Why Are Farmers Embracing Regenerative Grazing?


by Claire Hamlett, Sentient Media

April 1, 2021


A properly managed herd of cows will restore soil health and save the planet. This, broadly speaking, is the claim of the regenerative grazing movement, a form of livestock agriculture popularized by the Zimbabwean livestock farmer and founder of the Savory Institute, Allan Savory, as the key to reversing desertification and climate change. It has garnered a lot of attention following the August 2020 release of the documentary Kiss the Ground—some of it rapturous, some of it deeply skeptical.


Regenerative grazing, also called holistic grazing, involves cattle grazing for a short time on a small area of land before they are moved on to fresh pasture, allowing the grazed land to recover with the help of the cattle’s trampling activity and manure. This is supposed to mimic the ecological function of large migratory herbivores like bison whose populations have been hugely reduced by human activity.


Among the biggest criticisms of regenerative grazing is that it is not supported by science, with results from individual pieces of land unable to be replicated—a criterion that any climate solution should ideally meet. Critics also say that regenerative grazing is simply not scalable because it would require too much land. For cattle to mimic the movements of migratory animals like bison, they would need to be able to move over huge swathes of land, potentially requiring further deforestation than has already occurred for industrial agriculture. Instead, freeing up land from producing food through a global shift to plant-based diets would allow forests and other ecosystems to be restored.


Grazing is in fact only one of a range of practices falling under the broader concept of regenerative agriculture (RA). Soil scientist Rattan Lal has noted the ability of RA to improve soil health and carbon storage capacity but cites a multitude of practices such as no-till and cover cropping, which do not require the presence of cows or other herbivores. He also says that RA should be used to reduce the impact of food production on the land. “The goal of RA is to apply the concept of more from less to agriculture and produce more from less,” says Lal. “The strategy is to spare land and resources for nature.”


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