A Bismarck farmer and rancher has been recognized by a national foundation for his work in regenerative farming and soil health.
Gabe Brown, 60, received the Heinz Award for the Environment, the Heinz Family Foundation announced Thursday.
“Obviously I’m honored and flattered,” Brown said of the award. “I hope in some way it sheds light on the good agriculture can do for the environment and regenerating our ecosystem.”
The Heinz Awards were formed in 1993 to honor the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz. They recognize people for their contributions in the arts, the economy and the environment. Nominations are submitted by invited experts who serve anonymously, and are reviewed by jurors appointed by the Heinz Family Foundation. The jurors make recommendations to a board of directors, which selects two recipients in each of the three categories.
Brown began experimenting with new farming practices after some weather-related crop disasters on his farm near Bismarck. He adopted no-till practices in 1993, and later added cover cropping, complex crop rotation and perennials. He stopped using synthetic pesticides and fungicides in 2001, and quit using synthetic fertilizers in 2007. He is a leader in rotational grazing approaches that maintain plant diversity and soil health while lowering disease risk for livestock.
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The Heinz Award brings with it a $250,000 unrestricted cash award, which Brown said will be used to further regenerative education. More farmers would use the practices if they knew about them, he believes.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of places to learn about regenerative practices.”
Brown travels extensively as an instructor with the nonprofit Soil Health Academy, which consults on some 25 million acres in North America. That's an area nearly the size of Kentucky, which he said “keeps us busy.”
“I still like to be on the ranch,” he said, “but I guess this is my calling now.”
Teresa Heinz, chair of the Heinz Family Foundation, said John Heinz was committed to protecting the environment and had a gift for building bridges with those who might not share his point of view.
“We honor Gabe for developing a new approach to agriculture that recognizes the interconnection of land, food and climate change, and for his dedication as a thought leader demonstrating that environmentally conscious farming techniques not only heal the soil, they also produce healthier food, greater yields and a better financial return for those who depend on the land for their livelihood,” Teresa Heinz said.
Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com