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What about Our Grasslands? Abandoning Meat May Spell Disaster for Vital Ecosystems

Recent opinion articles advocate eliminating meat from human diets, or using artificial meat substitutes, to fight climate change. However, many experts believe that grazing animals used for meat are the key to the future health of the most altered, destroyed and endangered ecosystems on earth: grasslands.

That makes plant-based diets potential ecological disasters.

Of the 1.9 billion acres in the lower 48 U.S. states, 788 million are grassland. Globally, grazing animals and grazing land ecosystems evolved together through mutual adaptation. Human history has demonstrated that improperly grazed grasses become unhealthy, and leaving grasslands alone actually degrades them, whereas properly grazed lands become healthier.

Grasslands provide vital “ecosystem services” by sequestering carbon underground in extensive root systems, using up carbon dioxide, producing oxygen, filtering and storing water, providing habitat for other important species, and when grazed, converting cellulose that we cannot digest into high-quality protein that we can digest.

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Mexico Devises Revolutionary Method to Reverse Semiarid Land Degradation

  • Land degradation is impacting farmlands worldwide, affecting almost 40% of the world’s population. Reversing that process and restoring these croplands and pastures to full productivity is a huge challenge facing humanity — especially as climate change-induced drought takes greater hold on arid and semiarid lands.
  • In Mexico, a university-educated, small-scale peasant farmer came up with an untried innovative solution that not only restores degraded land to productivity, but also greatly enhances soil carbon storage, provides a valuable new crop, and even offers a hopeful diet for diabetics.
  • The process utilizes two plants commonly found on semiarid lands that grow well under drought conditions: agave and mesquite. The two are intercropped and then the agave is fermented and mixed with the mesquite to produce an excellent, inexpensive, and very marketable fodder for grazing animals.
  • The new technique is achieving success in Mexico and could be applied to global degraded lands. It is, says one expert “among the most soil regenerative schemes on Earth … deployed on degraded land, basically overgrazed and unsuitable for growing crops, with no irrigation or chemical inputs required whatsoever.”

Land degradation is recognized as one of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, with about a quarter of the world’s total land area already degraded, according to the Global Environment Facility (GEF). This adverse land use change has seriously harmed the livelihoods of more than 3 billion people, almost 40% of the world’s population, while exacerbating climate change due to the release of long-sequestered soil carbon and nitrous oxide — a powerful greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere.

Worse may lie ahead. Scientists warn that 24 billion tons of fertile soil are being lost each year, largely due to unsustainable agriculture practices. If this trend continues, they say, 95% of Earth’s land area could be degraded by 2050 — a dangerously unsustainable situation.

However, practical solutions exist, according to Gary Nabhan, a professor at the University of Arizona and one of the world’s leading experts on farming on arid land. “Over the last 50 years, most top-down rural development projects, have failed terribly,” he explains. “But there are guys trying out new ideas at the margins of conventional agriculture, which is where all lasting innovations in agriculture come from. We have to listen to them.”

A woman tending to an agave plant on Mexico’s degraded lands. When agave grows to this size, the plants require maintenance. The woman is pruning old and damaged pencas, removing “offspring,” so that the mother plant will conserve energy. she then plants the seedlings elsewhere. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Troubled times are the mother of invention

One such solution is emerging in Guanajuato state in central Mexico. New ideas are certainly needed in this Latin American nation as it faces climate change-induced severe drought, which is currently affecting 85% of the country. In recent weeks, the rains brought some relief to Guanajuato, though many other parts of the country remain parched.

But even when precipitation eventually does spread to the rest of Mexico, prospects for small-scale farmers are not good. According to Rafael Sánchez, a water expert at the Autonomous University of Chapingo, aquifers are completely depleted. “I have no doubt that in 2022 there will be a crisis, a great crisis,” he warned, anticipating social unrest.

Worst hit by Mexico’s deepening droughts are peasant farm families, many of them working on communal land, known as ejidos. Most ejidos are already economically unviable, and for some, further drought could be the final straw.

More and more farmers could be forced to leave their land, with the men undertaking the dangerous journey north to the now-closed U.S. border in the hopes of earning cash to send home, while women, old people and children struggle on with failing farms. Without remittances from family in the U.S., many of these farms would have gone bankrupt long ago.

Earlier this year, Ejido Los Toriles community members spent a day in La Huizachada, the ejido belonging to Doña Juana (dressed in pink), to attend a workshop on “The prevention, detection and treatment of agave pests and diseases.” The event was set up by a community group, Somos Mezcaleros, and led by farmer and agronomist Alejandro Vasconcelos. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Now a new initiative offers a way forward to these families. It is the brainchild not of a high-tech company or government, but of a local farmer, José Flores Gonzalez, who, with his two brothers, runs a farm in the municipality of Luis de La Paz, which borders San Miguel de Allende. Their farm once covered 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres), but little by little the family was forced to sell parcels, until they were left with a tenth of its original size.

Like so many others, the three brothers sought employment away from their farm. Flores Gonzalez studied mechanical engineering and became a lecturer at a local university.

As the years passed, the land degradation and drought situation in the vast semiarid region worsened. With few options, families overgrazed their pastures, trying to squeeze out what subsistence livelihood they could — wearing out the land even more. Francisco Peyret, the San Miguel de Allende municipality environment and sustainability director, says the scale of the calamity is evident to everyone: “Some of the areas around here look as if they’re on Mars. They really have no soil.”

