Wind and water have eroded Montana soils since the first plow turned earth on the Northern Plains more than 150 years ago, taking with them one of the state’s most important resources. Since then, tillage, plus the fertilizer and pesticides common in industrial agriculture, have continued to degrade the soil that agriculture depends on. With climate change threatening almost 25,000 Montana agricultural jobs in the next 50 years, many farmers, ranchers and researchers believe the status quo is no longer adequate. And though conventional farming continues to account for the overwhelming majority of Montana’s $4.6 billion ag sector, things are shifting.
Organic has been a USDA certification since 2002, while regenerative lacks a codified or even consensus definition but generally includes a suite of techniques like cover cropping, crop rotation, no-till and livestock integration that decrease erosion, improve biodiversity and capture carbon.
This series, supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, reports on how Montanans are using organic and regenerative agriculture to revitalize rural economies. Part 1 introduced producers using these methods to build topsoil, drought resilience and profits, while Part 2 explored how investing in soil health can reinvigorate farms and the rural communities that depend on them. Part 3, the series’ final installment, looks at the impact of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency born of the Dust Bowl.
With climate change threatening almost 25,000 Montana agricultural jobs in the next 50 years and a movement toward ecologically based agricultural practices gaining ground nationwide, an increasing number of Montana producers are building topsoil, drought resilience and profits by integrating practices like organic or regenerative systems.
In the Judith Basin, the Myllymaki family has gone all in on regenerative farming techniques aimed at building the health of the soil that sustains them. A national agency born of the Dust Bowl helped them get started, and is now seeding local initiatives to bring a more diverse swath of local knowledge into conservation…