The Surprising Leading Contributor to Pollution: Agriculture

Did you know that the modern agricultural system is responsible for putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the actual burning of fossil fuels? Understanding this reveals an obvious answer to pressing global problems.

There are only three places for carbon to go: land, air, and water. Our agricultural practices have removed massive amounts of valuable carbon from land, transferring it into air and water. Carbon management is critically important regardless of one’s views of climate change.

By paying greater attention to carbon management, we have the opportunity to make a dramatic difference in this area, which is having major negative consequences to our agriculture, our air, and our oceans, lakes, streams and rivers.

One important factor that some experts believe is KEY for reversing environmental devastation like desertification, which is when land turns to desert, is to return much of our land to grasslands and build a network of herbivore economics.

There is no better way to improve the conditions for animals, solve the carbon problem, bring more revenue to farmers, and improve our health by purchasing nutritious foods from properly pastured animals – vs the horrible CAFO model based on the monocultures of corn and soy fed to the animals in questionable conditions in which they are proactively fed antibiotics to make them fat and keep them alive in such atrocious conditions.

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Could Cows and Sheep Halt Climate Change and Tackle Rural Poverty?

Author: Judith D Schwartz

Holistic management, with its counterintuitive claim that more, rather than fewer, cattle can improve the land, has been around for decades – a kind of perennial cattleman’s quarrel, and a thorn in the hide of ranchers and anti-ranchers alike.

The use of livestock as a tool for restoration has been scoffed at by scientists, reviled by vegetarians and those who blame cows for climate change, and a flashpoint for tension over how to conserve land in the American West.

Reviving grasslands

But that was before Allan Savory, who developed holistic management, won the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge for a programme with “significant potential to solve one of humanity’s most pressing problems.” And before governmental agencies such as USAID and large NGOs like the Nature Conservancy teamed up with the Savory Institute on international projects after seeing the benefits on the ground. And, in an era when one viral video makes the difference between anonymity and renown, before Savory’s TED talk, How to Green the Desert and Reverse Climate Change, flew round the Internet with some 2m views.

At the end of June, I attended the first Savory Institute International Conference, Transforming Landscapes for Global Impact, in Boulder, Colorado. This two-day event, attended by 300 ranchers, scholars and investors from around the world, showed that holistic management is now launched as a global movement – one that’s positioned itself as a vehicle for addressing seemingly intractable problems of climate change, desertification, and rural poverty.

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Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands of Mexico

Outreach video to ranchers in northern Mexico. Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory collaborates with private landowners there to support working ranches and improve grassland habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Watch More Videos on Bird Conservancy of the Rockies’s Youtube Channel

Why The Keyword In Farming Startups Is ‘Regenerative’

Author: Charlotte Parker

Home to leopards, zebras, hippos and elephants, Zambia’s Luangwa Valley is known for its sprawling wildlife sanctuaries. But it’s also where Dale Lewis, founder of Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO), helps transform hungry farmers — who poach on the side to supplement their income — into wildlife protectors. In exchange for honoring a “conservation pledge” to stop killing certain animals for money and use sustainable farming practices, the company’s 61,000 farmers, all of whom work on a small scale, receive up to 20 percent more than the standard market price for their corn, soy and honey, which are then used to create a line of food products that are flying off Zambian supermarket shelves.

As it turns out, COMACO is just one of a growing number of both nonprofit and for-profit enterprises that are taking a new look at the agricultural sector and finding that farmers can renew the land they use — and their livelihood that they draw from it. There’s Honey Care Africa, a for-profit franchise that works with farmers across East Africa to supplement their income through honey production while increasing crop yield with pollination help from their honey bees, as well as the Timbaktu Collective, which helps farmers in a drought-prone region of India sell products grown with traditional water conservation practices. Oh, and don’t forget Peepoo — yep, you read that right — a system that converts sanitation waste from poor urban neighborhoods, refugee camps and disaster relief sites around the globe into nutrient-rich fertilizer for farmers with poor soil quality.

These regenerative agricultural practices, as they’re known, have been developed in response to a growing list of problems plaguing farmers and rural workers around the world: land degradation, drought, crop disease and unpredictable market prices, to name a few. Of course, climate change isn’t helping on any of these fronts. But the trend is also being driven by the growth of B Corps — think of them as certified do-gooder businesses — and other companies that are under pressure to show responsibility for the planet, says Daniela Ibarra-Howell, co-founder and CEO of the Savory Institute, a nonprofit that promotes large-scale restoration of the world’s grasslands through a regenerative practice known as holistic management.