Growing all around: ‘The world’s cheapest fodder’

Flores Gonzalez lamented a predicament that had become desperate not only for his family but his neighbors. But he didn’t despair. Instead, he worked to take advantage of his academic training and harness the peculiar growing habits of the few hardy plants that flourish on the region’s dry, degraded lands. Eventually he found a way to restore the ecosystem and potentially revive the peasant farm community economy.

Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association — who today spends most of the year in San Miguel de Allende working with Via Orgânica, the Mexican branch of the NGO Regeneration International — remembers his sudden excitement when he realized what Flores Gonzalez had envisioned.

“We were teaching a workshop on compost” in 2019, Cummins recalls. “Afterwards a scientist, Juan Frias, came up to me and told me that three brothers had developed a revolutionary new system of intercropping agave with mesquite trees to produce ‘the world’s cheapest fodder,’” which was also able to sequester “carbon from the air.” It seemed almost too good to be true, but Flores Gonzalez had discovered something quite new.

Ronnie Cummins standing in front of agave plants that his organization, Via Orgânica, the Mexican branch of Regeneration International, is encouraging peasant farmers to grow. Image courtesy of Via Orgânica.

Agave and mesquite are both common native plants to Mexico’s semiarid lands. Indigenous populations have used agave maybe for millennia, making alcoholic beverages out of it, such as tequila, pulque and mescal. Mesquite pods have traditionally been used to make atole, a beverage popular during Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities.

The two plants survive in the desert in very different ways. Agaves, known as maguey in Mexico, have shallow root systems and draw moisture directly from the air, storing it in their thick, thorny leaves, known as pencas. Unlike a lot of plants, they absorb most of their carbon dioxide at night. This means that far less water evaporates off the leaves through transpiration, allowing the plant to produce significant amounts of biomass, even under conditions of severely restricted water availability and prolonged drought.

In contrast, mesquites, the common name for several plants in the genus Prosopis, have extremely long roots and seek water deep underground. As a legume, they are one of the few plants in the desert to capture nitrogen from the air, and are able as a result to replenish soil fertility.

Agaves contain highly indigestible saponins and lectins, developed by nature to protect the plants from predators, so farmers have never been able to get their animals to readily eat the pencas. At best, they have dried them, thus losing all the precious nutrients contained in the liquid in their leaves, and then mixed the remaining plant matter with other fodder.

Agricultural murals on the wall in Via Orgânica’s headquarters in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Images courtesy of Via Orgânica.

A week after meeting Frias, Cummins and others from Via Orgânica watched a group of sheep and goats gobbling down pencas and mesquite pods at Flores Gonzalez’ farm. “They were eating it like it was candy. It was amazing!” he exclaims.

When he later visited the farm, Nabhan was just as stunned. He remembers: “Before they could even open the gates, the sheep dogs ran in and [even they] started eating the fermented agave and mesquite and, once the gates were open, there was a feeding frenzy. The livestock loved it so much!”

The explanation for the extraordinary change in eating behavior is a new use for a process nearly as ancient as agriculture. Flores Gonzalez had discovered that fermentation could turn the agave pencas into a digestible fodder. “They chop up the pencas finely and put them in sealed-up containers for a month or a month and a half. The pencas ferment and become digestible,” Cummins explains. “These farmers had figured out something that no one else had ever done, including the Indigenous.”

Flores Gonzalez’ method, which he calls the Agroforestry Zamarripa System, intercrops agave with mesquite. Cummins says the two plants grow well together: “The mesquite, or other nitrogen-fixing trees such as huizache or acacia, fix the nitrogen and nutrients into the soil and the agave draws upon them in order to grow and produce significant amounts of animal forage.”

The plants don’t even need to be irrigated, an enormous advantage. Guanajuato only gets 500 millimeters (20 inches) of precipitation in an average July-October “rainy season.” That’s followed by eight months with little or no rain. Most farmers make do with the rain they can collect and store.

The plentiful supply of basic ingredients and the simplicity of the new process makes the fodder extremely cheap, costing just 5 U.S. cents per kilogram to produce (about 2 cents per pound), far cheaper than the alfalfa or hay farmers often use for forage. Importantly, the agave-mesquite process is a big step toward making small-scale peasant farming viable again in semiarid Mexico. And as a bonus, it could reduce the exodus of climate refugees streaming to the U.S.

José Flores González next to an agave plant with his family. Image courtesy of José Flores González.
In 2019 and 2020, members of the Ejido Los Toriles community — aided by a community, management, soil recovery and reforestation specialist — built stone barriers, known as gaviones. These barriers will stem runoff from the watershed after heavy rain, allowing earth and vegetation to start accumulating in the gavion, resulting in soil recuperation. As the photo shows, agaves are also planted in strategic places to fix the soil in place more firmly. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Local resistance to the new, then slow acceptance

Still, Flores Gonzalez has not found it easy to get traditional farmers to accept his innovation. “We’ve been energetically promoting the idea for four years but, unfortunately, without great success,” he laments.

Ercila Sahores, Latin American director for Via Orgánica, admits it’s hard to overcome entrenched attitudes: “Peasant farmers have believed for centuries that agave isn’t digestible.”

Also, the local pattern of land ownership doesn’t facilitate change: “Many peasants work on collective lands, where change has to be introduced through consensus and this takes time,” Sahores says.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that much of the local land is now so degraded that reforestation, even with agave and mesquite, is a slow, tortuous process.

