New Podcast, Episode 8: Literally Saving the Earth by Regenerating Grassland

The way to save the largest ecosystem on land is so counter intuitive it will blow your mind. This is about meat, how it's produced and the consequences of the different ways of producing it.

Listen to The Adam Bomb podcast here:

What is Living in Healthy Soil?

"The soil foodweb" refers to the collection of micro-organisms and micro-arthropods in the soil that interact directly or indirectly with plants, decompose organic matter, and/or prey on the organisms that interact with plants. This dynamic living ecosystem — the soil foodweb — is incredibly diverse and made up of organisms that range in size from one-celled bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa, to more complex nematodes and arthropods, to earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and plants.

Although most are not visible to the naked eye, they help soils in numerous ways with their ability to improve soil tilth and make nutrients available to plants. They help sequester nitrogen and other nutrients that might otherwise enter groundwater, and they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, making it available to plants. These organisms enhance soil aggregation and porosity, increasing infiltration and reducing runoff.

The soil foodweb works from the premise that everything that can eat or be eaten is involved in a cyclical relationship. As these organisms eat, grow, and move through the soil, they aggregate soil and make nutrients available for healthy plants. In this role, the soil foodweb is an integral part of the landscape process.

A healthy soil is full of life! One teaspoon of healthy soil contains millions of beneficial soil microorganisms that include thousands of species of bacteria and fungi. Beneficial soil organisms act like brokers and make nutrients available to plants, help reduce disease and retain nutrients in the soil.

- Excerpted from a website by Marin Soil Solutions.

Grasslands Explained by National Geographic

Grasslands go by many names, says this National Geographic article. In the U.S. Midwest, they're often called prairies. In South America, they're known as pampas. Central Eurasian grasslands are referred to as steppes, while African grasslands are savannas. What they all have in common are grasses, their naturally dominant vegetation. Grasslands are found where there is not enough regular rainfall to support the growth of a forest, but not so little that a desert forms. In fact, grasslands often lie between forests and deserts. (See grassland photos.)

Grasslands could help mitigate climate change: One study found California's grasslands and rangelands could store more carbon than forests because they are less susceptible to wildfires and drought.

The height of vegetation on grasslands varies with the amount of rainfall. Some grasses might be under a foot tall, while others can grow as high as seven feet. Their roots can extend three to six feet deep into the soil. The combination of underground biomass with moderate rainfall—heavy rain can wash away nutrients—tends to make grassland soils very fertile and appealing for agricultural use. Much of the North American prairielands have been converted into land for crops, posing threats to species that depend on those habitats, as well as drinking water sources for people who live nearby.

The plants on grasslands have adapted to the drought, fires, and grazing common to that habitat.

The above was excerpted from an article by National Geographic. Read the whole article and see the stunning photographs here: Grasslands, Explained.

Video: Effective Rainfall Demo by Allan Savory

This is a simple demonstration of some of the principles of holistic management. Three small plots of bare ground. One is left bare. One is broken up, as if from the hooves of animals. And one is broken up and has straw on it. Then each plot receives the same amount of water sprinkled on top.

Later in the day, the bare plot is completely dry, even if you dig under the surface. The next plot is dry on top but there is still moisture under the surface. And the one with straw is still moist, even up to the surface.

What Desertifying Grassland Looks Like

This is former grassland in Iraq. This is the end result of desertifying grassland.

Click on the image to see it larger.

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.

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

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