Sustainability Implies That Your Land Is Not Improving

“Sustainability implies that your farm land is not improving, but it’s not getting worse either,” Jason Virtue said.

Mr. Virtue is an accredited holistic management educator, training farmers, graziers and land managers in a method that goes beyond sustainability. He has trained and mentored numerous farmers to improve the health of their land, their stock and their businesses in Southeast Queensland.

Holistic management uses grazing animals rather than machinery and chemicals to improve the land. The method builds up the carbon content in the soil, which allows it to hold more moisture and grow richer pastures.

“Holistic management is about thinking differently about how we use the land. It’s about deliberately creating a cycle of ever-improving results,” he said.

Mr. Virtue believes grasses are under-appreciated as a means of carbon storage.

“Trees hold carbon in their leaves and branches and roots and when they die, the carbon is released to the atmosphere. With grasses, the carbon is held in the soil.

“Some grasses have roots as far down as 10m. Any carbon stored below 50cm is very stable.

- Excerpted from an article in The Weekly Times. Read the rest of the article here: Savory a sweet way to build soil, stow carbon.

The Power Of Holistic Management, In Pictures

This is a video put together by Sheldon Frith, full of great before and after pictures. Behold the regenerative power of Holistic Management:



Do Cows Emit a Lot of Greenhouse Gases?

Once upon a time in the USA there used to be a vast area of prairie (pasture) called the Great Plains. This story can be replicated on any of the world’s grasslands. This vast grassland was a giant ‘carbon sink’ with deep soils of up to 15% organic matter and was a rich habitat for thousands of different species of flora and fauna. Even through severe droughts the plains supported somewhere in the region of 110 million wild ruminants. 50-70 million of those were the giant one tonne bison – the equivalent to about 2 small beef steers. We now, in the USA, have roughly the same number of domestic ruminants (sheep, cows, and goats).

Wild animals burp and fart too you know! So how come pre-industrialization these ‘evil’ ruminant beasts didn’t wreck our climate?

Healthy soils contain soil microbes called methanotrophs that reduce atmospheric methane. So the grassland on which the cattle are grazing can absorb a large amount of the methane they produce. The highest methane oxidation rate recorded in soil to date has been 13.7 mg/m2/day (Dunfield 2007) which, over one hectare, equates to the absorption of the methane produced by approximately 100 head of cattle.

‘Methane sinks’ bank up to 15% of the earth’s methane. Converting pasture into arable production reduces the soil’s capacity to bank methane and releases carbon into the atmosphere. Fertilizing and arable cropping reduce the soil’s methane oxidation capacity by 6 to 8 times compared to the undisturbed soils of pasture. The use of fertilizers makes it even worse, reducing the soil’s ability to take up methane even further.

So to convert pasture to arable land in a ‘quick fix’ to try and grow more plant-based foods considerably accelerates the climate change situation.

And anyway let’s put enteric methane (cow burping methane) into context. According to the 2014 UN Climate Change Convention held in December in Lima, Peru, the analysis of GHG’s (greenhouse gases) when converting other gases to CO2 equivalents found that in the US and EU enteric fermentation accounted for 2.17% of GHG emissions. (26.79% of agriculture emissions with all agricultural emissions in total being 8% of total GHG emissions).

Have you looked into the methane output of rice paddies recently?

The largest increases in methane levels occurred in the 1960’s when we started using nearly ten times the natural gas.8 And contrary to common belief, cattle numbers have not increased. Even in the US they are the same as they were in the 1950’s (Source USDA), while globally they have been static since the 1970’s (Beef 2 Live). Our meat consumption has increased because we eat more intensively farmed poultry and farmed fish, but we don’t NEED to eat this much meat.

Eating beef can actually be a very sustainable option. In many cases pasture reared beef actually shows a carbon-equivalent net gain when carbon sequestration is taken into account.

So why are we focusing all of the attention onto farting cows instead of looking at how we can cut out the 73% of agricultural emissions that are created by farming that uses grains and fertilizers? Because there are a lot of people making a lot of money from their finger in this enormous agri-pie! They want you to believe that the answer is bigger more efficient farms and GMO!

The above is excerpted from an article on Primal Meats. Read the rest of the article here: The superfood that could save the world.

