How livestock farming can save the planet
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
Farming practices that sequester carbon would limit both soil erosion and climate change.
Principles of Regenerative Farming
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the central feature of most plans to slow climate change. Much less attention has focused on sequestering atmospheric carbon in soil.
As the largest terrestrial carbon sink, which stores three times more carbon than the entire atmosphere, soil offers a vast repository with immense, untapped capacity. Since the beginning of agriculture, food production has removed about half, or 133 gigatons, of the carbon once stored in agricultural soil, and the rate of loss has increased dramatically in the last two centuries, creating a large void to be filled. Restoring this carbon stockpile would sequester the equivalent of almost one fifth of atmospheric carbon, bringing greenhouse gas concentrations nearly to pre–industrial revolution levels and making soil less erodible.
Many farmers are running out of soil. According to a report from the U.S Department of Agriculture, the U.S loses soil on average of 10 times faster than it is generated. This alarming statistic is made worse by heavy rainstorms that cause erosion of soil into streams and rivers. At the current rates of erosion, some of the world's most productive farmland will lose most of its topsoil over the next few decades, leaving it worthless for food production. However- the principal of carbon sequestration is our saving grace. Erosion is reduced by accumulation of soil carbon.
Farming practices that aid in the sequestering of carbon include; reduced plowing, which causes erosion by breaking up large clods and destroying the soil structure that prevents detachment and movement of particles. The alternative—no-till planting—involves drilling seed directly into the stubble of the previous crop rather than plowing the field after harvest and again before planting and dropping seeds into plowed furrows. Although no-till methods were shown to substantially reduce erosion in the 1970s, they have been adopted on only one third of U.S. cropland. Another highly effective practice is growing cover crops—plant species that enrich the soil between fall harvest and spring planting of the main crop. The cover crop anchors soil and prevents winter winds and spring rainstorms from removing fertile topsoil.
Intensive regenerative grazing, a method for pasturing cattle that boosts carbon sequestration by stimulating plant growth, duplicates the effects of the herds of bison that once roamed the American plains, contributing to formation of some of Earth’s most fertile soils. Regenerative grazing regimes involve moving cattle frequently—sometimes several times in a single day—to new pasture, thereby preventing the animals from cropping the vegetation close to the ground. The remaining plants recover and start growing again more quickly than those that have been reduced to nubs, enabling them to be more photosynthetically active over the growing season and accumulate more carbon. Some researchers estimate that regenerative grazing boosts carbon fixation through photosynthesis enough to cancel out most of the greenhouse gases released by beef production.
Critics of these practices that incorporate carbon into soil argue that they would be canceled out by the increased needs for nitrogen fertilizers, which are produced by a fossil fuel–intensive process. However, by incorporating livestock, nitrogen is generated for free through rich manure that feeds the soil. Through rotational grazing, that precious resource is distributed evenly across the land, giving back to the soil. In addition, carbon sequestration can be accompanied by retention of nitrogen in plant material, reducing nitrogen needs of future crops. Moreover, nitrogen needs could be satisfied by biological nitrogen fixation, which is conducted by soil bacteria that need no fossil fuels to make nitrogen fertilizer.
At Berserker Farms, we believe that focusing on the key principles of regenerative farming; keeping soil covered, maintaining living roots year round, avoiding soil disturbance as much as possible, integrating well managed livestock and promoting plant and animal diversity on our land is the key to producing nutrient dense food, as well as ensuring that our land is self sustaining. By supporting us, you are not only supporting your personal health, but the health of the planet.