• Wendy and Korey Faugue
  • Location: Sunburst, Montana USA
  • Annual rainfall: 13 inches
  • 4500 acres dryland cropping and grazing
  • Crops: canola, yellow peas, flax, winter wheat, barley, cover crops, mustard, chickpeas, lentils
  • Soil: clay loam

Summary: (see link below for full article)

This article on Wendy and Korey Fauque (in Montana USA) is a perfect example of how we can improve our long-term profitability by diversifying our enterprises and crop rotations and transition away from chemical fallows.

The Faugue’s took over the farm in 2012 when it was 100% no till and reliant on chemical fallow rotations and have since transitioned the entire 4500-acre property to continuous cropping without any chemical fallows. This has turned around their soil health in the last 10 years.

‘Most of the time continuous crops do just fine. In a very dry year the crops might struggle a bit, but we still come out ahead due to reduced labour and inputs. We’ve also come out ahead in soil health. When chemical fallowing, soil organic matter (SOM) was never above 2%. Fallowed soils were hot, and there were no plants growing to feed soil life. The ground was dead, and we were pouring expensive chemicals on it every few weeks. That’s the opposite of what we want. Today our soils are rich in life and nutrients.’

Typically, the Faugue’s grow two grass crops and then a broadleaf crop. Their rotation can also include a cover crop phase which they graze intensively so that they don’t have to terminate it with herbicide. The effects of improved nutrient cycling due to intensive grazing really stood out in following crops that were planting without fertiliser.  The Faugue’s also found that it was easier to plant back into the ground after the cattle had been moved through. They use stock density to limit selective grazing which helps control troublesome plant species without the need for herbicides. All pesticides on stock were ceased to protect the dung beetles and soil life.

‘We went through the transitions of going no-till, stopping chemical fallow, continuous cropping, intercropping, adding cover crops and grazing cover crops. The next natural progression was to hone in on soil life. We needed to stop doing things that hurt soil life and use more management strategies to multiply and encourage soil life to flourish.’

The Faugue’s did this by stopping any insecticide or fungicide seed treatments and focused on stimulating their own native biology rather than adding ‘bugs in a jug’. They made Johnson Su style bioreactors, extracted the liquid and applied it in furrow with the seed. They also apply granular humic acid and trace elements at planting where required. Any synthetic fertilisers were applied only when required using variable rate technology and buffered with humic acid.

‘When we were only using synthetic N, it seemed like plants used every bit we put out, and there was nothing left for the next year. Now we have N cycling through our system.’

‘Besides seeing SOM move from 2% to 3% and above, there have been other savings found with our current system. Yields have been depressed 20-25% per individual crop compared to when we fallowed and used a bunch of commercial inputs, but our net profit per acre has gone up. We earn more money by planting every acre every year and by growing cover crops that serve as forage for our cattle. We no longer spend huge amounts of money on burndown chemicals for fallow or for cover crops. And with more crops in the rotation and grazing, there is also less weed, pest and disease pressure.’

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