References from the article:
  • Hristov, A. (2011). Wild Ruminants Burp Methane, too. In PennState Extension. Retrieved from http://extension.psu.edu/animals/dairy/news/2011/wild-ruminants-burp-methane-too
  • Jones, C (2014). Ruminants and Methane. In The Natural Farmer, Summer 2014. Retrieved from http://www.nofamass.org/sites/default/files/2014_Summer_TNF_Jones_on_Ruminants_and_Methane.pdf
  • Jones, C. (2010). Soil carbon – can it save agriculture’s bacon?. In www.amazingcarbon.com. Retrieved from http://www.amazingcarbon.com/PDF/JONES-SoilCarbon&Agriculture%2818May10%29.pdf
  • Singh, J.S. (2011). Methanotrophs: the potential biological sink to mitigate the global methane load. In Scientific Correspondence, Current Science, VoL. 100, no. 1, 10 January 2011. Retrieved from http://www.researchgate.net/publication/259079734_Methanotrophs_the_potential_biological_sink_to_mitigate_the_global_methane_load
  • Singh, J., Shashank, T., Singh, D. P. (2015). Methanotrophs and CH4 sink: Effect of human activity and ecological perturbations. In Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability (April 2015) 3(1): 35-50. Retrieved from http://www.researchgate.net/publication/274573824_Methanotrophs_and_CH4_sink_Effect_of_human_activity_and_ecological_perturbations
  • Kremer, R.J., Means, N.E. (2009). Glyphosate and glyphosate-resistant crop interactions with rhizosphere microorganisms. In European Journal of Agronomy Europ. J. Agronomy 31 (2009) 153–16. Retrieved from http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/35795/PDF
  • (Anonymous). (2014.) Summary of GHG Emissions for United States of America. In United Nations: Climate Change Secretariat. Retrieved from https://unfccc.int/files/ghg_emissions_data/application/pdf/usa_ghg_profile.pdf
  • (Anonymous). (2013). Grass-fed beef is best. In National Trust. Retrieved from http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/article-1356398465642/
  • Allan Savory: How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change [Video]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI

Could This Superfood Save The World?

This wonder crop has deep roots that tap into hard to reach nutrients underground, it’s drought resistant – when it rains the root system helps the water stay in the soil instead of running off. This crop can resist the highest winds or the wettest spells, it grows well all year round and on any type of soil. This crop could provide food security even in the most erratic rainfall caused by climate change.

Our wonder crop takes carbon and methane from the atmosphere and locks it out of harms way, it builds its own fertility so needs no artificial fertilizers – one of the most carbon heavy inputs in modern agriculture. This crop requires minimal management; no tractors, no pesticides, no irrigation, it does not need to be planted every year, and it can grow anywhere – even on mountainsides, arid plains, or wetlands – the places where no other food can grow.

Sounds great, but there is one HUGE problem. We can’t eat it! It’s called GRASS.

Bummer.

But as evolving humans, we got around this issue – we ate the animals that ate the grass (along with seasonally available plants).

Ruminants such as buffalo, elk, cows, and sheep have clever digestive systems that can turn this wonder crop into meat and milk. The meat doesn’t need storage, can be moved from field to field, it doesn’t often spoil or rot, and we can harvest when we need it – regardless of the weather or time of year. Oh, and not only does it taste amazing, it’s really good for you too!

The above is excerpted from an article on Primal Meats. Read the rest of the article here: The superfood that could save the world.

How to Green the World's Deserts

About a third of the earth's surface is grassland with seasonal rainfall (dry part of the year). For this kind of environment to thrive, it needs large numbers of grazing animals because the grasses have evolved to need the trampling, the clearing out, the urine and defecation. Without that animal impact, grasslands turn into deserts.

The huge wild herds with their accompanying deadly predators are gone from most grasslands now. The land has been divided up into separate ownership. So now what can we do to prevent widespread desertification and the resulting immense release of CO2 into the atmosphere?

Allan Savory has a solution, and the Savory Institute and Holistic Management International are putting it to work all over the world.

Watch Allan Savory's TED talk on how it works, and see his before and after pictures:

Grasslands Remove CO2 From the Atmosphere

"Our results show that grazing lands generate soil carbon surpluses that could not only offset rural emissions, but could also partially or totally offset the emissions of non-rural sectors. The potential of grazing lands to sequester and store soil carbon should be reconsidered in order to improve assessments in future greenhouse gas inventory reports."

The above is from a meta-analysis by E.F.Viglizzo, M.F.Ricard, M.A.Taboadaae, and G. Vázquez-Amábilegh

See the abstract here: Reassessing the role of grazing lands in carbon-balance estimations: Meta-analysis and review.

How You Graze Animals Can Contribute To Flooding Or Help Prevent It

Over the past month, historic floods have wreaked havoc across the midwestern United States, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere. At the same time, Australia faces historic drought conditions.

While these may appear as opposite and separate events, they share a common thread. The events themselves might not have been preventable, but their effects could have drastically reduced.

When lands are mismanaged, ecosystem health suffers. Bare soils become compacted and lose porosity. Without vegetation, organic matter diminishes. Soils cap over, gravity creates runoff and water pools at the low point. Exposed ground heats up and moisture evaporates.

When lands are properly managed, ecosystems build resilience against flooding, drought, and so much more. We create living soils with adequate structure and porosity so rainfall is absorbed and utilized by plant roots. Trampled plant litter provides shade and cooling. Soil acts as a sponge for quickly absorbing rainfall, but also holding that water in reserve for dry periods.

Put into perspective, a 1% increase in soil organic matter allows an acre of land to store an additional 20,000 gallons of water. Given the frequency of these extreme weather events and their devastating effects, we should be looking to solutions that increase this incredible water-holding capacity of soil.

We may not be able to change how much rain falls from the sky, but we can change how that rain is used once it touches the ground. We can manage holistically and create properly functioning water cycles for resilient and thriving landscapes.

With 5 billion hectares of grasslands on this planet, that’s a lot of water we can put to better use.

The text above is from the excellent and informative Savory Ruminations newsletter. See the whole thing here: Flooding, drought, & functioning water cycles.

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