Livestock and Ag Manager, Dakota Glueck, shares his thoughts on a new exciting paper by Randall D. Jackson titled “Grazed perennial grasslands can match current beef production while contributing to climate mitigation and adaptation.”
New research published in Agricultural and Environmental Letters is providing strong support to what Regenerative Agriculture producers have long suspected, that the United States could raise as much beef with grass finishing as we currently raise finishing on grain. The key is to convert lands that are currently tilled and planted in corn and soy back to perennial grasslands. The author writes that this would have a myriad of benefits, providing us with healthier foods, improving water quality, and benefitting wildlife. Getting cattle out of the feedlot and back onto the land, just makes sense. In much of the country the bison was the keystones species, but they shared the land, eating the grass and moving on, allowing other wildlife to flourish in their wake and fertilizing the soils that make agriculture so productive today.
Whether turning this cropland back to grassland will help cool the planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions depends on how much soil carbon we can expect these new grasslands to capture. In the most pessimistic projection, it’s a wash, giving us healthier food and a healthier environment but no drop in emissions. Other projections pulled from peer reviewed literature show that it would reduce emissions and even make these lands a net carbon sink, pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it to work building healthy soil.
For farmers and ranchers practicing regenerative agriculture it’s less of an open question. We know the higher rates of soil carbon capture are possible because we are doing it. Whether you have seen the benefits of this approach first hand or remain skeptical, the author concludes:
“We can meet our current demand for beef in the United States with cattle finished on perennial grasslands …. Doing so will improve our ecosystem health. It does not require displacing food production. It does not require more land to be converted to agriculture. And it will improve our quality of life overall. We must envision an agriculture that provides for our needs now while building the capacity of future generations to do the same.”
This transformation of beef production would revitalize the American farm and ranch. Instead of concentrating each step of the production process geographically (calves born in the South and West, feed grown in the corn belt, and both shipped to the Great Plains for finishing and processing), farmers and ranchers could cut out the economic bottlenecks and keep more profits in their hands and in rural communities.
This transformation will take policy makers, pioneering farmers and ranchers, and consumers. So instead of participating in a meatless Monday, or picking up a plant based burger, consider buying grass fed and finished beef from a producer in your area. When you make that purchase you won’t just be supporting a farmer, but a community, an ecosystem and the planet too.
Read the full study here.