By Ron Nichols
I first spoke with the then 25-year-old Macauley Kincaid a little over a year ago, shortly after he attended a Soil Health Academy school.
After that experience, Macauley went back to his Southwest Missouri farm and began applying the insights and recommendations from SHA’s experts with what can only be described as unbounded zeal and determination. Like many of our graduates, he periodically sent us enthusiastic messages about his regenerative advances, attaching photos to illustrate his cropping system progress—each message bubbling with excitement and laced hope. We were delighted to feature a story about Macauley and his beautiful family in SHA’s 2019 Annual Report because his story exemplifies the transformational impact regenerative agriculture has on so many farms, families and communities throughout North America.
After sitting in on a recent Understanding Ag webinar hosted by Gabe Brown and Allen Williams, Macauley reached out to us again to describe how regenerative agriculture has completely changed his operation, his outlook, his future—and his decision-making process. We thought it would be a good time to have a longer conversation with Macauley to learn more about his regenerative agricultural journey. Here’s an overview of that conversation…
Macauley Kincaid: An update on a regenerative journey
“If I gave you a pill that had all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs, could you survive on that alone?” asks Macauley Kincaid.
“Of course, you couldn’t, at least for very long,” he says, answering his own question. “You need carbon-based food, or you will starve to death. Yet that’s the approach we’ve taken in agriculture—thinking we can feed our crops synthetic fertilizer and other inputs without fully understanding the role plants, animals and microbes have in the carbon cycle. In effect, we’ve been starving our soil to death.”
The 26-year-old Southwest Missouri farmer transitioned to regenerative agricultural principles and practices about three years ago. But after attending a Soil Health Academy school, his efforts were super-charged, thanks in part to what he learned SHA instructors Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, Shane New and Allen Williams.
Macauley’s knowledge, awareness and evangelical zeal about agro-ecological principles belie his young years and relative regenerative rookie status.
Always learning, Macauley is a voracious reader of all things related to regenerative agriculture and ecological principles. “I think I got that love of learning from my mother, with whom I share all of the books I read—and then we discuss them together.”
In fact, Macauley says the three most influential people in his life are his wife, his mom and his grandmother.” My father died of cancer when I was 19, but my mom has always been engaged and supportive of my farming endeavors,” he says. “And my wife is my partner in farming and in all things and is there with me by my side every step of our regenerative journey. And my grandmother who is almost 80, really ‘gets it’ and I help her with her own no-till, regenerative home garden.”
Like many of his farming colleagues, Macauley began his career pursuing the conventional agriculture model but quickly realized it offered little long-term hope for success. His “regenerative epiphany” changed everything. “When I realized that I had to first focus on improving the health of my soil, that’s when things started turning around,” he says.
He admits that he’ll talk to anyone at any time about regenerative agriculture. Speak with him for just a short period of time and you’ll realize you’re talking to a man on a mission. It’s not an overstatement to say his mastery of the subject matter and his ability to convey that information is professorial in its breadth. And his enthusiasm is so contagious, it’s infecting his friends in ways Macauley never expected.
“All of my friends want to be farmers now,” he says. “And I’m happy to help them where ever and however I can.”
A firebrand of energy and passion, he is always thinking about soil health, always observing. He didn’t just “drink the regenerative Kool Aid,” it’s fair to say he IS the regenerative Kool Aid.
“Every time I drive by a field, I can’t help but comment about its condition and how the system could be improved,” he says. “My wife has mentioned on more than one occasion that I don’t need to comment on every single field we pass and she may have a point,” he says with chuckle.
It’s one thing to study and learn but it’s another to put that knowledge into action. Unsurprisingly, Macauley does both with alacrity. As an example, during a recent Understanding Ag webinar, Gabe Brown stressed the importance of enterprise diversification and suggested that regenerative farmers should spend as much as 50 percent of their time marketing their products.
Taking that advice to heart, the very next day, Macauley made 58 phone calls to potential buyers of his regeneratively grown grain products. From that 58 calls, he now has two distilleries interested in purchasing his grain at a premium price.
When asked how his operation has changed since we last spoke, Macauley has a two-word answer: “Increased diversity.” And because of that cropping and business diversity, Macauley sees the current crop insurance program as costly and unnecessary. Unfortunately, his bank insists on the crutch.
“Once I no longer have a banking partner, I won’t participate in the crop insurance program,” he says. “Given my increasingly diverse operation, it’s an unnecessary cost.”
Despite his success, he remains adamant that he’ll never stop learning, never stop changing, never stop pushing. “I have a long way to go to get to the Gabe, Allen or Shane level,” he says, “and I’ll never be satisfied with where I am on this journey because I’m always looking for ways to help the system help me.” He cites the increasing number of crops in his rotation and the addition of animals in his operation, as examples of practices that enable the soil’s health and regeneration.
Despite the enormous day-to-day responsibility of running a farming enterprise, there’s no doubt Macauley loves what he does and wants to help others do the same. That love is already transcending generations, and his 5-year-old son Jaxton heartily endorses Macauley’s regenerative farming approach.
“After spending a day in the field with me, I received the greatest compliment I could ever get,” Macauley says with fatherly pride, “Jaxton said, ‘Dad, I think you’re the greatest farmer in the world.’”
And who’s to argue?