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New Research Says Grass Finishing Can Build Soil

Midwest research says AMP grazing produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than feedlot finishing.

Author: Alan Newport | Published: February 28, 2018

A new study from Michigan has boosted the case for adaptive multi-paddock grazing with data showing less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from grass-finishing cattle than from feedlot finishing.

When the researchers included soil organic carbon (SOC) in the GHG footprint estimates, finishing emissions from the adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) system were net negative 6.65 kg CO2-enteric per kg of carcass weight, compared with feedlot (FL) emissions of 6.12 kg CO2-enteric kg, which was aggravated by soil erosion, the authors reported.

Perhaps just important, I believe, is the fact their data shows increased soil organic matter from AMP grazing. Researchers showed a four-year carbon (C) sequestration average of 3.59 Mg C ha/yr in AMP-grazed pastures. The feedlot system showed a potentially small net loss of soil carbon, as you might expect.

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We Know How Food Production Needs to Change If Crisis Is to Be Avoided – So Why Isn’t This Happening?

Author: Nina Moeller, Michael Pimbert | Published: March 26, 2018

As the world races toward a projected 9 billion inhabitants, the failings of dominant food systems are impossible to deny. Current food production methods are severely polluting. They are the cause of malnutrition. They are also inequitable, and unjustifiably wasteful. And they are concentrated in the hands of few corporations. Entangled in the multiple crises humanity is facing, establishing global food security is considered a key challenge of our time.

Against the backdrop of climate change, resource shortages and urbanisation, the question of how to ensure adequate food supply for everyone looms rather large. The usual response emphasises intensifying the output of agriculture through the common model of petrochemical, large-scale, one-crop, intensive farming.

But business as usual is no longer an option for food and agriculture. The global agriculture system will have to be radically transformed to avoid further environmental and social problems, as was concluded by a three-year study commissioned by the UN and the World Bank involving more than 400 scientists. This report, as well as subsequent international studies by the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, have convincingly demonstrated that agroecology – farming that imitates natural ecosystems – is the most promising pathway to sustainable food systems on all continents.

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Supporting Local Ag Could Fight Climate Change

Author: Kelly Lively | Published: March 21, 2018

Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry, making it a major contributor to the state’s economy. Agriculture also contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly 25 percent according the USDA. Include storage and transportation and agriculture could account for nearly a third.

Agriculture is also directly affected by global warming. Local farmers used to call total fruit crop loss a “once in a lifetime” event. When total loss happened in 2002, a new generation of Michigan farmers chalked it up to be their once-in-a-lifetime event. However, 2012 delivered a second blow when unseasonably warm weather set tree buds that were again killed by a late frost. It doesn’t take much to figure out that two such events in 10 years can no longer be described as “once in a lifetime.” Severe weather has diminished crop yields to varying degrees in subsequent years as well. Extreme weather makes farm life difficult: soggy springs, summer droughts and hailstorms. Climate change increases the likelihood and severity of these events and threatens food system stability.

Thankfully, agriculture can also be a major part of the solution. Eliminating emissions alone won’t get us out of this mess. Sequestering carbon from the atmosphere is also necessary — and healthy soils can capture a lot! Transitioning to regenerative practices needs to be the norm. One effective method is intensive rotational grazing, which builds soil and produces high quality protein from animals humanely raised on pasture, feeding off the sun’s energy. Combine this with no-till farming, cover cropping and proper crop rotation and we move toward carbon neutrality, because healthy soil sequesters carbon. Some models suggest that agricultural lands have the capacity to store as much carbon as the equivalent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, or 36 gigatons. Presently the earth’s farmland only stores 1/1000 of that, or .03 gigatons. Healthy soil has other benefits. It protects against flooding by absorbing more water, which in turn increases drought resistance. By reducing the need for fertilizer and growing disease and insect resistant plants, healthy soil not only produces healthy food, it supports a healthy ecosystem — a win for us all.

