Brendon Rockey is a third generation farmer from Center, Colorado. Rockey Farms is 500 acres. Brendon plants 250 acres in commercial and seed potatoes, and the remaining acreage is planted with a multi-species green manure mix. Those fields are rotated every year. He essentially plants half a circle in potatoes and the other half in green manure, flip flopping sides annually.
Brendon shifted his farming operation to what he calls a “biotic approach” or agroecological system. His vision changed once he understood that traditional farming methods of growing potatoes requires the application and expense of lots of “cides;” herbicides, fungicides, nematicides, and pesticides, as well as synthetic fertilizer. He now manages his potato crop by prioritizing microbial populations in the soil and overall farm health.
Soil Health Practices
On Rockey Farms, he plants Desi Chick Peas and Chickling Vetch – legumes – as a companion crop with potatoes, which replace expensive synthetic nitrogen fertilizer applications. After the potato crop year, he rotates with a multi-species green manure and uses livestock as a tool to cycle nutrients through the soil and eliminate the need for deep tillage. An additional benefit is the increased quality of his potatoes and increased demand and popularity of his potatoes by consumers.
Growing a crop in a high-altitude, desert environment with low precipitation and an aquifer that is being depleted by groundwater pumping poses its unique needs. By building his soil health through green manure crops, incorporating livestock grazing, and utilizing crop rotations for plant diversity, he significantly reduced irrigation needs without sacrificing potato yields. By seeding nectar-rich flowering strips in his fields, he draws beneficial predatory insects that help control thrips, aphids, and other potato pests.
Brendon serves on the Center Conservation District board, holds soil health tours on his farm, and travels across the nation, showing growers how to end their chemical dependencies and increase their soil health. For more information on Brendon’s operation and his agroecological system, check out www.soilguys.com.