A Visit with the Hosts of The Modern Acre
A Visit with the Hosts of The Modern Acre
Tyler Nuss describes his father Dave Nuss as an old school farmer. So when Tyler started talking about how to bring regenerative ag practices to the farm, he wasn’t surprised to get a lackluster response.
But over the past year, Tyler has watched his father’s perspective shift.
“He went to Soil Health Academy, and I think that was a really big turning point for him,” Tyler said. “To connect with Allen Williams and Ray Archuleta and these guys that speak kind of the same language, but are talking about things like soil health and carbon sequestration.”
Now, Tyler can’t help but laugh when he sees his dad advocating for sustainable ag.
“We'll have suppliers out to the farm and our dad is telling 25 year-old kids about regenerative and about soil health and about tillage and these things,” Tyler said.
The Nuss family owns Nuss Farms in Lodi, California. Tim and Tyler Nuss, who host The Modern Acre podcast, represent the fifth generation of farmers in their family, along with their brother Derek.
Today, Nuss Farms grows specialty vegetable crops on 1000 acres, including garlic, sunflowers, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and some wheat.
“Any given year, we have about five to seven different commodities that we're strategically rotating around the ranch,” Tim explained.
That crop diversity represents a recent shift on Nuss Farms. Over a decade ago, the farm was largely focused on a single crop: asparagus. The family invested a lot of capital into the infrastructure to plant that crop, which is in the ground for 10 to 15 years.
Unfortunately, the big bet on asparagus backfired for the farm. The wholesale price of the commodity dropped suddenly and the farm was left in dire financial straits. So for the past ten years, the two members of the family who work on the farm full-time have been nursing the business back to financial health.
“So being that committed to any one commodity, I think, opened their eyes to being more differentiated and not having all of our eggs in one basket,” Tim said.
Reducing the farms’ reliance on a single commodity by increasing the number of crops they grow has been one way to ensure the business’s financial health. And over the last year regenerative agriculture has emerged as another promising strategy to keep business thriving on Nuss Farms.
“All the principles of general regenerative agriculture...as far as sequestering carbon and all the positive outcomes that go along with that, we see as being a huge marketing angle that we can tell with the vegetables,” Tim explained.
The Nuss family hopes to pull in a premium in their wholesale contracts for using regenerative practices on their farm.
What does using regenerative agriculture look like on the ground on Nuss Farms? For starters, it’s about building the soil. They’ve been slowly rolling out new practices that build soil health.
“Implementing cover crops where we can, thinking about tillage strategies of vertical till, drill, and up to no-till… And then in addition, I think what's key for us... is the livestock integration,” Tyler explained.
Nuss Farms has partnered with Pasturebird, a company that raises wholesale pasture-raised poultry.
“Similar to how we rotate garlic, tomatoes, and cucumbers, we're inserting pasture raised-poultry into that rotation,” Tyler said. “And the idea there is it's livestock integration, but at scale. So as we systematically move the chicks through moveable coops, through the field, they're invigorating and restoring the health of the soil.”
“And then as a result of building the soil, the hope and the goal is that we can over time reduce our reliance on inputs,” Tyler explained.
As the Nuss family moves forward with their regenerative ag experiment, they see it as a central part of their efforts to make sure the farm is financially stable enough to weather all types of unforeseen circumstances, including a global pandemic.
“We've talked about diversification of crop mix, but there's also a diversification of your business model,” Tyler said.
On one end, there’s pursuing regenerative premiums in wholesale grower contracts. But the other side of the spectrum is opening up entirely new markets for the farm, like selling fresh produce directly to consumers.
“So this coronavirus, I think has just really pushed us further in this direction [of direct sales]” Tyler said. “Understanding we need to take some of this control back to ourselves.”