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Meet the Newest Recruits in California's War on Climate Change: Carbon Farmers
Alastair Bland, Cal Matters | Sept. 26, 2018
Loren Poncia raises beef cattle. As he sees it, though, what he is really doing is raising soil. "I'm growing grass to feed to my cattle, but it all comes down to having high–quality soil," said Poncia, who owns Stemple Creek Ranch with his wife, Lisa.
He is among more than 80 farmers now engaged in a state–funded program aimed at increasing carbon concentrations in California's soil. Part of the state's overarching goal of curbing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change, the California Healthy Soils Initiative took effect a year ago, when the state's cap–and–trade program made $7.5 million available in small grants to farmers like Poncia. This year, the Healthy Soils Program, one component of the initiative, is receiving about $15 million.
Common Ground on the Prairie
Martha Kauffman and Laura Nowlin, Mongabay | September 14, 2018
Ranchers across the Great Plains in the United States take very seriously their responsibility to be good stewards of the land and realized generations ago that the way to survive any environmental calamity is to ranch in a sustainable way. After homesteaders plowed up millions of acres of native prairie in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, drought came in the 1920s and 1930s, bringing the Dust Bowl — possibly the worst environmental disaster in modern history.
Good stewardship of our native grasslands is one of the best ways to survive the next weather event. Grasses are rooted in the ground, which enables the soil to absorb and retain more water. That, in turn, prevents sediment, fertilizer, pesticides, and other compounds in the soil from running off into nearby water ways — good news for the millions of people who rely on those rivers and streams for drinking water. And by absorbing and storing more water, the land better withstands flood and drought alike.
Our grasslands evolved with large herbivore grazers, which created a perfect symbiosis of land and animal caring for each other. Just as bison did historically, cattle today maintain the land by pruning the grasses, aerating the soil, and fertilizing both. When cattle are managed in ways that strengthen grasses and soils, ranching communities and the wildlife that depend upon them thrive.
Healthy grasslands also serve as a check against climate change, pulling heat–trapping carbon dioxide out of the air and storing it in the soil. Research shows that improving grazing management practices on just one acre of grassland can pull an average of 419 extra pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere each year (though it varies greatly by region, conditions, and other variables).
Improving Soil Quality May Slow Global Warming
Iqra Farooq, New Food | August 30, 2018
Researchers from the University of California have found that simple methods of improving soil quality could slow global warming. A new study from the University of California, Berkeley has found that low–tech methods of improving soil quality on farms could pull significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus slowing climate change.
Practises such as planting cover crops, sowing legumes and optimising grazing could, if instituted globally, pull carbon from the air and store it in the soil. The initial aim of the researchers was to determine whether practices like these could reduce global temperatures by at least 0.1 degree Celsius. They found that combining these techniques with vigorous carbon emission reductions meant that global temperatures could potentially reduce by 0.26 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.
Major Leucaena Conference, Tour Program Coming to Brisbane
James Nason, BEEF Central | September 6, 2018
Practical knowledge gained from three decades of research and experience on how to grow and graze leucaena will be shared by world leading scientists, researchers and producers at a major international conference to run from October 29 to November 3.
The International Leucaena Conference 2018 will include a 2.5–day conference and producer forum at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, and a 3–day property tour program visiting several successful Leucaena grazing operations (producers interested in attending can view the website and register for the tour and/or conference here)
The last dedicated international conference to focus on leucaena was held in Vietnam in 1997.
7 Questions to Answer for Improved Grazing
Amanda Radke, BEEF Magazine | September 18, 2018
Of course, as beef producers, we are constantly working to improve our production practices in order to be more sustainable, more profitable and more successful in our endeavors. A key component of this equation is to be a better forage manager.
An On Pasture article titled, "Can cows save the planet? I don't know — but maybe they can save the ranch," discusses the steps producers can do now to be the best graziers possible.
Author John Marble writes, "Can cows save the planet? Can cows reverse global warming? Can cows sequester carbon and prevent erosion and fix habitat problems? Can cows feed the world? Honestly, I just don't know. These are big, complicated questions that seem to depend on a whole bunch of variables, things beyond my ability to suss out."
This is not the first time that it has been pointed out that a shift to exclusively grass–fed cattle would require an increase in the herd size, with concomitant increases in emissions. While they suggest that the only solution is a reduction in consumption, it seems clear to me that the solution is actually to ensure that we improve the sustainability of cattle in all production systems and make it clear to consumers that the most efficient farming systems are those where enterprises complement each other and work together in a more integrated way than today. This is incidentally regardless of consumption – integrated farming systems are more efficient anyway; consumption patterns are undoubtedly inequitable around the world and need to be improved, but this is not automatically a function of production patterns.
Nationwide Shift to Grass–Fed Beef Requires Larger Cattle Population
Matthew N Hayek and Rachael D Garrett, Environmental Research Letters | July 25, 2018
In the US, there is growing interest in producing more beef from cattle raised in exclusively pasture–based systems, rather than grain–finishing feedlot systems, due to the perception that it is more environmentally sustainable. In order to produce the same quantity of beef as the present–day system, we find that a nationwide shift to exclusively grass–fed beef would require increasing the national cattle herd from 77 to 100 million cattle, an increase of 30%.
Carbon Sequestration in Grassland Soils
Klaus Lorenz and Rattan Lal, Springer | June 1, 2018
Grasslands, including rangelands, shrublands, pastureland, and cropland sown with pasture and fodder crops, cover 35 million km2 or 26% of the global ice–free land area. Grasslands support the livelihoods of 1 billion people with pastoralism (rising of livestock) being the most widespread human land–use system globally with 20 million km2 of grassland used for livestock feed production. Grasslands have a high inherent SOC stock with up to 343 Pg SOC stored to 1 m depth with a sequestration rate of 0.5 Pg C yr−1. Grasslands sequester large amounts of SOC because of a high belowground C allocation, root turnover, and rhizodeposition.
Grassland Management Impacts on Soil Carbon Stocks: A New Synthesis
Richard T. Conant, Carlos E. P. Cerri, Brooke B. Osborne and Keith Paustian, Ecological Society of America | March 07, 2017
A synthesis published in 2001 assembled data from hundreds of studies to document soil carbon responses to changes in management. Here we present a new synthesis that has integrated data from the hundreds of studies published after our previous work. These new data largely confirm our earlier conclusions: improved grazing management, fertilization, sowing legumes and improved grass species, irrigation, and conversion from cultivation all tend to lead to increased soil C, at rates ranging from 0.105 to more than 1 Mg C·ha−1·yr−1.
The new data include assessment of three new management practices: fire, silvopastoralism, and reclamation, although these studies are limited in number.
The main area in which the new data are contrary to our previous synthesis is in conversion from native vegetation to grassland, where we find that across the studies the average rate of soil carbon stock change is low and not significant. The data in this synthesis confirm that improving grassland management practices and conversion from cropland to grassland improve soil carbon stocks.