However, over the last two years, with the growing involvement of Via Orgânica, other NGOs, and the San Miguel de Allende municipal government, implementation is happening.#

Peasant farmers, mainly women, tending the agave. With the escalating rural economic crisis in full swing, many men have little choice but to migrate to the U.S. where they hope they can find work and send money to their families. Many women are left to run the farms, with the aid of old people and children. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

“We, the municipal government, work with communities,” Peyret explains. “We go into the ejidos, and they decide what they want to restore. They have long been aware of the urgent need to restore the land, but alone they haven’t had the resources to attempt this work.”

Once the peasant farmers communally decide which area to work on, they then commit to not grazing their animals there for several years. Peyret continues: “Agave is one of the first things we plant. It feels comfortable in the worst places and in the worst conditions, even in a bad drought, as we have had this year. If you place it on a rock where there is almost no soil, it will grow much more strongly than on arable land in a flat area. Indeed, people say ‘Make agave suffer’ for you will have a better outcome.”

The government provides the peasant farmers with enticements: temporary jobs, the chance to rebuild their vegetable gardens, the donation of native plants and trees, including agave, and the construction of water catchment systems.

The peasant farmers are also keen to grow agave, even if many of them remain skeptical of the new fermentation process, because they know that, after a decade or so of growing it, they’ll be able to produce pulque, a traditional fermented drink made by fermenting agave sap, known as aguamiel. Well before that, they can begin to experiment with the fermentation process. Acceptance is now growing.

Containers used to ferment the agave at the Cañada de la Virgen organic farm. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Expanding agave–mesquite fodder production

A network of NGOs, coordinated by the municipal government, has now organized the Climate Action Plan. Together, they’re combating soil erosion and promoting the Agroforestry Zamarripa System. Peyret estimates that community farmers have already restored some 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres). But that’s just a start.

One small-scale farmer, Alejandro Vasconcelos, who holds a degree in sustainable and ecological agriculture, has become a program trainer. “I have trained over 400 farmers from Guanajuato state and another 100 from other states. The vast majority are very poor with no access to irrigation.” He is very enthusiastic: “The fermentation produces fodder that costs just 1 Mexican peso per kilo. And, once the farmers realize that they can fatten their cattle in such a cheap way, they totally accept the technology.”

Cummins agrees. “Our center received the visit of 30 farmers from Tlaxcala [another central Mexican state]. As soon as they saw animals eating the chopped-up pencas, it was as if a lightbulb had been turned on. The next day they ordered five [fermentation] machines [from Flores Gonzalez]. When they realized there was going to be a delay, they ordered another machine from the tequila industry and modified the blades [for use with agave]. Then they started giving the fodder to their donkeys, sheep and goats. With great success.”

Alejandro Vasconcelos with his children. Vasconcelos has played a key role in promoting the agave fermentation system. Image via Facebook.
Participants in an “Introduction to Agave” course carried out in Guanajuato state, and including the community of San Miguel de Allende. Only three or four participants come from the same community, so the famers can go back home and teach their neighbors. The farmers hear about the origins of agave and are trained in ways they can increase their income from agave farming, with all the techniques based on an eco-friendly, polyculture way of organic farming. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Via Orgânica expects that farmers can branch out over the long term. “Meat from animals reared on the pencas can be certified as organic and biodynamic,” Cummins explains. “Organic lamb can command a high price. And then there’s collagen, bone broth, and so on.” A bright future beckons, if the initiative can become established in this bone-dry land.

The effort brings other significant benefits, though not ones that bring such quick returns to farmers. One bonus is agave’s capacity to sequester carbon. According to Cummins, agave-based agroforestry, with 2,000 agaves per hectare, can store about 73.6 tons of carbon aboveground over a 10-year period, not counting the carbon stored by companion trees or shrubs such as mesquites and acacias.

He has made other exciting, far-reaching calculations: “This system has the capacity to sequester 100% of Mexico’s current [annual] greenhouse gas emissions (590 million tons of CO2) if deployed on approximately 1.1% or 2.2 million hectares (5.4 million acres) of the nation’s total land mass.” It is, he says, “among the most soil regenerative schemes on Earth, especially considering the fact that it can be deployed on degraded land, basically overgrazed and unsuitable for growing crops, with no irrigation or chemical inputs required whatsoever.”

Nabhan points up another benefit. “Mexico now has the highest rate of late onset diabetes of any country in the world, and childhood obesity will mean even higher rates in the future,” he says. Agave and mesquite could be part of the solution. They contain a chemical called inulin, which promotes digestive health by serving as a prebiotic that aids good gut bacteria, he says.

“You not only have a cheap and nutritious animal food, but also a way of tackling diabetes,” concludes Nabhan. This could save Mexico’s health service millions of dollars, he says.

Nabhan notes that peasant farming in Mexico has been in decline for more than a half century. “To see the chance of renewal is almost like a miracle,” he exclaims.

The potential is so great for the agave-mesquite fermentation process that it is already being transplanted into another region and nation wracked by drought: just north of the Mexico-U.S. border, in the state of Arizona. But Nabhan guesses that the scheme will advance more quickly in Mexico: “If necessity and hunger are the mother of invention, Ronnie and the Zamarippa Agave Agroforestry System have pressures working on their side. People need an alternative because they can’t farm or ranch as they did in the past. What they are proposing is really one of the only ways out of this dilemma.”

