Changing the way livestock are grazing and reducing emissions

Understanding Ag education for farmers about renewable grazing.

Image courtesy of Understanding Ag.

When Gabby Brown first started regenerative farming more than 25 years ago, he wasn’t trying to solve the problem of climate change.

“I was just trying to keep the banker away and feed my family,” Brown told CNBC.

Brown grew up in Bismarck, ND, and went to college to be a professor of agriculture. Then he married his high school sweetheart, whose family had a farm. The young couple moved home to help out on the farm, which used traditional farming practices at the time. Eight years later, Brown bought a section of the farm from his folks.

From 1995 through 1998, Brown’s farm in North Dakota faced repeated natural disasters: three years of cold and one year of drought. Brown needed to know how to make his land profitable. Also, he did not have the money to spend on fertilizers and chemicals.

“He took me on a learning path,” Brown told CNBC. “I became really a student of nature and ecosystems and how natural ecosystems work.”

Today, Brown runs his 6,000-acre ranch near Bismarck with regenerative practices and helps run a consulting firm, understanding pilgrimagewhich consults with farmers who manage 32 million acres across North America.

Gabe Brown came to regenerative farming as a way to save his farm two and a half decades ago.

Photo courtesy of Gabby Brown

While Brown did not set out to combat climate change, renewable livestock grazing is a way to sequester carbon dioxide, a critical component of reducing global warming. Cattle grazing on the ground eat plants that absorb carbon dioxide from the air. After grazing, the cows do not graze the ground for a long time, which gives the roots a chance to grow another layer of leaves, capturing more carbon.

Dan Robertan Oregon farmer and marketing director for the ranching group Country Natural Beef, explains that renewable livestock farming involves grazing livestock from field to field on a regular basis, almost daily. The cattle feed on the grass in the pasture where they graze, cut it down, and then move on. Each field they cut has a significant portion of time to rest and recover until it can grow again.

“These cattle are collected, grazing very heavily, and then sometimes moved twice in a day. And then that land is left to rest and recover for a whole year before the animals return,” Probert told CNBC. .

This process sequesters more carbon than feeding cows from typical monoculture crops like corn because these crops are annuals and grow fairly slowly, and do not perform photosynthesis when they are lying down.

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Dan Robert monitors the soil on his farm in Oregon.

Photo courtesy of Dan Probert

The amount of carbon sequestered by renewable grazing practices varies greatly, depending on how well farms graze livestock and how diverse the plant species are in the land being grazed. But the range is between 2.5 and 7.5 metric tons of carbon per acre per year, according to co-founder Understanding Ag. Allen Williams.

in comparison, Southern pine forestswhich has received some attention as a carbon sink, will sequester 1.4 to two tons of carbon per acre per year.

The Probert Collective works for Country Natural Beef with a non-profit organization sustainable northwest and grant from MJ Murdock Charitable Chest To more accurately estimate the carbon impact of renewable farms by taking soil samples now and comparing the carbon content to samples that will be taken in three to five years.

Land management philosophy, not a prescription

Regenerative farming is more of a philosophy about farming and livestock farming than a specific prescription, he explains Bobby Gil From Savory Institute, a non-profit organization in space. This practice is based on the work Alan SivoryA pioneer in the field, he started his career in the 1960s in Zimbabwe.

“He’s been beating that drum, developing these methods for decades now. And a lot of times, he’s been the only person to hit that drum,” Gill told CNBC.

Savory’s revolutionary message was that farmers need to prioritize soil health and grazing livestock in ways that mimic natural patterns.

The group does not emphasize the environmental aspects of livestock farming that activists have emphasized often criticized.

“A fifth generation farmer… It’s ridiculous to call him an Alawite or to have people point the finger at them saying climate change is because of you: it’s your fault,” Gill said. “It is important to engage in these conversations with empathy and understanding.”

Instead, the Savory Institute talks to farmers about regenerative agriculture as a way to run a profitable farm, provide for their families, and be proud of their land.