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International Study Indicates Ways to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture

International study indicates ways to mitigate the effects of climate change on agriculture

Author: Cristina Pinto, University of Coimbra | Published: March 14, 2018

Extreme weather events are going to be more frequent and longer lasting, and farmers will have to adapt, finding new forms of agricultural and agroforestry management

Extreme weather events “are going to be more frequent and longer lasting, and farmers will have to adapt, finding new forms of agricultural and agroforestry management in order to make this sector more resilient to climate change,” says scientist José Paulo Sousa, from the Center for Functional Ecology of the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC), coordinator of a team of Portuguese researchers participating in the international study ECOSERVE, which is evaluating the effects of climate change on soil biological processes.

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The Crop of the Future

Harvesting carbon could offer a solution to climate change.

Author: Tharran Gaines | Published: March 9, 2018

Whether you call it global warming or climate change, the emotionally charged topic generally associated with greenhouse gases brings an array of reactions – from genuine concern to belief in a conspiracy. Granted, natural shifts in global temperatures have occurred throughout human history. However, the fact remains that Earth’s average surface temperature has increased 1.3ºF. over the past century and is projected to increase by an additional 3.2ºF. to 7.2ºF. over the 21st century. It is happening at a faster rate than ever before.

Fortunately, U.S. farmers and ranchers are poised to make a difference. In fact, they have already adopted technologies in many instances that are helping to slow greenhouse gas emissions – even if it has been inadvertent – in the quest for reduced soil erosion, lower input costs, or improved water conservation.

Temperature Change is Both Good and Bad

While the global temperature change may seem slight and insignificant, it does pose implications – both good and bad – for farmers and ranchers. According to the EPA, it can lead to a longer growing season in some regions, yet have an adverse effect on crops where summer heat already limits production.

Global warming can also lead to an increase in soil evaporation rates, as well as the chances of severe drought. It’s believed that climate change may encourage a northern migration of weeds and greater disease pressure in crops and livestock, due to warmer winters and earlier springs.

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A Secret Superpower, Right in Your Backyard

Author: Kendra Pierre-Louis | Published: March 6, 2018

As the verdant hills of Wakanda are secretly enriched with the fictional metal vibranium in “Black Panther,” your average backyard also has hidden superpowers: Its soil can absorb and store a significant amount of carbon from the air, unexpectedly making such green spaces an important asset in the battle against climate change.

Backyard soils can lock in more planet-warming carbon emissions than soils found in native grasslands or urban forests like arboretums, according to Carly Ziter, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The results of her research, published Tuesday in the journal Ecological Applications, were something of a surprise, given that those of us who have yards generally don’t think of them as “nature,” or as especially beneficial to the environment. But at least in this case, the things we enjoy for ourselves are also helping the community at large.

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Impacts of Soil Carbon Sequestration on Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Midwestern USA Beef Finishing Systems

Author: Paige L. Stanley, et. al. | Published: February 24, 2018

Beef cattle have been identified as the largest livestock-sector contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Using life cycle analysis (LCA), several studies have concluded that grass-finished beef systems have greater GHG intensities than feedlot-finished (FL) beef systems. These studies evaluated only one grazing management system – continuous grazing – and assumed steady-state soil carbon (C), to model the grass-finishing environmental impact. However, by managing for more optimal forage growth and recovery, adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing can improve animal and forage productivity, potentially sequestering more soil organic carbon (SOC) than continuous grazing. To examine impacts of AMP grazing and related SOC sequestration on net GHG emissions, a comparative LCA was performed of two different beef finishing systems in the Upper Midwest, USA: AMP grazing and FL. We used on-farm data collected from the Michigan State University Lake City AgBioResearch Center for AMP grazing. Impact scope included GHG emissions from enteric methane, feed production and mineral supplement manufacture, manure, and on-farm energy use and transportation, as well as the potential C sink arising from SOC sequestration.

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In the Gambia, Building Resilience to a Changing Climate

Published: February 6, 2018

UN Environment will implement the largest natural resource development project in the history of The Gambia to help the West African nation tackle climate change impacts and restore degraded forests, farmland and coastal zones.

Funded by a $20.5 million Green Climate Fund (GCF) grant and $5 million from the Government of the Gambia, the “Large-scale Ecosystem-based Adaptation Project in The Gambia” (EbA) was launched in January in the capital Banjul.