Cummins believes that Flores Gonzalez’ Agroforestry Zamarripa System could be applied in many other parts of the world. “We think agroforestry is at the cutting edge for agriculture regeneration. About 40% of the world’s terrain is arid or semiarid and different varieties of agave and nitrogen-fixing native trees are already growing in half of these areas. The possibilities are immense.” With options for combating soil degradation in short supply, many farmers and nations will be following the Guanajuato experiment with great interest.

Cummins believes that Flores Gonzalez’ Agroforestry Zamarripa System could be applied in other parts of the world, and that agroforestry is at the cutting edge for agriculture regeneration. Image courtesy of José Flores González.

Reposted with permission from Mongabay

Regenerando el suelo de Isla Mocha

Por fin terminamos de ejecutar nuestro proyecto “Programa de Traspasos de Capacidades de Mejoramiento de Suelo y Adaptación al Cambio Climático para los Habitantes de Isla Mocha” (¡nombre largo para un proyecto largo!). Fue toda una aventura marcada por la pandemia, que nos obligó a extender este proyecto 8 meses, y un cruce épico por mar desde Tirúa con 500 árboles nativos para reforestar la Isla.

Isla Mocha es una isla mágica que queda a 30 km de la costa de Tirúa en la Región del Bio-Bio. La Isla es un ecosistema insular privilegiado, tiene en su centro a la Reserva Nacional Isla Mocha, uno de los bosques de selva valdiviana más bellos y mejor conservados del país. Olivillos, Arrayanes y Boldos abuelos son los protagonistas de este bosque encantado. Antes, el bosque cubría toda la Isla hasta el mar, sin embargo, hace aproximadamente 100 años se generaron praderas en las zonas planas de la Isla, reduciendo el bosque al “monte”, como le llaman los mochanos. Actualmente estas praderas son 32 parcelas, cuyos suelos se encuentran altamente degradados principalmente a causa de malas prácticas de deforestación y ganadería extensiva.

Los mochanos ya se han percatado que los veranos son cada vez más secos, el agua escasea y es cada día más difícil vivir del campo. Esto es en gran parte por la condición actual de los suelos de la isla, su degradación implica pérdida de fertilidad, riesgo de inundaciones o incendios, incapacidad de retener agua y además es lamentable desde el punto de vista climático por el impedimento del suelo de cumplir su rol en el ciclo del carbono. De esto se desprenden riesgos asociados a la seguridad alimentaria de la población, y vulnerabilidad ante los crecientes efectos del cambio climático en la Isla.

En el 2020, postulamos y ganamos con este proyecto (con mucho orgullo) el “Primer Concurso Comunidad Energética Acción Contra el Cambio Climático” impulsado por la Agencia de Sostenibilidad Energética. Este proyecto se convierte entonces en nuestra primera aproximación a trabajar en la regeneración de la isla de una manera comunitaria, conociendo a las organizaciones y actores involucrados en el cuidado del ecosistema de la isla, y a los agricultores/as que tienen en su poder la posibilidad de regenerar el suelo.

Lo desarrollamos junto a nuestros aliados Efecto Manada y ONG Costa Sur, expertos en pastoreo holístico y agricultura regenerativa respectivamente y con el apoyo fundamental de PRODESAL, CONAF, Fundación Reforestemos, Oikonos y Regeneration International. Junto a ellos, desarrollamos un programa de capacitación en temáticas de biodiversidad, cambio climático y agricultura y ganadería regenerativa. El programa tenía módulos teóricos y prácticos, sesiones de intercambio de conocimiento y finalizaba con una experiencia de reforestación comunitaria con especies nativas.

La situación sanitaria producto del COVID-19 y la imposibilidad de cruzar a la isla nos golpeó justo en el periodo de ejecución por lo que nos vimos obligados a adaptar nuestro programa presencial a un manual impreso, apoyado de cápsulas audiovisuales, y reforestación en formato bosquete en el predio de cada beneficiario. Los mochanos estaban particularmente entusiasmados con recibir árboles nativos (Arrayán, Maqui, Canelo y Boldo) para plantar en sus predios. Plantar nativos fue novedoso para la Isla, ya que en general solo habían plantado especies exóticas. Esto nos permitió tener buenas conversaciones sobre el valor del bosque y por qué hace sentido reforestar y sus beneficios. Agradecemos a nuestros aliados Fundación Reforestemos quienes nos apoyaron con la entrega de árboles y coordinación con los viveros.

Algo bueno que trajo la pandemia es que nos obligó a reforzar nuestros vínculos con las organizaciones locales de la Isla que trabajan en temas ambientales, así fue como nos aliamos con Oikonos, fundación dedicada a temas de conservación en la isla y armamos un equipo de trabajo mixto con miembros de CONAF, PRODESAL, Oikonos y Regenerativa. ¡Todos unos capos!
Estamos en especial felices por el resultado de nuestro Manual de Agricultura y Ganadería Regenerativa para Isla Mocha, un documento que resume información valiosa, co-escrito con Efecto Manada, Costa Sur y que cuenta con ilustraciones y diseño de Paula Herrera.

Fue una gran experiencia conocer a los 28 beneficiarios, usuarios de PRODESAL. En solo dos generaciones, el ecosistema de la Isla cambió por completo y elles lo saben bien. De contar con una clara abundancia de recursos marinos, un bosque extenso y una tierra fértil, hoy es más difícil generar buenas cosechas, el pasto para el ganado escasea y los frutos del mar son más esquivos. Los mochanos aún recuerdan tiempos en que la tierra y el mar eran generosos y por lo mismo, la regeneración del ecosistema les hace sentido, pero requiere de un cambio profundo en cómo entendemos nuestra relación con la naturaleza. A ellos les agradecemos la acogida, buena onda y buenas conversaciones y esperamos poder seguir trabajando para continuar con acciones regenerativas en la Isla.

