Cole Viramontes – Part II

Regenerative Farming: New Farm Practices with Forward-Thinking Innovation

Cole Viramontes says his ultimate aim is to achieve a zero-pesticide operation, though the path is challenging and far from straightforward. Many assume it’s simpler than it is, particularly given the distinct climate conditions in our region compared to, say, the central or eastern parts of the country. Despite the Southwest region’s diversity, spanning from Texas to California, the variability in weather and cropping systems presents unique challenges. Over a decade, he’s embarked on this journey and has made significant strides, notably in reducing pesticide use and improving plant and soil health. This endeavor has not been without cost, but he’s optimistic about its future payoff. He’s pursuing certification in this area, although the term “regenerative” lacks a legal definition. A few organizations offer certifications for regenerative farming that provide tiered recognition. It’s a system that ranges from Tier 1 to Tier 5, with Tier 5 representing the pinnacle of regenerative practices, including zero pesticide use and the integration of cover crops with subsequent replanting. However, his vegetable program’s constraints, especially regarding food safety standards, prevent him from allowing animal grazing, a critical component of the highest tier of regenerative farming.

“We’re actively engaging in cover cropping and green manuring, which involves mowing down the cover crops and incorporating them back into the soil. This process aims to enhance our soil biology, enriching the soil ecosystem through natural means”, says Viramontes.

He focuses entirely on soil health, specifically its microbiology, and leveraging the natural ecosystem to manage pests instead of chemical treatments. Many farms have long depended on synthetic sprays and acid-based fertilizers, conditioning the soil to this approach much like an addiction. Transitioning away from these practices requires a gradual shift, introducing holistic methods alongside traditional ones and slowly phasing out the latter. “This was essential because our soils were metaphorically on life support—devoid of life. Reviving the soil’s vitality transformed it entirely. The response is immediate and observable through sap analysis when nutrients are added. This quick uptake is facilitated by active soil biology, making nutrients readily available to the plants, which absorb what they need when needed. It’s like providing the plants with diverse nutrients, allowing them to flourish with visible vigor and health,” stated Viramontes.

An excellent example from his experience: Viramontes manages a small pecan orchard where he chose to cultivate a living ground cover instead of following the common practice of using Roundup and other herbicides to maintain bare ground. He planted various cover crops amidst the pecan trees and kept the area mowed without spraying herbicides. The black aphid is a notorious pest in pecan farming, prompting frequent pesticide applications among growers. Despite his limited experience as a pecan farmer and the modest size of the orchard, Viramontes found no need to spray for black aphids. However, about three years ago, a grass species began to invade the orchard, posing a threat of spreading across the farm. Reluctantly, Viramontes decided to apply Roundup once, aiming to eradicate the invasive grass and planning to replant the cover crop shortly after. Within a week of spraying, he faced the most severe aphid infestation he’d ever seen. “I’m convinced that the herbicide application killed the ground cover and stressed the pecan trees, making them more attractive to the aphids. This incident reinforced my belief in the importance of maintaining a healthy, living soil ecosystem as a defense against pests.”, Viramontes said.

Viramontes’ new farm practices are forward-thinking and innovative. Vidalia aligns with and partners with this kind of grower to produce the best cotton in the country.