Brooks and Jen White, Manitoba’s 2018 Outstanding Young Farmers, have set some specific goals for their grain and bison farm near Lyleton in southwest Manitoba, which all revolve around their vision statement of “regenerative” agriculture.
Since taking over the fifth-generation farm in 2012, Brooks and his wife Jen have grown the farm’s bison herd to 600 head and adopted a regenerative production system that focuses on increasing the profitability of their existing land base. They follow production practices that help to maintain and improve soil structure and quality. They also regenerate their business by following their business plans while continuing their education to improve their management. Finally, they regenerate agriculture by contributing back to the agricultural community through involvement with industry groups as well as their local community.
It was successive years of excess moisture that led the Whites to pursue a regenerative agriculture system. In 2009 they planted some cover crops in late summer on fields that had been too wet to seed in the spring with the aim of growing feed. In subsequent years they discovered other benefits provided by cover crops. “In years after, we noticed that they were the first fields we could get into because we had improved the water infiltration and soil structure in those fields,” says Brooks.
Since then they have researched cover crops and intercropping and have been integrating them wherever they can, growing on average forage blends of 12 different annual crops a year.
Brooks, 39, says the biggest impact on the farm over the past few years has been in developing a strategic plan that has solidified their vision and mission and cemented their goals in place.
“I went through a program called CTEAM (Canadian Total Excellence in Agricultural Management). At the time I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted our farm to go. I felt I needed some guidance on where to focus,” says Brooks.
CTEAM helped the Whites develop a plan to continue to integrate both their profit centres — the bison and grain — in a way that could be sustainable and manageable. “I realized I needed to scale back our operation, integrate the two enterprises in efforts to be more profitable on fewer acres rather than adding more acres or animals,” says Brooks.
The Whites now have a plan to keep moving the farm forward. Over the next few years they are concentrating on improving soil quality because they know farm profitability relies on soil health.
“We are integrating the bison as much as we can into the system (proper livestock management does benefit soil health), so we will continue to build the infrastructure — like fences and water systems — to give us flexibility to move the bison around different areas to have the impact we need,” says Brooks.
They are also always looking to generate multiple revenue streams from their 7,000 acres and are looking at things such as year-round grazing with multiple livestock species.
The Whites say being named OYF regional finalists for Manitoba was overwhelming at first, but having been part of peer groups in the past they appreciate the value of networking with OYF alumni. “I have seen the value of how being involved with other farmers outside of your community can help in exchanging and learning new ideas,” says Brooks. “I see the OYF program being a really big peer group potentially.”