Día Mundial del Medio Ambiente: Si te importa tu salud, te importan los ecosistemas

Este año, el Día Mundial del Medio Ambiente tiene como protagonistas a los ecosistemas y su restauración.

La disponibilidad de agua y alimentos suficientes, la regulación de los vectores de enfermedades, las plagas y los agentes patógenos, la salud y el bienestar humano está supeditados a los servicios y condiciones del medio ambiente natural.

Tanto la OMS como Naciones Unidas explican que disponer de ecosistemas más saludables, con una biodiversidad más rica, aporta mayores beneficios como suelos más fértiles, mayor disponibilidad de recursos como la madera o el pescado.

Y de manera indirecta los cambios en los servicios de los ecosistemas afectan a los medios de ganarse el sustento, los ingresos y la migración local; en ocasiones, pueden incluso ocasionar conflictos políticos.

También repercuten sobre la seguridad económica y física, la libertad, el derecho a elegir y las relaciones sociales, y tienen efectos muy amplios en el bienestar y la salud, así como en la disponibilidad y el acceso a los servicios de salud y los medicamentos.

CONTINUE LEYENDO EN EFESALUD

 

Hope Below Our Feet

Peer-Reviewed Publications on Well-Managed Grazing as a Means of Improving Rangeland Ecology, Building Soil Carbon, and Mitigating Global Warming

Prepared by Soil4Climate Inc.

Updated May 2021

Left: Soil with approximately 7% soil organic matter at North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown’s holistically managed ranch. Top right: Kroon family holistically managed ranch on left side of fence, Karoo region, South Africa, with livestock density about 4X that of the neighbor’s ranch on right side of fence. Bottom right: Holistically managed herd on Maasai lands in Kenya. (Top right photo by Kroon family. Left and bottom right photos by Seth J. Itzkan.)

Accelerating regenerative grazing to tackle farm, environmental, and societal challenges in the upper Midwest

2021 Viewpoint by Spratt et al. in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation defines “regenerative grazing” as a “win-win-win” component of “regenerative agriculture” that “uses soil health and adaptive livestock management principles to improve farm profitability, human and ecosystem health, and food system resiliency.”

Spratt et al. 2021, doi:10.2489/jswc.2021.1209A

https://www.jswconline.org/content/jswc/76/1/15A.full.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expanding grass-based agriculture on marginal land in the U.S. Great Plains: The role of management intensive grazing

2021 paper by Wang et al. in Land Use Policy finds that the adoption of management intensive grazing (MIG) is a key factor for restoring marginal croplands to permanent grassland cover to enhance environmental benefits across the Great Plains from a social perspective. It also notes that compared to conventional tillage-based crop production, grass-based agriculture can provide substantially more ecosystem benefits and that management intensive grazing (MIG) offers the potential to enhance grassland resilience, thereby increasing the profitability of grass-based agriculture.

Tong Wang, Hailong Jin, Urs Kreuter, Richard Teague,Expanding grass-based agriculture on marginal land in the U.S. Great Plains: The role of management intensive grazing, Land Use Policy, Volume 104, 2021,105155,ISSN 0264-8377, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.105155.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264837720324935

Adaptive multi-paddock grazing enhances soil carbon and nitrogen stocks and stabilization through mineral association in southeastern U.S. grazing lands

2021 paper by Mosier et al. in Journal of Environmental Management finds that adaptive multi-paddock grazing (AMP) increases both soil carbon and soil nitrogen stocks when compared with conventional grazing (CG). Specifically, carbon stocks were increased 13% and nitrogen stocks 9%.  It concludes, “Findings show that AMP grazing is a management strategy to sequester C and retain N.”

Mosier S, Apfelbaum S, Byck P, Calderon F, Teague R, Thompson R, Francesca Cotrufo M, Adaptive multi-paddock grazing enhances soil carbon and nitrogen stocks and stabilization through mineral association in southeastern U.S. grazing lands, Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 288, 2021, 112409, ISSN 0301-4797, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112409 

Ecosystem Impacts and Productive Capacity of a Multi-Species Pastured Livestock System

2020 paper by Rowntree et al. documents the soil carbon increases from “holistic planned grazing” in a multi-species pasture rotation (MSPR) system on the USDA-certified organic White Oak Pastures farm in Clay County, Georgia. Over 20 years, the farm sequestered an average of 2.29 metric tonnes of carbon per hectare per year (2.29 Mg C/ha/yr).  The paper also shows that the area required to produce food in this regenerative way was 2.5 times that of conventional farming (which would have resulted in soil degradation and toxic chemicals impact). It notes that production efficiency comes at a cost of “land-use tradeoffs” that  must be taken into consideration.

Rowntree JE, Stanley PL, Maciel ICF, Thorbecke M, Rosenzweig ST, Hancock DW, Guzman A and Raven MR (2020) Ecosystem Impacts and Productive Capacity of a Multi-Species Pastured Livestock System. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 4:544984. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2020.544984

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2020.544984/full

Climate change mitigation as a co-benefit of regenerative ranching: insights from Australia and the United States

2020 paper in Interface Focus finds that “‘Managed grazing’ is gaining attention for its potential to contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing bare ground and promoting perennialization, thereby enhancing soil carbon sequestration (SCS).” The paper explores principles and practices associated with the larger enterprise of ‘regenerative ranching’ (RR), which, it states, “includes managed grazing but infuses the practice with holistic decision-making.” It argues that the holistic framework is appealing “due to a suite of ecological, economic and social benefits” and notes that climate change mitigation a “co-benefit.”