Delicious food is no longer seen as a scam. The Savory Institute was launched in 2009 and currently has 54 centers around the world that have trained 14,000 people and impacted the management of more than 42 million acres of land.

When Will Harris started regenerative farming in Georgia, he wasn’t trying to solve climate change either. He didn’t even know the climate was changing.

Harris is the fourth generation of his family to run his 2,300-acre farm in Georgia, white oak pasturesand has some perspective on the recent history of agriculture.

White Oak Pasture Board: Front row, left to right: Jean Terne, Judy Benoit, Will Harris, Jenny Harris, Amber Harris. Back row, left to right: John Benoit, Brian Sapp.

white oak pastures

In the years after World War II, agriculture became very industrialized, Harris told CNBC.

“Europe was starving,” Harris said. “There was a huge demand for cheap, abundant and safe food.” “Manufacturing, commodification, centralization, they really did…it made food outrageously cheap and overly abundant, and very boring, and very consistent.”

Factory farming brought about monoculture, in which only one product is grown on a plot of land. It also brought the use of chemical fertilizers, tillage, pesticides, planting hormones in animals, sub-therapeutic antibiotics in animals and large equipment.

Harris didn’t like any of that. Financially, he was doing well, he said, but he didn’t like the practices that had become industry standard.

White oak pastures, planted with renewable agricultural practices, are on the left. The land on the right is planted with traditional industrial practices.

“I was just disappointed by the excesses of this farming system. I was just starting to get away with it. I did it simply by stopping using tech ‘products’ I didn’t like, and doing things I didn’t like to do.” I wasn’t intentionally moving my farm towards anything. I was moving away from whatever was bothering me.”

The change was not free. It takes two years to raise a 1,100-pound cow, Harris said, whereby a farmer through industrial practices can grow a 1,400-pound animal in 18 months. But the quality of his meat is better, and he can charge higher fees to special customers.

His profit margins squeezed as international farmers got into the “grass-fed” game and slipped into markets as “Americans” by making one small step of the production process in the United States, Harris said, but the value of his land doesn’t factor in the price of a steak.

“You don’t measure the depreciation of non-amortized assets on your balance sheet,” Harris said.

“As a practitioner of 25 years of renewable land management, I can tell you with authority that you cannot regenerate degraded and desertified land without affecting the animals.”

In addition, his two daughters and their husbands returned to the farm, in stark contrast to many other farming families whose children leave to work in other occupations.

“I can assure you that if I continued to farm industrially, my daughters would not have chosen to return.”

good for business

Although it may take longer for cows to mature using ranching, this practice can help farm owners use the land more efficiently.

“Maybe my farm five years ago ran 1,000 heads and now we’re running 1,200 heads on the same floor base,” Probert told CNBC.

There aren’t a lot of up-front costs for converting a farm to a regenerative grazing model, other than education, which Williams notes is tax-free for farmers.

But farmers tend not to know this.

“They have a misconception that this is going to be expensive and that they will take a big financial hit in the first few years. But that’s not entirely true,” Williams said. Once farmers start implementing renewable grazing, Williams said, they won’t need to buy synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, so input costs go down.

Educating other farmers about the benefits of renewable grazing and farming has become a business in itself.

Williams, a sixth-generation family farmer with farms in both Mississippi and Alabama, spent 15 years teaching academically at both Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State University before turning to teaching renewable grazing and farming practices to farmers in the field — literally.

Allen Williams (left), a sixth-generation family farmer and co-founder of Understanding Ag, has taught another farmer about renewable grazing.

“You can’t do what you don’t know,” Williams told CNBC. “So someone has to be there to teach and coach you.”

Propert said that spreading the world about renewable grazing means putting the spotlight on yourself, a place that makes some farmers uncomfortable.

Probert takes the lead in the farming group he is a part of because he knows they are essential to the survival of his industry.

“We can’t live here on an island,” said Probert. “We are 100 farms on six and a half million acres. We rely heavily on Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles to market our products.”

“So we’re constantly working to bridge that gap between urban and rural areas. We know we can’t hide here. We have to find a way to tell our story and make people feel good about the food they eat.”

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