Author: Donald Stotts | Published: December 6, 2016
Beef cattle grazing on grass pastures might not be the first thing people think of when discussing the subject of combatting greenhouse gas emissions, but it is an agricultural practice providing significant dividends to the effort.
“Environmental as well as economic sustainability are key elements of best management practices for agriculture, as most people involved in agriculture are well aware they are stewards of the land,” said Keith Owens, Oklahoma State University associate vice president for the university’s statewide Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system. “Air, water, soil; we pay attention to all of them.”
In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, scientific studies have long indicated the burning of fossil fuels and land-use changes such as deforestation have led to an increase in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial revolution.“Carbon dioxide atmospheric concentrations have risen from 280 parts per million prior to the industrial revolution to more than 400 parts per million today,” Owens said.Carbon sequestration – the long-term capture and storage of carbon from the atmosphere, typically as carbon dioxide – is a method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.“Many different agricultural production practices can capitalize on carbon sequestration in both soil and biomass to reduce negative environmental effects,” Owens said. “These practices enable use of the natural carbon cycle to replenish carbon stores while reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.” That is where beef producers who employ grasslands as a pasture resource come in. Research by R.F. Follett and D.A. Reed published in 2010 examined the effects of grazing on soil organic carbon storage in North American rangelands. Follett and Reed found impacts ranging from no change to up to 268 pounds of carbon stored per acre per year.