Resilience.

Noun.

1) The capability to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

2) The ability of  a substance or an object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

 

The Rockey Family has farmed for three generations, but not always in specialty potato production or using biotic management practices. Volatile markets, a shift in health consciousness and a declining water supply have all played their roles in management changes and adaptations, ones that are keeping the farm alive.

When Brendon and his brother, Sheldon, took over the farm, it was unhealthy and not unlike every other farm on the road. Over the decades, the farm saw the introduction of center pivot irrigation and it experimented with conventional weed, pest and disease management methods. Hogs and russet potatoes were exchanged for Coors Barley, fresh market specialty potatoes and specialty seed potatoes. These shifts made sense economically, and they, too, kept the farm alive. They didn't, however, always prioritize the farm's ecology, the farm's environment or the costly consequences chemicals and heavy tillage were having on their soil.

Subsequently, wells started drying up. Steady drought and high irrigation rates began to deplete the San Luis Valley's aquifer. Laws were passed to regulate water use. The brothers' decision was, again, to adapt because they wanted to keep farming. Barley was traded for a cover crop. The seeds were planted. The soil changed. Life beget life. The farm was conserving water and slowly realizing its biotic evolution.

 

Rockey Farms' goal is to strengthen its' agroecological system, which includes encouraging  neighbors to consider biotic farming methods that enable reduced irrigation without sacrificing yield and integrating diversity into their potato fields to manage for Potato Virus Y.

Rockey Farms also aspire to influence farmers and ranchers everywhere to manage for resiliency and to diversify their landscapes.

 

Diversity.
Adjective.
Showing a great deal of variety; very different.

Diversity is the essence of Rockey Farms. It is everywhere.

Cover Crops
The uprising against uniformity began when Rockey Farms planted cover crops to conserve water.

Today, half of the farm's irrigated acreage is planted annually in a cover crop mix comprised of warm and cool season broad leaf plants and grasses. The potato/cover crop two year rotation promotes carbon cycling and supplements the nutrient cycle while reducing parasitic nematode numbers, soil tillage and tractor passes.

The cover crop provides pathways for life to access carbon through plant exudates the diverse root system releases into the soil. With purpose, the exudates feed bacteria in the rhizosphere, nourishing an unground microbial population that supports a stable soil structure comprised of aggregates and pores. The stable soil makes it possible for Rockey Farms to reduce its irrigation rates significantly while increasing its irrigation efficiency.

Rockey Farms nourishes its fields with carbon-based compost and biological amendments that include soybean meal, calcium and fish because cover crops alone do to not add all the fertility needed to the soil required to grow a cash crop. The amendments provide a food source for the hundreds of microbes the products themselves introduce to the soil in addition to the preexisting microbial populations.

Rockey Farms introduced quinoa in its crop rotation several seasons ago. Quinoa's irrigation demands are lower than most other San Luis Valley cash crops, but presents its own set of challenges, especially under biotic management. A polyculture approach is under development, one that will protect and nourish the quinoa crop while encouraging healthy soil structure and a strong beneficial insect population.

Dave Brown and Wayne Brown, Mosca, Colorado, graze the Rockey Farms cover crop with cattle during the late summer and early fall. The cattle stimulate biological activity and mineralize nutrients for Rockey Farms and provide the Brown's with a healthy, reliable source of food and water.

 

Flowers
Rockey Farms plants flowering strips in its fields to serve as a nectary for both beneficial insects and pollinators, although pollinators are not necessary for tuber production. The strips attract beneficial insects, those that serve as a defense against aphids, a disease spreading vector, and thrips, a minute black winged insect that feeds on potato leaves. The strips provide the beneficial insects with habitat to complete their life cycles and supplement their nutritional needs.
Pests are not entirely eliminated, but there is a balance in the predator/prey insect population. Bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles and other pollinators forage the flowers selected to bloom throughout the season.

Rockey Farms maintains a functional seed potato program under biotic Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Seed potato growers must comply with Potato Virus Y and other disease tolerances. Flowers are keeping the seed potato lots in compliance both in the fields and in the Rockey Farms greenhouse. In the latter, beneficial insects are released and able to reproduce because of nectar rich flowering plants dispersed among the potatoes growing in biologically amended potting soil.

The flowers eliminate the need for insecticide applications on the farm.

Companions

After witnessing the benefits of plant diversity in his cover crops, Rockey Farms decided to attach two Gandy boxes to its Grimme potato planter to incorporate companion plants - Desi Chick Peas, Field Peas, Chickling Vetch, Fava Beans and Buckwheat - into the fresh market and seed potato crops. The flowering, legume heavy mix fixes nitrogen, supports phosphorus mobilization and creates beneficial insect habitat, which is crucial for successful biotic IPM.

Colorado State University partnered with Rockey Farms to test the effectiveness of companion plants on potato virus control. The research concluded companion plants provide potato crops with a Potato Virus Y defense.

 

Biotic vs Organic

Rockey Farms is not certified organic because of economic priorities pertaining to potato storage and product marketability.

Today, these priorities dictate the use of a conventional vine desiccant. Until a reliable and stable organic vine desiccant is available, Rockey Farms will continue to use their available resources.

