A John Deere Publication
Person smiling in field of long grass with beard and baseball cap with trees and warehouse in background

Sebastien Angers is on a quest to find ways to increase his farm's profitability by improving its soil health. He's experimenting with a number of different production protocols and is a big proponent of regenerative farming.

Farm Operation, Sustainability   January 01, 2024

Sebastien's Quest


Quebec farmer pushes new frontiers.

Some farmers are content to stick with the tried and true. Others find joy in trying something new. Sebastien Angers, of Ste-Monique de Nicolet, Quebec, thrives on the challenge of constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible in crop production at his farm. He's on a quest that's taken him around the world to find ways to increase his farm's production capacity by improving the health of its soils.

"In the future, a farm's biodiversity signature and carbon signature will have a value," Angers says. "But there is so much natural variability in natural production cycles that they're very difficult to quantify. It's only possible when you have specific designs (production protocols) to measure against."

His goal is to find the ones that are right for his fields. His search has become so involved that Angers says he's started see himself as an explorer, and an artist who designs new ways to increase the biodiversity, soil carbon, and fertility of his soils. Paint-by-number cropping prescriptions have no appeal to him; he's constantly experimenting with cutting-edge techniques he's researched using small proof-of-concept trials. If they're a success, he'll implement them on a larger scale, if they aren't, he won't have lost too much money.

60-inch rows. Through his odyssey Angers has become a strong proponent of regenerative farming. He's particularly interested in the results he's been getting by using a combination of 60-inch corn, planted at a higher seeding rate, with cover crops.

"Planting corn in 60-inch rows reduces your corn yield by 20 percent," Angers says. "But you make up for that reduction in other ways. For example, you reduce the amount of seed and fertilizer that are needed, and you can utilize 80 percent of the space freed up to grow cover crops."

He describes what he's doing as investing in sunlight. The extra room between each row allows plants to capture more of the sun's rays, which in turn, increases yield. It also allows them to plant their cover crops in the spring instead of after harvest.

Planting them early gets them off to a strong enough start to provide increased competition for weeds. This reduces their need for herbicides and cuts their fuel consumption. But it's not without its risks; a competitive cover crop like rye will deplete soil moisture enough to hurt the crop if it's a dry year.

"It's very easy to use chemicals but if you need to reduce or replace them, you need to use nature in clever ways," Angers says. "My goal is use nature to create value, and to balance what I give and take from the land. For me, using plant diversity to do this is the best example of what farming originally was about."

Over the short term, Angers admits it's more work to rebuild and restore ecosystems. Regenerative farmers plant up to 25 different species in their cover crops over a six-year or seven-year rotation. He's used sorghum, clover, crimson, vetch, or forage peas, in a design to feed the soil, improve the nutrient cycle, and to increase carbon sequestration.

He always keeps an eye on how his trials will impact his cash flow. That's why he says his best results so far have come from growing a seed pumpkin variety from Austria between 60-inch corn rows. Not only do the pumpkins fix nitrogen in the soil, but growing seeds for the snack food market boosts his bottom line.

Part of a team. "Our big challenge as farmers is we only get one chance to try something new each year so it's really easy to fail," Angers says. "There are a lot of variables that must be calibrated to perfect a new protocol. You have to determine the right timing, find the right blend of cover crops, the right seed and fertilizer rates, and so on. The only way to limit the risk is to share it with other like-minded farmers. So, a group of us are now working together as a team to try to validate if we're on the right track. We're all in the same creative boat together. It's impossible to create a new design alone. ‡

Read More

Person smiling with red goatee, baseball cap and white sunglasses atop their head


Against the Grain

How a Nebraska farmer steers away from conventional corn and soybeans.

Closeup of green grass


It's that Simple

How a vacation changed his operation and whole outlook on farming.