Keyword for the future is sustainable |

Keyword for the future is sustainable

by Sharon Carter

The next logical step in the evolution of agriculture is to re-incorporate it into the community, says Bently Agridynamics manager Mike Compston.

“We no longer go out and hit our food over the head and drag it back to cook on a fire in a cave,” Compston said Monday. “Things have changed over the past millennia and they’ll continue to change. What we’re looking for are sustainable agricultural communities.”

Like his employer, Minden businessman Don Bently, Compston takes a long-term, world view of the role agriculture will play in the coming years.

After 26 years of growing seed garlic and operating a feedlot in Smith Valley, Compston, 52, three years ago became manager of the Bently Ranch and consequently, the ranch’s research spinoffs, Bently Agridynamics and Bently Biodynamics. Compston has a degree in agriculture from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Using the Carson Valley and environs as a field laboratory, Bently Agridynamics workers plant, harvest, analyze and market test crops, and Biodynamics develops and sells (generally on a wholesale basis) specialized, soil-enriching composts.

– Demands of the future. “The challenge, as we compete for limited resources of land and water, is how to produce crops using less land and water resources,” Compston said. “How do we build soil in areas traditionally less apt to grow good crops? Turn range land into crop land? Work with nature, rather getting in its way? We think it all ties in together.”

Compston and his daughter, Toni, 30, a special project manager at Biodynamics who has degrees in political science and agricultural business administration from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, had agreed to discuss with the R-C what they and their employer see in the future for Carson Valley agriculture.

The Compstons began by explaining that they (and Bently) believe quality production, rather than sheer quantity, will be important in saving Carson Valley agriculture.

The Bently ranch operation, they said, has sold off all its lower grade, market cattle and is concentrating, in partnership with Harris Ranches of Central California, on developing premium Hereford and Aberdeen Angus breeding stock.

“Most of the available research has been done on those breeds, so we don’t have to begin at the very beginning and duplicate efforts,” Mike Compston said. “The idea is to produce a consistent, high-quality product from calving all the way through to the meat counter.”

– From the ground up. “The more progressive in the ag community are also focusing on the quality of the soil,” Toni Compston said. “Better soil yields better food for people and better feed for animals. Better-fed animals yield better quality meat and a healthier society. And because the food the society eats has a better nutritional balance and people are healthier, over the long term, it reduces society’s medical costs and improves its overall quality of life.”

But, improving soils involves more than stirring in some compost, Mike Compston said.

– A community component. “Agriculture will necessarily become a part of sustainable community development – it has roles in air quality because plants assimilate carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen,” he said.

“It has a role in water filtration because we use effluent, biosolids and other organic wastes from municipal disposal. It (the plants and animals) enhances soil quality by improving its biological structure and nutrient balances enough that it can greatly increase production per acre. And since overhead costs of production and distribution are increasing, it is becoming more necessary to provide more and more nutrient units for every pound produced – food and feed in the future will be sold by nutrient level rather than strictly by the pound.”

n Less waste. Compston said improving and maintaining water quality will be a focus of modern agriculture – low energy precision application – LEPA, to the uninitiated – is already being incorporated into several ag operations in the Carson Valley besides Bently’s.

Fields are laser graded to with critical slopes which allow irrigation water to move slowly across for optimum absorption by plants and soil and then drain off, returning excess water to the ditches and the river.

He said agriculture’s role in serving the energy needs of the world will increase. Beneficial plants such as hybrid poplars, a hardwood tree which grows from seedling to saw logs in 10 to 14 years, will become more important and will be grown as a crop in the future.

Toni Compston said willows and switch grass, which reduces the amount of labor-intensive tilling the land requires, will have roles in new agriculture.

“These plants and others that are also used to clean up contaminated ground around mining and landfill sites, have the ability to assimilate and store a broad variety of nutrients and chemicals,” she said.

Toni Compston said switch grass looks particularly promising.

The tall, high fiber cane grows in diverse climates and removes proportionately more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than other grasses. It is also a high quality animal feed and can be used in ethanol fuels production.

– Open space. Agriculture open space needs to be maintained in and around urban areas to allow for flooding and displacement of large rainfall events, Mike Compston said.

“Ag land provides a foundation of filtration and soil redistribution during flooding, which enhances the soil,” he said. “We need to respect and work with nature and natural phenomenons, which is what a sustainable community in agriculture is.”

n World-wide concept. Toni Compston attended an international conference last July in Washington, D.C., which concerned itself with carbon dioxide assimilation and what can be done to reduce atmospheric pollution.

“The new thing is ethanol fuels, which when added to fossil fuels, reduce emissions,” she said.

The Compstons believe that adapting agriculture’s traditional strengths and expanding its vision to address many of today’s problems will create countless opportunities for the future.

“It all comes down to air, water, soil and sun – that’s always been life. Everything we do, our beliefs and the focus of the (Bently) 30-year agricultural plan is based on that philosophy,” Mike Compston said.

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