Does Grazing Sequester Carbon? Part 1

If you’ve heard that grazing is good for the planet because it can sequester more carbon in the soil, you’re not alone. The hypothesis goes like this: When livestock take a bite of grass, the gras

All the grazing management tips you need

Subscribe to read this article and over 2,500 more!

Subscribe today!

If you're already a subscriber, log in here.

6 thoughts on “Does Grazing Sequester Carbon? Part 1

  1. Thank you, Kathy.

    I thought to share a link to a report called, “Grazed and Confused: Ruminating on cattle, grazing systems, methane, nitrous oxide, the soil carbon sequestration question – and what it all means for greenhouse gas emissions” (phewf) which was released yesterday. Written and published by the Food Climate Research Center, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food and Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, I think that there will be some insight to these correlations. The full report is quite the document so I haven’t gotten through it all myself but you can find a summary and downloadable report from the link below.

    As practioners I believe that it’s our duty to embrace science and also to voice our on-the-ground observations in our management. As Fred Provenza and Michel Mueret posit in their book, “The Art and Science of Shepherding: Tapping the Wisdom of the French Herders” it’s the marriage of both science and experiencial wisdom that is necessary to get the full picture.

    Thanks again for sharing this work.

    All the best,

    1. I’ve read that 127 page report in its entirety. In regards to soil carbon and grazing management, this “new” report repackages a 2016 paper by Norborg. The “new” report quite literally cut and pasted content from this 2016 paper and accepted Norborg’s findings uncritically. Unfortunately Norborg’s meta analysis omitted a lot of research on this topic. So in borrowing and repackaging Norborg, the “new” FCRN report made the same omissions.

      Michigan State’s Dr. Jason Rowntree wrote the following response to the FCRN paper and a few others citing these omissions in this article-

      Here is Dr. Rowntree reply without the hyperlinks in this linked article:
      There have been recent reports that range from the acknowledgement of grazing management positive influence of ecosystem services, but not as an efficacious tool in reducing atmospheric CO2 to the denigration of grazing livestock as viable components of terrestrial landscapes.

      There is a large and ever-growing database, mostly not acknowledged in the recent reports, documenting the positive impacts of grazing on soil carbon along with improvements in other ecosystem services that is consistent with what Allan Savory has been saying for years. To put these numbers into perspective a mid-size car emits around 1.28 metric tons of carbon (converted from carbon dioxide) annually into the atmosphere.

      In 2001, Rich Conant and Keith Paustian, at Colorado State University, published a meta-analysis of 115 ranches from a variety of global environments indicating a mean annual 0.54 metric tons of carbon sequestered per hectare (ha) demonstrating the capacity for soil to capture and store carbon. In 2011, Teague et al. investigated the impact of high and low continuous grazing as compared to adaptive multi-paddock grazing (AMP) in Texas (the approach advocated by Savory) and indicated the AMP treatment had an annual 3 metric tons of carbon sequestered in the soil above and beyond that of the continuously grazed treatments.

      USDA ARS scientist Alan Franzluebbers, has indicated high potential in the eastern US as well. In Nature, Machmuller et al, report over an 8 metric ton annual increase in carbon sequestration over a 3 year period following the conversion of degraded cropland to grazing land in Georgia. For context to meet an overall carbon sink (or storage capacity) for a Midwest grass-finishing beef system, our work indicate a needed 0.89 metric ton carbon sequestration to offset the entire footprint, including that from enteric methane emitted by cattle. This seems plausible based on the existing carbon sequestration literature.

      Finally, the most downloaded manuscript in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, for 2016-17 cites the beneficial components of AMP and conservation agriculture on North American food production. The authors, of which Rowntree is one, estimate that if these conservation approaches were completed on 25% of our crop and grasslands, the entire carbon footprint of North American agriculture could potentially be mitigated.

      Holistic Management is used by thousands of practitioners over millions of hectares of land. Proper adoption of animals to landscapes over a variety of precipitation levels is an efficacious land management tool. We have been on many of these ranches. Our laboratory is currently summarizing a large Patagonia dataset with ecosystem measurements on over 2 million hectares of land mostly managed holistically, that is, using a decision-making framework that helps land managers to move toward their goals in a way that is economically, ecologically, and socially sound in their context. Attempting to reduce the complexity of land management to just animals and time in a reductive scientific environment, is no different than splitting hydrogen from oxygen to study water.

      Dr. Jason Rowntree, Michigan State University

      1. Stefhan, thank you for your comments. We have read the articles and the report you mention, and we will be addressing these in later articles.

  2. Dr Lal’s assertion about which soils can store more carbon make sense logically because those soils start with an empty “carbon account” think bank account so there is more room. My hypothesis has been that not just root pulses but transport of manure by dung beetles and the addition of urine add biologically active bacteria, and other microbes.
    A key indicator in my experience is that the US is farming the grasslands that had the highest carbon storage and we have been mining that carbon since those areas were settled. Many pastures are on formerly wooded sites. I too look forward to more insight and thanks for what you do!

Comments are closed.

Translate »