Gosnell H, Charnley S, Stanley P. 2020 Climate change mitigation as a co-benefit of regenerative ranching: insights from Australia and the United States. Interface Focus 10: 20200027. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsfs.2020.0027

A half century of Holistic Management: what does the evidence reveal?

2020 paper in Agriculture and Human Values provides a meta-analysis of Holistic Management (HM) considering “epistemic”  differences between disciplines associated with the agricultural sciences. It concludes that the way to resolve the controversy over HM is to “research, in partnership with ranchers, rangeland social-ecological systems in more holistic, integrated ways.” This broader approach to research, it argues, can account for “the full range of human experience, co-produce new knowledge, and contribute to social-ecological transformation.”

Gosnell, Hannah & Grimm, Kerry & Goldstein, Bruce. (2020). A half century of Holistic Management: what does the evidence reveal?. Agriculture and Human Values. 10.1007/s10460-020-10016-w. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10460-020-10016-w

Soil greenhouse gas emissions as impacted by soil moisture and temperature under continuous and holistic planned grazing in native tallgrass prairie. 

2020 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment finds that holistic planned grazing protocols, used in adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) management, had superior ecological performance in a tallgrass prairie region when compared with high-density continuous  grazing and medium-density continuous grazing systems. Results demonstrate AMP grazing had lower soil temperature, higher soil moisture, and lower N2O and CH4 emissions.

Dowhower, S. L., Teague, W. R., Casey, K. D., & Daniel, R. (2020). Soil greenhouse gas emissions as impacted by soil moisture and temperature under continuous and holistic planned grazing in native tallgrass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 287, 106647. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2019.106647

Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie

2019 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment demonstrates that Adaptive Multi-paddock (AMP) grazing increases fine litter cover, water infiltration, forage biomass and soil carbon stocks in a comparison with heavy continuous grazing (HCG) on shortgrass prairie of the Northern Great Plains of North America. 

Hillenbrand, M., Thompson, R., Wang, F., Apfelbaum, S., & Teague, R. (2019). Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 279, 156–168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2019.02.005

 

Simulating the influence of integrated crop-livestock systems on water yield at watershed scale

2019 paper in the Journal of Environmental Management shows that Integrated crop-livestock (ICL) systems have superior water retention (reduction in “water yields”) than in crops systems without a livestock grazing rotation. 

Pérez-Gutiérrez, J. D., & Kumar, S. (2019). Simulating the influence of integrated crop-livestock systems on water yield at watershed scale. Journal of Environmental Management, 239, 385–394. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.03.068

 

 

 

 

Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems

2018 Michigan State University study in Agricultural Systems finds 1.5 metric tons of carbon per acre per year drawdown via adaptive multi-paddock grazing, more than enough to offset all greenhouse gas emissions associated with the beef finishing phase.

Stanley, P. L., Rowntree, J. E., Beede, D. K., DeLonge, M. S., & Hamm, M. W. (2018). Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems. Agricultural Systems, 162, 249-258. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2018.02.003

The effect of Holistic Planned Grazing™ on African rangelands: a case study from Zimbabwe

2018 paper in African Journal of Range & Forage Science finds positive long-term effects on ecosystem services (soils and vegetation) for Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG) and shows this approach enhancing the sustainability of livestock and wildlife.

Peel, M., & Stalmans, M. (2018). The effect of Holistic Planned Grazing™ on African rangelands: a case study from Zimbabwe. African Journal of Range & Forage Science, 35(1), 23-31. doi:10.2989/10220119.2018.1440630 https://doi.org/10.2989/10220119.2018.1440630

Enhancing soil organic carbon, particulate organic carbon and microbial biomass in semi-arid rangeland using pasture enclosures

2018 study in BMC Ecology demonstrates that controlling livestock grazing through the establishment of pasture enclosures is the key strategy for enhancing multiple ecological indicators including total soil organic carbon, and that “the establishment of enclosures is an effective restoration approach to restore degraded soils in semi-arid rangelands.” Other improved indicators include particulate organic carbon, microbial biomass carbon, and microbial biomass nitrogen. 

Oduor, C.O., Karanja, N.K., Onwonga, R.N. et al. Enhancing soil organic carbon, particulate organic carbon and microbial biomass in semi-arid rangeland using pasture enclosures. BMC Ecol 18, 45 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12898-018-0202-z

Grasslands may be more reliable carbon sinks than forests in California

2018 paper in Environmental Research Letters finds that California grasslands are a more resilient carbon sink than forests in response to 21st century changes in climate. The paper also notes that, in data compilations, herbivory has been shown to increase grassland C sequestration rates.

Dass, P., Houlton, B. Z., Wang, Y., & Warlind, D. (2018). Grasslands may be more reliable carbon sinks than forests in California. Environmental Research Letters, 13(7), 074027. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aacb39

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aacb39

 

The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint in North America

2016 Texas A&M study in Journal of Soil and Water Conservation finds 1.2 metric tons of carbon per acre per year drawdown via adaptive multi-paddock grazing and the drawdown potential of North American pasturelands is 800 million metric tons of carbon per year. 