Learn more about the synthetic and non synthetic substances permitted in organic agriculture:

The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances

 

Tillage and Tractor Passes

The crop Rockey Farms grows is underground, and a machine digs the crop up every fall. Although there are no-till potato practices, they are not appropriate for Rockey Farms because of the labor and material costs required to produce a crop at their scale. Biotic practices, which include shallow discing after the cover crop is grazed to prep the soil for potato rows, are mitigating the damage deep tillage does to the soil.

Rockey Farms mechanically manages weeds. After the potatoes are planted, a tractor is used to rod weed and cultivate the potato rows for a total of three passes.

Mechanical weed management eliminates the need for herbicide on the farm.

 

Pro Biotic vs Anti Biotic

There are two different ways to farm: Pro Biotic and Anti Biotic. The following slides demonstrate how Rockey Farms uses a pro biotic approach to grow potatoes. Brendon developed these slides for his presentation that he shares with farmers at home and around the world.

 

Pro Biotic

Tending to promote, enhance or nurture life

 

Anti Biotic

Tending to prevent, inhibit or destroy life

 

 

Rockey Farms partnered with White Mountain Farms, Mosca, Colorado, in 2012 to create White Rock Specialties, LCC. The joint enterprise operates a potato packaging warehouse and its seed potato headquarters in Mosca.

The two farms also own and operate Colorado Quinoa, LCC. The company provides San Luis Valley quinoa growers with the resources to have their crop processed and sold.

Rockey Farms was awarded the 2014 National Potato Council Environmental Stewardship Award and the 2011 Colorado Association of Conservation Districts Farming Division Conservationist of the Year Award for its biotic practices.

In 2016, the National Association of Conservation Districts named him a Soil Health Champion.

The NACD and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign honored Rockey Farms with the 2017 Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award in Washington D.C.

Brendon is the recipient of numerous individual honors for his innovative ideas and dedication to education. He sits on the Colorado Certified Potato Growers Association board where he represents the San Luis Valley seed potato grower’s contribution to the industry’s certification and research. He is a former member of the Center Conservation District Board, the Rio Grande Water Conservation Education Initiative Board, the Colorado State Conservation Board, the Farm Service Agency Board and many of their subcommittees.

 

Resilience.

Noun.

1) The capability to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

2) The ability of  a substance or an object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

 

The Rockey Family has farmed for three generations, but not always in specialty potato production or using biotic management practices. Volatile markets, a shift in health consciousness and a declining water supply have all played their roles in management changes and adaptations, ones that are keeping the farm alive.

When Brendon and his brother, Sheldon, took over the farm, it was unhealthy and not unlike every other farm on the road. Over the decades, the farm saw the introduction of center pivot irrigation and it experimented with conventional weed, pest and disease management methods. Hogs and russet potatoes were exchanged for Coors Barley, fresh market specialty potatoes and specialty seed potatoes. These shifts made sense economically, and they, too, kept the farm alive. They didn't, however, always prioritize the farm's ecology, the farm's environment or the costly consequences chemicals and heavy tillage were having on their soil.

Subsequently, wells started drying up. Steady drought and high irrigation rates began to deplete the San Luis Valley's aquifer. Laws were passed to regulate water use. The brothers' decision was, again, to adapt because they wanted to keep farming. Barley was traded for a cover crop. The seeds were planted. The soil changed. Life beget life. The farm was conserving water and slowly realizing its biotic evolution.

 

Rockey Farms' goal is to strengthen its' agroecological system, which includes encouraging  neighbors to consider biotic farming methods that enable reduced irrigation without sacrificing yield and integrating diversity into their potato fields to manage for Potato Virus Y.

Rockey Farms also aspire to influence farmers and ranchers everywhere to manage for resiliency and to diversify their landscapes.

 

Resilience.

Noun.

1) The capability to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

2) The ability of  a substance or an object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

 

The Rockey Family has farmed for three generations, but not always in specialty potato production or using biotic management practices. Volatile markets, a shift in health consciousness and a declining water supply have all played their roles in management changes and adaptations, ones that are keeping the farm alive.

When Brendon and his brother, Sheldon, took over the farm, it was unhealthy and not unlike every other farm on the road. Over the decades, the farm saw the introduction of center pivot irrigation and it experimented with conventional weed, pest and disease management methods. Hogs and russet potatoes were exchanged for Coors Barley, fresh market specialty potatoes and specialty seed potatoes. These shifts made sense economically, and they, too, kept the farm alive. They didn't, however, always prioritize the farm's ecology, the farm's environment or the costly consequences chemicals and heavy tillage were having on their soil.

Subsequently, wells started drying up. Steady drought and high irrigation rates began to deplete the San Luis Valley's aquifer. Laws were passed to regulate water use. The brothers' decision was, again, to adapt because they wanted to keep farming. Barley was traded for a cover crop. The seeds were planted. The soil changed. Life beget life. The farm was conserving water and slowly realizing its biotic evolution.

 

Rockey Farms' goal is to strengthen its' agroecological system, which includes encouraging  neighbors to consider biotic farming methods that enable reduced irrigation without sacrificing yield and integrating diversity into their potato fields to manage for Potato Virus Y.

Rockey Farms also aspire to influence farmers and ranchers everywhere to manage for resiliency and to diversify their landscapes.