Fri Apr 27, 2012, 07:55 PM
drokhole (1,037 posts)
(Xpost from E&E) To Kick Climate Change, Replace Corn With Pastured Beef
Environment and Energy thread: http://www.democraticunderground.com/112713328
To Kick Climate Change, Replace Corn With Pastured Beef
By Tom Philpott
Corn is by far the biggest US crop, and a network of corporations has sprouted up that profits handsomely from it. Companies like Monsanto and Syngenta sell the seeds and chemicals used to grow it, while Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Tyson, and their peers buy the finished crop and transform it into meat, ethanol, sweetener, and a range of food ingredients. Known in Washington as King Corn, the corn lobby wields formidable power in political circles.
But what about the rest of us? It seems insane to throw our lot with an agriculture regime that's so vulnerable to climate change. What else could we be doing with all of that that prime Midwestern farmland? A paper by researchers from the University of Tennessee and Bard College, published in the journal Climate Management, proposes an answer: Scrap the ethanol mandates and convert a large portion of land now devoted to corn to pasture land for intensively managed beef cows.
The authors create a model in which the US government cancels ethanol mandates, which would basically destroy the corn ethanol market and cause the price of corn to drop. If farmers responded to low corn prices by letting their cropland revert to native prairie and put beef cows on it to graze, they argue, their land would store significant amounts of carbon in soil—more than offsetting cow-related greenhouse gas emissions like methane—thus helping stabilize the climate. Their bottom line:
Results indicate that up to 10 million ha about of could be converted to pastureland, reducing agricultural land use emissions by nearly 10 teragrams carbon equivalent per year, a 36% decline in carbon emissions from agricultural land use.
Now, to get those climate benefits, the authors stress, would have to use an emerging technique known as management-intensive grazing, in which cattle are moved regularly from patch of land to patch of land, grazing intensively at each stop while leaving the rest of the pasture to recover at length. This style of grazing, they report—made famous by Virginia farmer Joel Salatin—is much more adept at sequestering carbon in soil than most forms currently used.
I just finished reading the book Folks, This Ain't Normal by author/farmer Joel Salatin (whom this model is based on), and was pleasantly surprised by this article.
In an ingenious example of biomimicry (following "nature's template"), Salatin replicates the herbivore-plant symbiotic relationship in nature by moving cows from paddock to paddock and allowing them to "mow" the grass and to leave their nutrient-rich excrement to fertilize the land. Three days later, he brings in an "egg-mobile" filled with chickens to dig through the manure (they go for the fly larvae), which spreads it out and works the natural fertilizer into the ground. This is how healthy soil is built, and it, in affect, "heals the land." And having healthy soil is one of the most efficient ways we can sequester carbon. Especially if we were to replace some of the swaths of petro-chemical heavy, mono-culture cropland (like corn, soy, and grain) with this technique, as suggested by both Salatin and this new study. Here's a short clip of his methods in action:
The point would also be to take cows out of factory farms - where their manure turns toxic due to being fed entirely unnatural feed and shot up with antibiotics and growth hormones turning them into a liability - and move them into these pastures, turning them into one of our (and the planet's) greatest assets. What I'm saying is that it's not the cow's fault, it's completely on us and our poor management of them:
"In fact, the cow, or domestic herbivore if you will, is the most efficacious soil-building, hydrology-cycling, carbon-sequestering tool at the planet's disposal. Yes, the cow has done a trememndous amount of damage. But don't blame the cow. The managers of the cow have been and continue to be the problem. The same animal mismanaged to abuse the ecology is the greatest hope and salvation to heal the ecology."
(Salatin, Folks, This Ain't Normal)
As he describes it, herbivores naturally "restart nature's biomass." In that:
"The herbivore is nature's grassland pruner to stimulate far more production and health then could be achieved if the plant were left alone... The main point is to understand the dramatic soil-building capabilities of the grass-herbivore relationship, and the symbiosis between the two."
It's a high tech-meets-low tech solution - high tech because of the incredibly light weight/maneuverable electric fencing to guide and "manage" where the graze (and use of four wheelers, in some cases - like to move the "egg-mobile"), and "low tech" because you're following nature's course and allowing the cow to do the majority of the "work."
Other articles worth reading:
Farmer Joel Salatin Puts 'Nature's Template' To Work
Rebel with a Cause: Local Food Can Feed the World
Here's an hour-long talk of his that's worth watching where he goes into more detail:
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