Teague, W. R., Apfelbaum, S., Lal, R., Kreuter, U. P., Rowntree, J., Davies, C. A., R. Conser, M. Rasmussen, J. Hatfield, T. Wang, F. Wang, Byck, P. (2016). The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint in North America. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 71(2), 156-164. doi:10.2489/jswc.71.2.156 http://www.jswconline.org/content/71/2/156.full.pdf+html

 

 

 

Potential mitigation of midwest grass-finished beef production emissions with soil carbon sequestration in the United States of America

2016 paper in Journal on Food, Agriculture & Society finds that where soil carbon sequestration is included in a life cycle assessment of Midwest grass-finished beef production systems, such systems can be overall carbon sinks.

Rowntree, J., Ryals, R., Delonge, M., Teague, R. W., Chiavegato, M., Byck, P., . . . Xu, S. (2016). Potential mitigation of midwest grass-finished beef production emissions with soil carbon sequestration in the United States of America. Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture & Society, 4(3), 8. https://asu.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/potential-mitigation-of-midwest-grass-finished-beef-production-em

Emerging land use practices rapidly increase soil organic matter

2015 University of Georgia study in Nature Communications finds 3 metric tons of carbon per acre per year drawdown following a conversion from row cropping to regenerative grazing.

Machmuller, M. B., Kramer, M. G., Cyle, T. K., Hill, N., Hancock, D., & Thompson, A. (2015). Emerging land use practices rapidly increase soil organic matter. Nature Communications, 6, 6995. doi:10.1038/ncomms7995 https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms7995

 

 

 

 

GHG Mitigation Potential of Different Grazing Strategies in the United States Southern Great Plain

2015 paper in Sustainability finds that a conversion from heavy continuous to multi-paddock grazing on cow-calf farms in the US southern Great Plains can result in a carbon sequestration rate in soil of 2 tonnes per hectare per year or approximately 0.89 tonnes per acre per year. In a sensitivity analysis that accounts for farm animal emissions, this sequestration in soil is sufficient to make the farm a net carbon sink for decades.

Wang, T., Teague, W., Park, S., & Bevers, S. (2015). GHG Mitigation Potential of Different Grazing Strategies in the United States Southern Great Plains. Sustainability, 7(10), 13500. Retrieved from http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/7/10/13500

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Cooling by Grassland Soils of the Geological Past and Near Future

2013 paper in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences by University of Oregon Department of Geological Sciences professor Gregory J. Retallack shows the co-evolution of ruminants and grassland soils (mollisols) was essential for geologic cooling of the past 20 million years – leading to the conditions suitable for human evolution – and can be an instrumental part of the necessary cooling in the future to reverse global warming.

Retallack, G. (2013). Global Cooling by Grassland Soils of the Geological Past and Near Future (Vol. 41, pp. 69–86): Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-earth-050212-124001

Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico

2013 study in Agricultural Systems finds practitioners of Holistic Management in the dry tropics region of Chiapas, Mexico have denser grass, deeper topsoil, and more earthworms in their pastures than conventional graziers, and that “Holistic management is leading to greater ecological and economic sustainability.”

Ferguson, B. G., Diemont, S. A. W., Alfaro-Arguello, R., Martin, J. F., Nahed-Toral, J., Álvarez-Solís, D., & Pinto-Ruíz, R. (2013). Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico. Agricultural Systems, 120, 38-48. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2013.05.005

Tall Fescue Management in the Piedmont: Sequestration of Soil Organic Carbon and Total Nitrogen

2012 study in Soil Science Society of America Journal demonstrates improved grazing management systems can have an enormous benefit on surface soil fertility restoration of degraded soils in the southeastern United States, and managed grazing can sequester 1.5 metric tons of carbon per hectare per year.

Franzluebbers, A. J., D. M. Endale, J. S. Buyer, and J. A. Stuedemann. 2012. Tall Fescue Management in the Piedmont: Sequestration of Soil Organic Carbon and Total Nitrogen. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 76:1016-1026. doi:10.2136/sssaj2011.0347 

Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho

2011 paper in Journal of Arid Environments finds simulated holistic planned grazing (SHPG) had significantly higher percent volumetric-water content (%VWC) after two years of comparison with similar ranch plots using rest-rotation (RESTROT), and total rest (TREST) systems in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho. Measured percent volumetric-water content were 45.8 for SHPG and 34.7 and 29.8 for RESTROT and TREST, respectively.

Weber, K. T., & Gokhale, B. S. (2011). Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho. Journal of Arid Environments, 75(5), 464-470. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2010.12.009

 

 

Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie

2011 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment demonstrates multi-paddock grazing of the type recommended by Allan Savory, and representative of Holistic Management, led to improved soil health indicators including higher bulk density, greater infiltration rate, and increased fungal/bacterial ratios when compared with continuous single-paddock grazing, typical of conventional practice. Soil organic matter averaged 3.61% in the multi-paddock ranches, compared to 2.4% for heavy continuous, single-paddock grazing.

Teague, W. R., Dowhower, S. L., Baker, S. A., Haile, N., DeLaune, P. B., & Conover, D. M. (2011). Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 141(3–4), 310-322. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.009

Benefits of multi-paddock grazing management on rangelands: Limitations of experimental grazing research and knowledge gaps

2008 chapter in “Grasslands: Ecology, Management, and Restoration,” published by H. G. Schroder, finds in a comprehensive literature review that multi-paddock rotational grazing produces superior results for grassland ecology when compared to conventional continuous grazing. It also finds that misunderstandings exist in the management techniques needed to achieve these benefits and in the scientific protocols required to assess them. 