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Where’s the Better Beef?

Grazing Operations: The Journey to Better Beef and Its Triple Bottom-Line Benefits

NRDC believes that better beef must meet credible, independent standards of responsible production at each step to your plate. The overwhelming scientific consensus shows that the most important impacts to reduce and minimize occur on grazing and feedlot operations.

Why it matters that all beef –- from conventional to grass-fed –- is produced on well-managed grazing operations

A growing number of ranchers and farmers are improving their land management using science and the experiences of other ranchers. As a result, their ranches are more productive and local ecosystems are thriving as they support healthy soils, water quality, and plant and animal life. These leaders are demonstrating how beef producers can help conserve and restore America’s grasslands and other grazed ecosystems.

Well-managed grazing operations generate environmental AND business benefits

Well-managed grazinglands, which include both rangelands (grazed natural grasslands and other ecosystems, mostly in the western United States) and pastures (farmland planted with grass to graze livestock, mostly in the eastern United States), provide valuable ecosystem services, including:

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Emerging Land Use Practices Rapidly Increase Soil Organic Matter

Authors: Megan B. Machmuller, Marc Gerald Kramer, Kevin Taylor Cyle, Nick Hill, Dennis Hancock, Aaron Thompson


The loss of organic matter from agricultural lands constrains our ability to sustainably feed a growing population and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Addressing these challenges requires land use activities that accumulate soil carbon (C) while contributing to food production. In a region of extensive soil degradation in the southeastern United States, we evaluated soil C accumulation for 3 years across a 7-year chronosequence of three farms converted to management-intensive grazing. Here we show that these farms accumulated C at 8.0 Mg ha(-1) yr(-1), increasing cation exchange and water holding capacity by 95% and 34%, respectively. Thus, within a decade of management-intensive grazing practices soil C levels returned to those of native forest soils, and likely decreased fertilizer and irrigation demands. Emerging land uses, such as management-intensive grazing, may offer a rare win-win strategy combining profitable food production with rapid improvement of soil quality and short-term climate mitigation through soil C-accumulation.

Download the Report from Research Gate

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

Authors: Tong Wang, W. Richard Teague, Seong C. Park, and Stan Bevers


The possibility of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by ruminants using improved grazing is investigated by estimating GHG emissions for cow-calf farms under light continuous (LC), heavy continuous (HC) and rotational grazing, also known as multi-paddock (MP), management strategies in Southern Great Plain (SGP) using life cycle assessment (LCA). Our results indicated a GHG emission with these grazing treatments of 8034.90 kg·CO2e·calf−1·year−1 for cow-calf farms in SGP region, which is higher, compared to that for other regions, due to the high percentage (79.6%) of enteric CH4 emissions caused by relatively lower feed quality on the unfertilized rangeland.

Photo credit: Flickr / USDA NRCS South Dakota

Sensitivity analyses on MP grazing strategy showed that an increase in grass quality and digestibility could potentially reduce GHG emission by 30%. Despite higher GHG emissions on a per calf basis, net GHG emissions in SGP region are potentially negative when carbon (C) sequestration is taken into account. With net C emission rates of −2002.8, −1731.6 and −89.5 Kg C ha−1·year−1 after converting from HC to MP, HC to LC and from LC to MP, our analysis indicated cow-calf farms converting from continuous to MP grazing in SGP region are likely net carbon sinks for decades.

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Holistic Management: Portfolio of Scientific Findings

Holistic Management Grounded in Evidence

For many years, large areas of grasslands around the world have been turning into barren deserts. This process, called desertification, is happening at an alarming rate and plays a critical role in many of the world’s most pressing problems, including climate change, drought, famine, poverty and social violence. One major cause of desertification is agriculture—or the production of food and fiber from the world’s land by human beings for human beings. In the past, large wild herds of grass-eating herbivores migrated and were pushed along by predators over the grasslands. These herds grazed, defecated, stomped and salivated as they moved around, building soil and deepening plant roots. Over time, the wild herds were largely replaced by small numbers of domestic, sedentary livestock and populations of predators were mostly destroyed. Without the constant activity of large numbers of cattle, the cycle of biological decay on the grasslands was interrupted and the once-rich soils turned into dry, exposed desert land.

