Even as the process of writing a new farm bill begins, with the Senate Ag Committee holding its first public field hearing recently in Manhattan, Kansas, some innovative farmers are dropping out of the farm program entirely over requirements they say are too restrictive.

Even as the process of writing a new farm bill begins, with the Senate Ag Committee holding its first public field hearing recently in Manhattan, Kansas, some innovative farmers are dropping out of the farm program entirely over requirements they say are too restrictive.

Ironically, many of these same farmers are the most ardent about serving the public good by rejuvenating soils, growing healthier food and improving the environment.

Gail Fuller, of Emporia, Kansas, falls into that category. He attended the High Plains No Till Conference last month in Burlington, Colorado, to talk about multispecies rotational grazing and no-till practices on his diversified farm in south central Kansas.

If there’s an argument to be made that Fuller deserves federal payback for his contributions to society, surprisingly he’s the first to bat it away.

“Maybe they don’t subsidize us, maybe they just leave us alone,” he said. “I’d like to just get the government out of it.”

Of course, one of the problems with that, which Fuller readily acknowledges, is that today’s farm economy has become heavily dependent on crop insurance and federal farm subsidies for survival.

“That’s the only way we make a living,” he said. “It’s sure not off of what we get for the commodity.”

At the same time, he considers the low cost of food deceiving, saying it comes with a price.

“Compare the calcium in my eggs to how much is in regular grocery store eggs,” he said. “I get $5 a dozen for my eggs while they are a dollar a dozen at the grocery store. But when you consider the nutritional value, my eggs are actually cheaper.”

It rubs him the wrong way that the government gives farmers a financial incentive to mass-produce low value commodities and then pushes the excess production on other countries through international trade policy.

“How sustainable is that?” he asked. “Never mind how sustainable it is to ship our products overseas to begin with, but those other countries we trade with are not hauling our soil nutrients back to us to put back on our fields.” On his own farm, Fuller is experimenting with intensive crop rotation, cover crops and mixed grazing of cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens, all with the intent of building healthier soil. In the process, he has become so frustrated with the government “telling him how to farm” that he dropped out, including forfeiting crop insurance, which is paid for through a combination of federal subsidies coupled with individual premiums.

Raising particular ire among farmers like him are termination guidelines that require cover crops to be killed off well in advance of planting an insured crop and restrictions on haying or grazing cover crops used in place of summer fallow.

Fuller said he had given up on lobbying the government for greater leniency.

While he admitted his stance is extreme compared to most farmers and he can sound like a broken record when it comes to insisting on having plant life covering the soil surface at all times, he emphasized his goal is for farmers everywhere to be successful at managing their land. The entire Great Plains climate is interconnected, with weather in Eastern Colorado ultimately affecting his conditions further east, he said.

No conversation with him gets very far before it loops back around to the topic of soil health, his overriding concern.

“My grandkids won’t have any soil left if we don’t change. We’re that close to losing it,” he said.

Several years ago Fuller started hosting an annual field school at his farm.

The next one is set for Aug. 17 and 18. Several guest speakers will participate, including Don Huber, a controversial scientist who questions the health and safety of widespread glyphosate use and herbicide resistant crops.

Fuller said his field days attract all kinds of people, consumers as well as farmers, from around the world.

His foreign guests, in particular, have given him a new perspective, he said.

“I had a huge awakening a couple of years ago,” he explained. “I had a group of farmers visit from Iraq. I almost didn’t let them come, and I got some pushback from other landowners in the area. But what I learned from them is they don’t want my corn. They want to learn my techniques so they can feed their own people.”

While eating at a local restaurant, one of the Iraqi men told Fuller the plate of food he received was more than he normally eats in an entire day.

While food is clearly plentiful in the U.S., Fuller questioned whether it measures up nutritionally.

“Typically we don’t even have enough protein on our plates to keep our brains functioning properly,” he said.

Fuller pointed out that Iraq, a country now struggling to feed itself, is located in what was historically referred to as the Fertile Crescent, also known as the Garden of Eden in biblical texts.

That to him is a cautionary tale.

“Here in the U.S. we are degrading our soils at a rate faster than what they did,” he said. “And we think we are going to be able to continue to feed them? We should be worrying about whether we will be able to feed ourselves.”