Gary Zimmer Shares How Healthy Soil Yields Success

Among the highlights of the inaugural Edible-Alpha® Live! event, held online December 9, Tera interviewed agriculture pioneer Gary Zimmer and his daughter Leilani Zimmer Durand. As the founder of Madison, Wisconsin-based Midwestern BioAg, Gary is considered the father of “biological farming”—essentially the first iteration of regenerative agriculture—which focuses on balancing soil biology, chemistry and structure to produce greater, higher-quality yields.

When Gary started the company in 1983, his approach was virtually unheard of in the U.S. Convincing organic dairy farmers that the ticket to more efficiency and profitability was improving their soil required a lot of education. But as Midwestern BioAg’s processes and nutrient-rich and carbon-based fertilizers got great results, the company grew steadily, expanding beyond just dairy farms and beyond Wisconsin. Gary and Leilani also wrote the book on biological farming—literally—which helped spread his philosophy and practices around the world.

Still, investors weren’t lining up to jump in. Gary bootstrapped the endeavor, including establishing the fertilizer processing arm, landing no outside capital and getting by on debt financing. And when he couldn’t convince university researchers to help him test his innovations, he established his own organic, 100% grass-fed dairy farm for in-house R&D and demos.

Today, the company continues to thrive, and Gary now works with some of the world’s largest farms, both organic and conventional, on incorporating biological farming. He also has his hand in many tangential projects, including processing ventures, a new consulting business with Leilani and an initiative to revitalize rye as a vital soil-regeneration crop. He’s also thinking about succession plans if ever he opts to slow down.

Next, Tera asked Gary and Leilani what’s next for regenerative agriculture. This led to a great discussion on what the term truly means, its potential benefits for the planet, the role big food companies can play, how Big Ag needs to evolve, and how eco-minded consumers are a driving force for change. They also discussed the challenges and opportunities for food and farm entrepreneurs today and the need for more impact investment to further these endeavors. Visit the Edible-Alpha® YouTube channel to watch the extended Video Podcast that includes audience Q&A!