Nuffield Stop: Dr. Richard Teague

Dr. Teague has focused his research career on working with successful farmers and ranchers to look holistically at how they achieved success.  His unique background growing up with his ecologist father in an agricultural setting shaped his view point and led to his holistic focus. He is based out of the Texas A&M AgriLife Center in Vernon, Texas.  His research has demonstrated how good managers are able to achieve results that are often unobtainable in small plot reductionist research. Currently Dr. Teague is the principal investigator on an adaptive multi paddock grazing project that includes leading experts delving into the mechanics of soil carbon and water soil biology, insect dynamics, grassland birds, economics, farmer well being, production, life cycle analysis, resilience.  The project is coordinated by Peter Byck of Carbon nation which ensures that the findings will be published and communicated widely. Look for results of this project to be published later this year.  

Dr. Teague figures that a farmer can simply assess the progress they are making in the short term on the landscape by assessing water infiltration.  This can change rapidly within a single season as ground cover increases and plant diversity is established. Changes in carbon can be hard to measure as they are very dynamic and the stability of carbon molecules in the soil varies greatly.  One thing that is known for sure, soil structure enhances rapidly when carbon is added through growing plants and it is the first step to achieving greater resilience. He cautions however, water infiltration can be greatly reduced in very dry conditions and the impact of management has less effect on water infiltration in soils that are already high in organic matter in wetter environments such as we see in many places in Canada.  They are also seeing that once a soil reaches about 2% organic matter the system will really start to respond much better to positive management. Again, most of our soils in Canada are well above the 2% mark so this should mean a much shorter path to positive results. I think our biggest opportunity is to use our seasonal excess moisture to build soil structure and add diversity to our cropping systems.  

There is plenty of debate in the grazing world as to how much residue needs to be left behind.  Dr. Teague figures in lower rainfall more brittle environments it is more important to leave residue and litter cover to protect the soil but in wetter environments we can get away with much less residue as long as adequate recovery period are adhered to.  

Reducing risk is probably the most critical thing to take into account when transitioning management techniques.  I am very optimistic that there will be many opportunities for young managers who can learn from Dr. Teague and his colleagues’ findings and be able to partner with a retiring generation to increase the number of people living off the land in our rural communities.

A link to Dr. Teagues extensive research papers can be found here.