Big Timber: Indreland Ranch and B Bar Ranch, 2017

For many of us, it’s easy to overlook what happens below the surface. But for Montana’s farmers and ranchers, what’s happening below the surface is everything.

A growing number of Montanans are using innovative methods to create resilient soils, and they have a lot to teach us.

In June of 2017, more than 70 ranchers, farmers, and gardeners gathered for a day of learning, collaborating, and digging in the dirt. The 2017 Soil Crawl on the Indreland and B Bar ranches was an opportunity for people who grow food to learn from one another about soil health and the methods used to achieve it.

At the Indreland Ranch, participants accompanied Roger and Betsy Indreland on a pasture tour. Less than 10 years ago, the Indrelands started working with Nicole Masters of Integrity Soils to improve soil health on their ranch. Using innovative seeding mixtures and no-till methods, the Indrelands have seen huge improvements in the water storage capacity of their soil. The Indrelands also use dung beetles to increase the nitrogen content in their soil.

Tony Hartshorn, a professor of Land Resources at Montana State University joined Masters in demonstrating how simple testing with inexpensive tools can allow producers to read the water capacity and nitrogen levels in soil. Later test results showed soil organic matter (SOM) levels near 22% (most pastureland is closer to 1-2%).

These simple tests were replicated on the neighboring B Bar Ranch. Participants were able to compare results and talk with Wes Henthorne and Mihail Kennedy of the B Bar Ranch about the methods being used there.

One such method is the use of compost tea: a perfected mixture of nutrients steeped and brewed, then sprayed on the pasture land. Henthorne and Kennedy showed participants their compost tea facility and the spray truck that can travel across the pastures to spread microbiology onto the land to increase productivity.

In the same way that compost can increase activity and the overall health of the soil ecosystem, these meetings continue to increase activity on farms and ranches across Montana.

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