“This project is the single-largest natural resource development project ever launched in the history of the development of this country and funded by the GCF”, Lamin Dibba, The Gambia’s Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, told fellow ministers, representatives from the UN and GCF and other stakeholders present at the launch.

Minister Dibba said the project was designed to build the climate resilience of Gambian people made increasingly vulnerable by a loss of soil fertility and agricultural productivity due to environmental degradation, more frequent and severe droughts and rising sea levels.

“The livelihoods of [the] majority of rural Gambians are eroding as a result of the degrading environment and the country’s dwindling natural resource base, on which most of these communities depend for their survival,” he said.

“The EbA project shall rehabilitate up to 10,000 hectares of degraded forest and wildlife parks through reforestation, enrichment planting, conservation of rare or endangered species as well as the restoration of 3,000 hectares of abandoned and marginal agricultural lands”, he added.

The six-year project should directly benefit up to 11,550 Gambian households and potentially reach a further 46,200 households indirectly. The beneficiaries will be spread across four target regions lying along The Gambia River in a small country of seven regions, and over half of them will be women.

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Drought-Stricken Texans Turn to Cows to Save Their Farms

Authors: Ginger Zee, David Miller, Kelly Harold, Olivia Smith, and Andrea Miller | Published: February 6, 2018

How does a cattle farmer from Texas withstand a drought? In the summer of 2011 as oppressive heat and drought hit Texas, grasses were dying and cows were running out of food to eat. To save their cattle, ranchers were forced to truck their cows to fields of healthy grass.

But as several farms were turning to dust, cattle rancher Jon Taggart of Grandview, Texas, continued run his business.

“I’m proud to say that we harvested cattle every week of the year through that entire drought,” he told ABC News.

How did Taggart stay open while other farmers were struggling?

“The reason was because we planted those deep-rooted native grasses that were designed by somebody a lot bigger than us to survive those droughts,” he said.

Taggart has been raising grass-fed and grass-finished beef since 1999 and owns three stores in Texas called Burgundy Pasture Beef.

While most beef that is sold in stores is finished on grain to fatten them up, Taggart and a small but growing number of farmers are feeding their cows grass exclusively for their whole lives.

That makes the grass as important to the farm as the cows themselves.

“We want an extremely diversified plant population: warm season grasses; cool season grasses; grasses that germinate early; grasses that germinate later.”

That diversity of grass has kept Taggart’s soil healthy even as Texas faces droughts. The grasses ability to hold on to water when it rains has helped keep his farm healthy.

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Farmland Could Be Used to Sustainably Offset America’s Entire Carbon Footprint—If the Will Exists

Author: Dr. Louis Verchot | Published: January 24, 2018

Amid the roaring debate on how to curb climate change in Bonn last year, an impasse was finally broken on agriculture. Both a cause and casualty of climate change, our food system accounts for up to 24% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet hit by soaring temperatures and more frequent extreme weather, farming is becoming more difficult, as demand continues to increase.

Positive agricultural interventions could achieve up to 6% of reduction emissions needed to achieve the Paris Agreement goals—showing that this sector is not only part of the problem, but part of the solution to climate change.

Previously at climate talks, disagreement focussed on whether helping farmers adapt to climate change, or reducing the greenhouse gases produced by the sector should be prioritized, largely along developing vs. developed country lines.

Developed countries, already equipped with successful techniques for ramping up agricultural production, are more interested in mitigation, making existing techniques more climate-friendly. On the other hand, in developing countries, drought, floods, and hurricanes all play havoc with the mostly smallholder-driven agriculture sector. Their priority is to help those farmers adapt and find food security.

In Bonn at the latest round of climate talks, a compromise was reached to allow two technical bodies to work together to identify solutions on how the agriculture sector can be a part of the solution. The question is: where to begin? How can we rein in emissions in agriculture, while making farmers more resilient to the whims of the weather?

One solution stands out. Eighty-nine percent of agriculture’s future mitigation potential could lie in capturing carbon on farmland soils: carbon sequestration. Not only does this process suck harmful carbon out of the atmosphere, it makes soils healthier and more fertile for future food production, boosting resilience to climate change.

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