Bismarck farmer wins prestigious Heinz Award

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What started as a plan to protect his 5,000-acre farm ended in a Bismarck farmer receiving national recognition and potentially revolutionizing the ag industry as a whole.

Gabe Brown has been given the prestigious Heinz Award.

Brown’s story goes back to 1993 when he first started no-till practices in his fields to help conserve some much-needed moisture.

“I had read and studied about no-till, and I had a good friend from the northern part of North Dakota who was a no-tiller. And he said Gabe, you need to go no-till in order to save time and moisture,” said Brown.

Driving through the North Dakota countryside this year, you may have noticed pastures were looking a little brown, and rotational grazing was a term used throughout the ag community.

This is a practice that Brown is also very familiar with.

“On our ranch here, we move the animals every day during the growing season. That allows us to rest pastures and so they recover, they have a healthy root system. They recover quickly, it builds the soil up to make it much more resilient to drought and these different weather events,” said Brown.

But saving water isn’t the only thing that landed Brown the distinguished Heinz Award.

Grant Oliphant, the president of Heinz Endowments, said, “[Brown] is the genuine item and the real deal. He is a farmer and knows what it is to actually do the work, that’s the first order of business with him.”

It’s more than putting in the long hours that North Dakota farmers and ranchers put in all year long though, as Oliphant puts it.

“He is actually doing the work of experimenting and trying different things. He knows the science and he knows how to communicate about it,” said Oliphant.

Of course, water conservation is important in a drought year such as 2021, but other steps to preserve the environment take place here on the farm.

In the early 2000s, Brown decided to cut one word out of his vocabulary.

“We actually quit using fungicides and pesticides back in the 1990s and we eliminated all use of synthetic fertilizer in 2008,” said Brown.

These practices were ahead of their time, leading to a successful operation, and ultimately fulfilling his goal of protecting his land.

Oliphant said, “Clearly, we have learned from those past mistakes, but now we’re facing all new threats and we’re having to figure out how to adapt to a changing climate, and we need innovation like Gabe’s to help us do that.”

Up next for Brown is a national ceremony commemorating his efforts as well as a trip to Pittsburgh to share some of his practices.

Brown is a recipient of the environmental category of the Heinz Award and gets a $250,000 grant. The national ceremony recognizing Brown will be held virtually this year.

Other categories being given out in the Heinz Award are arts and economics.

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