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How Farmers and Ranchers Are Going to Save the Planet – Part 1

By   /  May 20, 2019  /  3 Comments

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In this video, you’ll meet my good friend, John Wick and you’ll learn about an amazing discovery made on his ranch. It’s a discovery that could mean that farmers and ranchers could not only slow climate change, but could actually begin to cool the planet back down. And they can do it all while growing more forage, food and fiber.

I met John and his wife, Peggy Rathmann, in 2006 when I went to their ranch in Nicasio, California to help them teach cows to eat distaff thistle. John and Peggy bought their ranch with the intention of providing habitat for local wildlife. They wanted to increase native forages and perennial grasses and reduce invasive annuals and weeds.

As this video describes, removing cattle from the system didn’t make things better. But they were determined, and by the time I arrived, they’d already spent a lot of time reading and going to workshops and they had a good handle on how good grazing management could be the right tool for the job.

They set up an intensively managed mob grazing system, that included some of the cattle we’d trained together, and soon saw good results. Those results led them to wonder how far these changes might be going. Could their healthy soil be the way to a healthier planet? They decided to find out by starting a research project on their ranch.

Now, with ten years of data collection under their belts, they have some amazing answers. This short video doesn’t cover all the ins and outs of the project, or the questions that we still need to think about as we move forward. But it’s a great introduction.

Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be sharing more about this project. I’ll go into more depth on the science behind it. We’ll look at the carbon footprint of farming and ranching and how one number doesn’t represent all places on the planet. We’ll explore how and where this practice can work and the role that grazing animals play in the process. We’ll talk about the logistics of finding and spreading compost, the costs involved, and the partnerships that are in the works to assist farmers, ranchers and land managers who would like to try the practice. Most importantly, we’ll cover what you can do to become a “carbon farmer” from just spreading some compost, to putting together a full-blown carbon farming plan.

I’m so proud to know John and Peggy and I’m grateful to all the people who have worked on this and are continuing to work on it. I’m also very excited to be able to tell you this story. Please let me know what questions are important to you as we progress through this series.

Here’s Part 2 in the series.

Want to learn more? Visit the Marin Carbon Project.

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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.

3 Comments

  1. Grass Whisperer says:

    I am wondering how many pounds/tons of compost per acre to achieve a half inch soil coverage? I’m also wondering what the cost per acre was for the purchased product and application? Thanks in advance GW

    • Patrick Tobola says:

      I looked at this several years ago after seeing the benefits of using home made compost in the garden.

      It requires 67 cubic yards per acre to get 1/2 inch of coverage. In my area the closest supplier is 100 miles away and costs $60/cubic yard plus delivery. That’s at least $4000 per acre.

      My estimate for using hay grown on my own property to make compost on site required 40 round bales 6ft dia x 5ft to produce 67 cubic yards of finished compost per acre. At $65/bale that comes out to $2600/acre and I still need to pay for a nitrogen source to make the compost.

      This led me to purchase a compost tea brewer which was touted as having the same benefits as applying compost (by the salesman) and would allow me to greatly reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizer on my hay fields. That hasn’t happened and my brewer sits unused for at least three years now.

      I think there is some merit to using compost tea but we need to find someone that has had success with it and have a team of researchers thoroughly investigate the reasons for success just as they did in John’s case because it does seem to be the only economical alternative (if it actually works) to quickly restore the biological function of large areas of grassland without using substantial animal impact.

      • Kathy Voth says:

        Hi Patrick!

        The folks at the Marin Carbon Project are working on ways to make this affordable as we speak. It’s my understanding that the details are being worked out to make it possible to adopt this practice at little to no cost. So stand by for more news on that.

        As for compost tea, I have yet to talk to someone who has had success with it and the research I read doesn’t show success either. Here’s a link to the first in a two-part series I wrote on it. https://onpasture.com/2016/01/25/does-compost-tea-improve-pasture/.

        I have some additional info about compost tea that I’m just not at liberty to share right now, but I will when I can. Overall, I’d say it’s not a practice that is beneficial for this purpose.

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