Forty years ago, Allan Savory developed Holistic Management, an approach that helps land managers, farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, policymakers and others understand the relationship between large herds of wild herbivores and the grasslands and develop strategies for managing herds of domestic livestock to mimic those wild herds to heal the grasslands. Holistic Management is successful because it is a cost-effective, highly scalable, and nature-based solution. It is sustainable because it increases land productivity, livestock stocking rates, and profits.

Today, there are successful Holistic Management practitioners spread across the globe, from Canada to Patagonia and from Zimbabwe to Australia to Montana. More than 10,000 people have been trained in Holistic Management and its associated land and grazing planning procedures and over 40 million acres are managed holistically worldwide.

Evidence Supporting Holistic Management

The Savory Institute empowers people to properly manage livestock by teaching them how to use Holistic Management, connecting them in ways that have benefits for everyone, and removing barriers along the path to success. Many of our key audiences such as policymakers, landowners and investors want evidence that shows Holistic Management works to achieve large-scale environmental, economic, and social benefits.

To meet this need, the Savory Institute is working to measure impact by monitoring the health of ecosystem processes, sequestration of atmospheric carbon into soil carbon, well-being of our communities, as well as our financial vitality. The following portfolio that proves the principles behind Holistic Management includes peer-reviewed journal articles, theses and dissertations, and reports.

View the Savory Institute Evidence Portfolio Online

Download the Savory Institute Portfolio of Scientific Findings (PDF)

Special Report: Cows Save the World

Author: Allan Savory

I write to offer a constructive way forward in the tragic cultural genocide unfolding in America’s
wonderful western ranching culture that is embedded in the nation’s culture.
I do so knowing the risks of trying to help a lion by operating on a back molar in its jaw.

The recent RANGE article featuring Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy (whose cattle were taken from his southern Nevada range by the BLM backed up by SWAT teams) typifies the western ranching cultural genocide taking place. It is a tragedy based on deeply held myths and assumptions rather than on any known science.

No publication has done more than RANGE, valiantly fighting for fairness and the rights of ranchers in the protracted rancher-federal agency war over western public lands. When decent human beings—including ranchers, environmentalists and government land managers who are doing the best they can—all want healthy land with abundant wildlife, flowing rivers, stable rural families and communities in a healthy thriving nation, solutions and collaboration are needed instead of conflict.

How easy it is to draw our swords and yet how difficult it is to re-sheath them. So let me start with a point that I believe all parties can agree upon: management including policy should be based on science rather than on emotion, belief and assumption. With that in mind, let’s look at the current situation. Because the ultimate form of land degradation is man-made desert, I will use the official jargon and call the process rangeland desertification.

Desertification typically does not occur where precipitation and humidity are fairly well spread throughout the year, as in many coastal areas like Florida and Washington. However, most western rangelands experience long dry periods whether rainfall is high or low and here desertification occurs on both private and public lands. The symptoms of desertification are: increasingly frequent and severe droughts and floods, poverty, social breakdown, mass emigration to cities or across borders, decreasing wildlife, pastoral culture genocide, and violence and conflict. Most of these are being experienced in America today despite the good intentions of both ranchers and policy-makers.

Download the Report from Range Magazine

Las Pilas Ranch: A Tale of Restoration

Author: Seth Itzkan

Las Pilas Ranch: Restored

The Las Pilas Ranch in Coahuila, Mexico, is a model of ecological restoration using Holistic Planned Grazing. Over a twenty five year period from 1978 to 2003, the barren landscape was completely revived. The images below show the transformation. Although the first picture is from 1963, the restoration with Holistic Management didn’t actually start until 1978. During the restoration period, the livestock population was doubled and grazing was done according to a plan that paid close attention to grass health.

1963. Photo by Guillermo Osuna Las Pilas Restored, 20032003. Photo by Guillermo Osuna

Which picture has more water?

Both images above are taken from the same location. Guillermo Osuna, the proprietor of the land, explains that when he began to manage the land, it was common to have dirt dams to capture the runoff – as there was no grass cover. A one-inch rain could fill the trough (pictured above, from 1963). After the land was restored, they could have a six-inch rain, and still no standing water (it’s all absorbed). There is no need for the dirt dams and artificial troughs now. Those have grown over with vegetation and the springs are running year-round. Livestock is now watered via gravity fed pools from streams that run throughout the dry season.  Mr. Osuna says there is twice as much surface water now as there once was, and he has also doubled the herd density.

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