December 5-7, 2018
January 23-24, 2019
Biotic Farming Systems nurture life.
They create a healthy habitat for life in the soil, plant communities, livestock and humans.
Transitioning to a biotic farming system starts with identifying and removing toxic practices used to produce a crop and committing to biotic inputs that improve a farm's overall health, diversity, resiliency and productivity with respect to available resources.
Elimination of a cash crop - barley - in exchange for a multi-species green manure crop is the foundation of Rockey Farms healthy soils.
The San Luis Valley agricultural community has depleted a portion of its aquifer, which is threatening the stability of the area’s farming and ranching industry. The green manure crop allows Brendon to reduce his irrigation rates significantly while increasing its efficiency. The increasing green manure rotations throughout the community are directly contributing to the San Luis Valley’s aquifer recent recharge. More and more farmers are understanding the long term rewards of soil health investments.
Removing a cash crop from the rotation is economically viable for Rockey Farms. The green manure rotation reduces parasitic nematode numbers, soil tillage and tractor passes while supplementing the nutrient cycle. The rotations continue to reduce the following year’s potato crop inputs by more than what was lost on the barley. The green manure is ultimately an investment in the potato crop, one that also improves its quality.
The multi-species mix builds soil health through its diverse root exudates that provide pathways for carbon to life under and above ground. Dave Brown and Wayne Brown, Mosca, Colorado, grazed the 2017 Rockey Farms green manure with cattle to stimulate biological activity and mineralize nutrients. The use of green manure and cover crops is bringing San Luis Valley ranchers and farmers together to combine resources.
In addition, Brendon nourishes his fields with compost and biological products that include soybean meal, calcium and fish. They provide a food source for the 200 microbes the products themselves introduce to the soil.
The farms’ 16-species flowering green manure fields, potato companion crops and flowering strips also attract beneficial insects, those that serve as a defense against aphids and thrips.
Brendon plants four-row flowering strips in his fields to serve as a nectar hub for both the beneficial insects and pollinators. It provides them with habitat to complete their life cycles, a process that keeps the farms’ insect population in balance. The flowering mix includes Spring Peas, Chickling Vetch, Woolly Pod Vetch, Sunflower, Safflower, Flax, Phacella, Mustard, Radish, Meadow Foam, Clover, Buckwheat and some gourds.
Rockey Farms' 90 seed potato lots, which are tucked inside a Sainfoin buffer strip, pass annual inspection under biotic Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Additionally, nectar rich flowers create beneficial insect habitat in the farms’ seed potato greenhouse, which serves as its sole form of IPM, eliminating the need for insecticide. Species planted in the greenhouse include Cilantro, Dill, Cornflower, Parsley, Cosmos, Fennel, Bishop’s flower, Marigold, Sweet Alyssum and Coreopsis, which are selected to create habitat primarily for lacewings and ladybugs that are released into the growing environment.
After witnessing the benefits of plant diversity in his 250-acres of green manure, Brendon decided to attach two Gandy boxes to his Grimme potato planter to incorporate “companions” - Desi Chick Peas, Field Peas, Chickling Vetch, Fava Beans and Buckwheat - into his fresh market and seed potato crops. The flowering, legume heavy mix fixes nitrogen, mobilizes phosphorus and creates beneficial insect habitat, which is crucial for successful biotic IPM. The flowering companions host a variety of insects that feed on aphids, which are responsible for spreading a mosaic virus that can cripple seed potato production. Among the predator insects, bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles and other pollinators forage with no threat of insecticide or other poisonous chemicals.
This summer, Rockey Farms participated in a study by Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, Ecdysis Foundation/Blue Dasher Farm Initiative, examining how cover crops/green manure affect insect communities. The study is asking how cover crop/green manure diversity correlates with insect diversity; whether cover crops/green manure and cover diversity inhibit pest populations; and which species of cover crop/green manure are positively associated with predators and pollinators.
After Lundgren compiles the data, Rockey Farms will receive an inventory of the beneficial and pest insects on that phase of his operation, which will ideally assist with future IPM decisions. The datapoint will also be one of a large network that will aid farmers when making decisions to optimize profitability, inform farmers of regional cover crop/green manure practices, and help form the scientific basis of state and national policies surrounding cover crops/green manure and conservation practices.
In 2014, Brendon assisted Andrew Houser, Colorado Potato Certification Service Manager, Colorado State University, in accessing flowering seed and conducting a study that evaluated the use of a flowering crop mix border to manage mosaic virus in a potato crop. The study, which was conducted in both 2014 and 2015, found that "the use of a flowering species mix as a border, when planted adjacent to potatoes, is a tool that potato producers can use to help reduce the spread of mosaic.”
Most importantly, Brendon’s neighbors and deep network of producers are incorporating green manure, cover crops and companion crops into their farmscapes. Producers across the globe are taking a an in-depth look at their chemical use and the possibilities of companion crops after listening to Brendon share his story.