This spring, The Nature Conservancy in Idaho and local farmer Todd Ballard will launch a new 30-acre regenerative agriculture demonstration farm near Twin Falls, ID, that will test cropping techniques in the Magic Valley and expand public awareness of soil health in efforts to inspire wider adoption of regenerative agriculture practices across the state.
The demonstration farm builds on TNC’s relationships with Idaho’s agriculture community as part of its regenerative agriculture initiative, a program that brings together the ingenuity of local farmers and TNC’s conservation experience to transform agriculture for the benefit of people and nature. Regenerative agriculture practices, such as no-till and cover crop planting, are one of the highest-potential strategies to improve water quality and soil health, protect the environment, and reduce climate change impacts in the state, while also supporting the economic interests of Idaho’s large farming community. While conventional farming practices increase soil erosion and water pollution and contribute greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, regenerative agriculture is a natural climate solution that actively restores nature while maintaining or improving crop yields.
"Moving towards a regenerative food system can have significant benefits for both farmers and the environment, but we know there are real financial and practical barriers to adopting these practices." says Neil Crescenti, TNC's agriculture program manager. "The goal of our work is to reduce those risks and uncertainties so that more producers can be part of the solution. With TNC's new demonstration farm, producers will be able to learn about sustainable practices tailored to our unique region and see the environmental and economic benefits in action."
Selected in part for its applicability to other regions, the Twin Falls demonstration farm will provide an on-the-ground laboratory where regenerative agriculture practices can be refined and outcomes shared, contributing to the knowledge base of effective practices in this geography and expanding opportunities for farmers in the Snake River Valley and around the region to implement proven methods on their own farmlands. The demonstration farm is managed by Brad Johnson, agriculture strategy manager at TNC, in partnership with producer and landowner Todd Ballard, whose family has been farming just east of Twin Falls for over 100 years.
Ballard began experimenting with soil health practices on his fields about eight years ago after conventional methods and gravity irrigation systems became increasingly expensive to maintain. He instead started planting cover crops and using minimum- or no-till practices that produced yields relatively even with conventional methods.
TNC is making plans to offer special farm tours and workshops for the farming community during peak growing season in June and August 2021 (subject to change). Media interested in attending a farm tour should contact Claire Cornell, communications manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The demonstration farm will employ key principles of soil health such as no-till, cover crop planting and relay cropping—where a second crop is planted directly into the first crop before harvest—to avoid soil disturbance, maximize water absorption, enrich biodiversity, and enhance soil’s ability to store carbon in the ground, which is critical to address climate change. The first crop (malt barley) will be planted late March to early April, followed by a second planting (dry edible beans) in late May. Simplot is a sponsor of TNC’s demonstration farm project, providing agronomy support and technical equipment such as soil moisture probes plus cover crop seed and fertilizer.
“Regenerative agriculture practices are not one-size-fits-all,” says Brad Johnson, agriculture strategy manager. “That’s why we’re excited for this demonstration farm to be a living classroom where innovative regenerative agriculture practices can be honed and shared with the farming community, expanding what is possible for Idaho agriculture.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 70 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.