Teague, W. R., Provenza, F., Norton, B., Steffens, T., Barnes, M., Kothmann, M. M., & Roath, R. (2008). Benefits of multi-paddock grazing management on rangelands: Limitations of experimental grazing research and knowledge gaps. In H. G. Schroder (Ed.), Grasslands: Ecology, Management, and Restoration (pp. 41-80): Nova Science Publishers, NY. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285918973_Benefits_of_multi-paddock_grazing_management_on_rangelands_Limitations_of_experimental_grazing_research_and_knowledge_gaps

 

The Immense Potential Of Forests To Sequester Carbon

Most of us understand that trees are good for the environment and that they absorb carbon in order to grow. We are familiar with comparisons that show how many trees would have to be planted in order to compensate for the carbon emissions from an airplane flight or from driving our cars. We have heard some people say that planting trees would solve our climate change problems. But is this really true? Is it bad to harvest forests to produce lumber? How much carbon could we eliminate from the atmosphere through better forest management? We sat down with two forestry management and carbon offset program experts to discuss this topic and here is what they had to say.

Julius Pasay is the Director of Project Development at The Climate Trust, a nonprofit organization that combats climate change by funding and managing projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has been in operation since 1997. Julius oversees forestry and grassland programs, and works on carbon offset project development with landowners and land managers throughout the U.S. Julius is a Certified Forester and holds a Master of Forestry from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

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Collaboration is Key to Scaling Regenerative Agriculture

It’s been almost a year since grocery shelves around the world emptied as coronavirus hit the news. These large-scale — and in some cases long-term — shortages revealed vulnerabilities in our centralized food systems and globalized supply chains. Gaining popularity in recent years, regenerative agriculture is one method that has the potential to increase food security by improving the health of the land and localizing food production. Practices such as integrating livestock, planting cover crops, foregoing tilling, and increasing crop diversity aim to restore soil organic matter and soil health, thus producing more nutritious food and sequestering more carbon from the atmosphere.

While regenerative agriculture can (and should) look different for every farm, locality and crop, it has a consistent principle of circularity: reducing losses where possible and restoring them to the soil, be it nutrients, water or carbon. The ultimate goal, after all, is to cut the environmental impacts of farming and raising livestock, such as greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and water pollution. Part of this circular food economy often includes producing and supplying food regionally.

 

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The Best Way to Restore Forests Is To Let The Trees Plant Themselves

Ecosystems have been growing themselves for hundreds of millions of years, and forests that plant themselves are better and most diverse. That’s why a group of environmental advocates in the UK from a charity called Rewilding Britain say we should let nature do its thing instead of manually mass-planting trees. Natural dispersal of seeds boosts biodiversity, costs a lot less, and may even sequester more carbon.

Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain’s chief executive, said:

People have this mindset that woodland expansion means planting trees, and that’s across the conservation sector as well. Nature is pretty good at doing this itself. Natural regeneration brings multiple potential benefits – you get the right tree in the right place, you don’t get the potential carbon emissions you get with planting on peaty soils, and you boost the complexity of the ecosystem, which builds resilience. Natural regeneration also helps species to shift and adapt to climate change. There’s growing evidence that it can sequester more carbon, although there isn’t a broad research base yet because natural regeneration is not on people’s radars.

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Restoration of Degraded Grasslands Can Benefit Climate Change Mitigation and Key Ecosystem Services

New research has demonstrated how, in contrast to encroachment by the invasive alien tree species Prosopis julifora (known as Mathenge -in Kenya or Promi in Baringo), restoration of grasslands in tropical semi-arid regions can both mitigate the impacts of climate change and restore key benefits usually provided by healthy grasslands for pastoralists and agro-pastoralist communities.

A team of Kenyan and Swiss scientists, including lead author Ms.Purity Rima Mbaabu, affiliated to Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation of University of Nairobi and Chuka University and Dr. Urs Schaffner from CABI’s Swiss Centre in Delémont, assessed how invasion by P. julifora and the restoration of degraded grasslands affected soil organic carbon (SOC), biodiversity and fodder availability.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, revealed that degradation of grasslands in Baringo County, Kenya, has led to a loss of approximately 40% of SOC, the most important carbon pool in soils. These findings confirm that  degradation significantly contributes to the release of greenhouse gasses and thus to .

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Blue Carbon: The Climate Change Solution You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

This is the eighth part of Carbon Cache, an ongoing series about nature-based climate solutions.

Gail Chmura, a professor at McGill University, had recently joined the school’s geography department in the late 1990s when some of her colleagues were trying to solve a mystery. They were looking at global carbon budgets, and the numbers weren’t adding up. There was a missing carbon sink, sequestering a whole lot of carbon, and nobody knew what it was. They wondered if Canada’s peatlands were part of the missing sink.

Meanwhile, Chmura was sampling salt marshes in the Bay of Fundy, which spans between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Few people had paid salt marshes any attention as carbon sinks because the data showed pretty low levels of carbon at a first glance. But Chmura had a lightbulb moment.

Researchers had been looking at the percentage of carbon in salt marshes by weight. In peatlands, this makes sense because they are almost entirely made of organic matter, which is where carbon is stored in soil.

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