Meet the Whites: Intercropping, bison, and regenerative farming

(Sharla George Photography)

From beginning with just small test plots, to having more than half of their current land base as an intercrop, the Whites say their farming journey has been all about learning from nature.

Fifth generation farmers, Brooks and Jen White call the deep southwest corner of Manitoba — near the town of Pierson — home. Crops they grow include winter wheat, rye, oats, corn, soybeans, faba beans, peas, canola, hemp, lentils, and sunflowers.

For intercrops, it varies, but a big crop they have found that works is a pea and canola mixture which they dub ‘peola’. On the other hand, faba beans and lentils were a no-go, they say.

“That was a small scale trial, but basically faba beans thrive in a wet environment, and lentils thrive in a dry environment, so I thought (by mixing in the two) it’s going to work — it would self-insure,” Brooks says. “It turned into a wet year, and faba beans thrived and they out-competed the lentils and every lentil died … it was still a success because the faba beans were still a crop.”

Although it didn’t work, he says he’ll continue to experiment — on a small scale of course — to see what could work well with the pulse crop.

Along with grain, they also raise roughly 600 head of bison. Jen says when an intercop doesn’t work, it’s still beneficial as that’s where the bison are set out to graze.

“It’s like we have 600 combines, instead of one taking off the crop,” Jen says with a hint of laughter.

Brooks says monocrops “just really weren’t working” with the more than 7,500 acre land they own. In in the late 2000s he says they started to play around with small test plots of intercropping and noticed improvements in their soil.

In the years to follow, he kept on finding his crops to be enhanced due to intercropping, so in 2012 he started to mix crops on a larger scale. Now more than 75 per cent of their land is intercropped and Brooks says that number will keep growing in the years to come.

Listen to RealAgriculture’s Jessika Guse speak with Brooks and Jen White about their intercropping success, bison, and their recent Outstanding Young Farmer’s of Manitoba win.