On Cows and Carbon

How possibly can our management of semi-arid ranch land have the potential for ameliorating large scale climate impacts? New studies from the scientific community support the idea that healthy soil may be the simplest, most cost effective method for sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.

We now know that the biodiversity of the soil, especially in semi-arid and arid climates, is enhanced by the grazing action of ruminant herbivores; this in turn increases the biodiversity of the greater ecosystem and landscape which in its turn enhances its resilience in times of climate stress and here in the Southwest, times of drought.

How does this work? A healthier, more biodiverse soil with a healthy biodiverse plant community can capture and store remarkable amounts of soil organic carbon (SOC). This soil carbon allows the soil to retain more water, in fact, for each 1% increase of carbon stored in the soil, an additional 60,000 gallons of water per acre can be retained on the land. This has huge implications for both increased plant or biomass production on the land and for an increased cooling effect on the atmosphere. Jonathan Overpeck, Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona, says that enhancing the water holding capacity of the soil is the single most effective tool we have to cool our atmosphere.

What about all that Carbon? Emerging scientific evidence is showing that certain grazing practices have greater potential to improve soil organic matter and thus to capture significant amounts of soil organic carbon. Our own ranch experience showed that after only five years of a new grazing practice, “Planned Rotational Grazing”, often referred to as Holistic Management or the Savory System, our pasture soils had stored a minimum of 25% more carbon than pastures not under this management. A large-scale scientific study is now underway across nine major ranching centers in the Midwest and Great Plains to systematically document the benefits of using Planned Rotational Grazing in contrast to the conventional method of continuous grazing. If the results are as expected, this particular form of grazing management has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture.

Stay tuned to learn how Grassfed Beef production can further reduce this footprint.