely diverse and it does create an intersectional conversation which we feel at this time is more important than ever.”
The first document the group has completed showed disparities in the food system. Christensen noted that COVID-19 moved these issues to the forefront and made it easier for people to see what was happening in the large, centralized systems like meatpacking plants.
“There’s a real travesty taking place and we need to get to the bottom of why this is taking place right now,” he said. “The public needs to be aware that there are a lot of casualties taking place within these systems and furthermore a lot of the companies that run these systems have been skimping on human rights issues.”
Their organization is working to draw attention to the facilities that have fallen behind on implementing safety measures such as social distancing and providing needed items like masks.
“I felt like it was very important to take a step back and look at a case study,” he voiced. “Nebraska is an interesting place to look at the case study because in Nebraska we used to have a ban on corporate farming. It left us a much more competitive atmosphere that was more inclusive for a lot of independent farming and operations. It also keeps away the extreme form of vertical integration.”
Christensen expanded, noting that he has seen a weakening of local control systems. This has resulted in state government making decisions that county boards would typically be making, he said.
“By relinquishing protections for independent farmers it makes it tougher to compete,” he explained. “I’m talking about the removal of bans that didn’t allow meatpackers to own pigs and poultry. Now with them being able to own pigs and poultry legally in our state, it puts the independent farmer at an extreme disadvantage.”
He shared concerns that the result, further accelerated by the current administration, could see many farmers nearing bankruptcy. This was an issue he compared to the 1980s farm crisis he saw in his childhood.
“We’ve heard rumors from the big companies that food supply could come up short,” he voiced. “Into the winter I fear that there could be food security threats, that we should be addressing right now in order to get ahead of this.”
The first solution that he presented was to increase worker protections and safety standards. He noted that this is especially needed in the meatpacking industry. “The second
“The second thing starts to get to the structural changes of agriculture,” Christensen continued. “This situation will only be more prevalent in future years unless we actually look at policy issues that deal with the systemic issues that go way back in this form of food production.”
Specifically, he spoke on antitrust legislation and enforcement that needed to be updated and enforced in an uncompetitive food production system.
“We need to open up more opportunities for more independent operations,” he said. “In Nebraska, it’s very hard to get USDA butchering shops opened. It’s very tough to get the feds out to be able to help get these things started up.”
The solution that he presented was that state inspection could be vital to creating more localized market opportunities. The final change that he
The final change that he touched on for the audience focused on farm subsidy reform. He noted that the current system favors larger operations.
“What we need to do is start investing in the next generation of farmers,” he described. “If we don’t do that all this land held by the baby boomers has the risk of transitioning into corporate hands. “If we’re
“If we’re really trying to regenerate the soil and lower greenhouse gas emissions that is a recipe for disaster,” he continued. “We need young, innovative and creative diversity. We need to get active and protect ourselves because in Nebraska we’re getting drilled by that right now. It is a very scary time for the future of our communities.” Christensen concluded his
Christensen concluded his discussion by letting all interested parties know to continue to follow their work as they continue their studies and worked towards regenerative organic farming.
‘It’s about revitalizing agriculture and communities along with a new educational process to learn about land, science, nature, history, culture and agriculture.’ Bill Whitney
‘Our farm is definitely in the phase of moving away from what people would call a conventional operation into a more regenerative path. We have goals to marry regenerative into organic a few years down the road.’ Graham Christensen