A Different Kind of Land Management: Let the Cows Stomp
Regenerative grazing can store more carbon in soils in the form of roots and other plant tissues. But how much can it really help the fight against climate change?
By Henry Fountain, The New York Times (NYT)
Feb. 17, 2021
CANADIAN, Texas — Adam Isaacs stood surrounded by cattle in an old pasture that had been overgrazed for years. Now it was a jumble of weeds.
“Most people would want to get out here and start spraying it” with herbicides, he said. “My family used to do that. It doesn’t work.”
Instead, Mr. Isaacs, a fourth-generation rancher on this rolling land in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle, will put his animals to work on the pasture, using portable electrified fencing to confine them to a small area so that they can’t help but trample some of the weeds as they graze.
“We let cattle stomp a lot of the stuff down,” he said. That adds organic matter to the soil and exposes it to oxygen, which will help grasses and other more desirable plants take over. Eventually, through continued careful management of grazing, the pasture will be healthy again.
“These cows are my land management tool,” Mr. Isaacs said. “It’s a lot easier to work with nature than against it.”
His goal is to turn these 5,000 acres into something closer to the lush mixed-grass prairie that thrived throughout this part of the Southern Great Plains for millenniums and served as grazing lands for millions of bison.
Mr. Isaacs, 27, runs a cow-calf operation, with several hundred cows and a dozen or so bulls that produce calves that he sells to the beef industry after they are weaned. Improving his land will benefit his business, through better grazing for his animals, less soil and nutrient loss through erosion, and improved retention of water in a region where rainfall averages only about 18 inches a year.
But the healthier ranchland can also aid the planet by sequestering more carbon, in the form of roots and other plant tissues that used carbon dioxide from the air in their growth. Storing this organic matter in the soil will keep the carbon from re-entering the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane, two major contributors to global warming.
With the Biden administration proposing to pay farmers to store carbon, soil sequestration has gained favor as a tool to fight climate change...
... Mr. Isaacs, who studied ranch management at Texas Tech University and worked for two years for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, does some measurement and analysis to gauge how well his efforts are working...
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