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Just add compost: How to turn your grassland ranch into a carbon sink

By   /  February 3, 2014  /  4 Comments

Here’s the scoop. John Wick and his wife Peggy Rathmann, the owners of Nicasio Native Grass Ranch, and the folks behind this study, are Kathy’s good friends. She met them when they invited her to California to teach their cattle to eat weeds and she’s so excited about the work they’re doing to make the world a better place!

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READ THIS NOW! It’s fun and exciting! I wish I had written Nathaneal Johnson’s article b
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  • Published: 7 years ago on February 3, 2014
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  • Last Modified: February 16, 2015 @ 3:27 pm
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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.


  1. Kathy Voth says:

    For those of you wondering about details on keyline plow use for this research project, I’ve contacted Whendee Silver for additional information. What I recall John telling me is that the plowed areas were dryer and did not show improvements in carbon sequestration. The point of this study has been to see if carbon sequestration improves under different treatments, and as you see from this article, Dr. Silver was surprised that she was able to measure results, and that improvements did occur.

    They also measured grazing as a treatment, but there are no details yet on the results. I’ll be finding those for you all as well.

    Just this week I was looking for information on loss of CO2 from soils as a result of plowing and read that a USDA study had found that subsoiling to 14 inches resulted in greater CO2 losses than standard plowing. Since all I saw was the citation, I’ll need to find that paper as well to give you more details.

    As always, if anyone can point me to other studies on the use of the keyline plow to improve carbon sequestration do let me know. I know that folks are concerned about CO2 in the atmosphere and feel a sense of urgency about making improvements. John’s focus was on taking the time to make sure that he was hurrying down a path that was making a difference, and thus this research and its results.

  2. Owen Hablutzel says:

    Greetings, and thanks for this article and all the great work On Pasture does…

    Agree that more details about what happened in their Yeoman’s plow experiments would be a worthy topic of discussion… Have been following this project for years and have sensed Mr. Wick’s downplaying of keyline, but have never heard any specific details brought to light from that camp about why this is the case.

    Do have a friend who toured the Marin Carbon project ranch and the research plots there in 2010… Her report was that the plot that had received the keyline plow treatment, with compost also, looked to be in the best shape to her… judging by a higher amount of native perennials and greater diversity compared to the other plots she saw there. So, have always wondered what the ‘poo-poo’-ing of keyline by this project was in response to? Given the positive response to the Yeoman’s plow in dry areas that I’ve seen on many hundreds of acres, at different locations, and given the one eyewitness report I’ve heard about the keyline plot at MCP, it seems a surprising conclusion to draw. Am most curious to learn more…

    Chip, thanks for your great comments and reflections here on soil pitting… have always wondered about the longer term effects of that… not to mention, thanks for your excellent books as well! Great info, attitude, humor and perspective!

  3. Chuck says:

    Like Chip, I would like to know a little more about their issue(s) with the Yeoman’s plow and Keyline process. I’m not an expert but I believe the focus of the keyline/Yeoman’s plow process is to keep the moisture that falls on the ground in the ground instead of running off, essentially jump starting soil infiltration. If there was already a heavy weed “problem” then infiltration may not have been an issue and the weeds were doing their job in the successional process. – Just thinking out loud. Would be good to see more in depth discussion on that subject specifically.

  4. Chip Hines says:

    I find it interesting that key line plowing did not make a difference. I don’t have aside in this, so I wonder how they determined their position.

    I have always wondered how it was determined that the plowing was beneficial, and how ,long the effect lasted. In the plains of Eastern Colorado, (14 inch annual precip) “Pitting”, was to be the answer in short grass areas, but was dropped after a few years as it was expensive, and the pits filled in after about four or five years. There was more green grass around the pit ( 4 to 5 inches deep, about that wide and 8 to 12 inches long) when it got dry, but the grass that grew in the pit, was below ground level and a cow couldn’t eat it until the pit partially filled in.

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