Saving the Soil: Blake Vince's Quest for No-Till Farming
(5 pages of text)
Blake Vince is a fifth-generation farmer who adheres to what appears to be a set of unconventional farming techniques. Most farmers prepare for planting by tilling their fields, turning over weeds and cover crops to expose the dirt underneath. Vince, however, practices “no-till” farming, leaving the top layer of soil undisturbed. Further, he allows for a variety of cover crops to grow alongside the soybean plants he cultivates. This combination of no-till and cover crop farming is thought to be more sustainable in the long run but comes at the expense of crop yields in the short run (for the first few years). There is tradition linked to the practice of tilling, but, according to Vince’s research, tilling contributes to reduced soil health, decreases the ability of the soil to hold water and nutrients, and increases agricultural runoff of excess fertilizers into regional water systems. Vince’s challenge is how to spread the word that farm owners should plan and act as long-term stewards if they wish to preserve the land for future generations to use. He faces an uphill battle.
This case has been designed for use in undergraduate- or graduate-level courses on strategy, sustainability, or entrepreneurship. After working through the case, students with be able to do the following:
- Use systems-thinking to consider the challenges facing the agriculture industry as well as to assess Blake’s decision to focus on the long-term benefits at the expense of short-term profits.
- Use systems thinking to consider thinking about whole versus parts of systems, feedback loops and circularity, and leverage points for systems change.
- Identify the difficulties in advocating a practice – or set of practices – that appear to refute prevailing wisdom.
- Assess the value of cooperating with potential competitors (other farmers) to build the legitimacy of a new industry.
- Understand and work to overcome negative perceptions.
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting
Canada, Small, 2018
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