HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Environment & Energy » Environment & Energy (Group) » To Kick Climate Change, R...
Introducing Discussionist: A new forum by the creators of DU

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 07:38 PM

To Kick Climate Change, Replace Corn With Pastured Beef

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.

(snip)

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.

(snip)

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.

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/04/our-corn-driven-agriculture-vulnerable-climate-change (article)
https://motherjones.com/files/hellwinckel_phillips_carbonmanagement.pdf (study)


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
http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=9791

Rebel with a Cause: Local Food Can Feed the World
http://flavormagazinevirginia.com/rebelwithacause-localfoodcanfeedtheworld/

Here's an hour-long talk of his that's worth watching where he goes into more detail:

17 replies, 3023 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread

Response to drokhole (Original post)

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 07:58 PM

1. K&R

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 08:09 PM

2. That's the only meat we eat here, grass fed, small farms, etc....

The other stuff....it ain't normal.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 10:53 PM

3. kick.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 10:57 PM

4. Thanks! Great info!!! The prairies supported millions of buffalo in harmony with nature. Cows can

fill a similar niche.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to diane in sf (Reply #4)

Fri Apr 27, 2012, 11:52 PM

5. That's precisely the idea! And those buffalo supported the prairies...

...helping to make them so rich, fertile and healthy with the "deepest topsoil recorded" in the world. In his book, Salatin also points out that, "we now know that North America contained nearly three times as many pounds of herbivores (bison, elk, antelope, deer) five hundred years ago as it does today." Meaning, even the "mass" of cows we have now wouldn't be a problem if they were appropriately managed.

Harmony is a wonderful way of putting it, because the symbiotic relationship itself is nature's harmony (which is simply nature itself). It reminds me of the the concept of mutualism, which denotes the bee's relationship with the flower:

"Mutualism is the association between unlike organisms that is beneficial to both. Bees can't survive without the flowers and the flowers' existence depends on the bees."

Rather than a "bee" here and a "flower" there, it's a total inseparable "bee-flower" movement (almost like rather than space and time, it's the space-time continuum). It almost seems the same way with herbivores and forage - it might be better thought of (or, at least, understood) as the herbivore-forage continuum. As Salatin explains:

"In a very practical sense, grasslands are the lungs of the earth. They are the rapid cycler, the rapid breather, if you will. Without herbivores, grasslands are lethargic and anemic. Some argue that grass would not exist without herbivores because it is the periodic grazing that freshens up the plant. If not for periodic pruning, the grass plants implode and gradually wither away. <...> The symbiotic relationship between herbivores and forage is one of the most powerful ecological principles we know. New evidence even suggests that when the animal tugs at the plant to shear off the grass tillers, it excites the roots into renewed productive activity. Kind of like exercise builds new muscles."

(And thanks for your response!)

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Sat Apr 28, 2012, 12:03 AM

6. If you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma, this guy will be familiar ... nt

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to eppur_se_muova (Reply #6)

Sat Apr 28, 2012, 10:34 AM

7. Yep. He was also in the documentaries Food Inc. and Fresh. nt

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Sat Apr 28, 2012, 02:47 PM

8. A sustainable, closed loop agricultural system relies on livestock

Such was the thesis of an agricultural scientist studying how to get soil to produce "forever" without inputs.

I grow vegetables with rock dust fertilizers as an input to my system. I also use seed meal, which is considered a waste product of soybean oil production.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Kolesar (Reply #8)

Thu Sep 27, 2012, 11:00 PM

15. . hrh n/t

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Sat Apr 28, 2012, 04:12 PM

9. Another fantastic/must-read article on the subject...

Organic agriculture: deeply rooted in science and ecology
By Eliot Coleman



Organic farming is often falsely represented as being unscientific. However, despite the popular assumption that it sprang full born from the delusions of 60s hippies, it has a more extensive, and scientifically respectable, provenance. If you look back at the first flush of notoriety in the 1940s, the names most often mentioned, Sir Albert Howard and J. I. Rodale, rather than being the initiators, were actually just popularizers of a groundswell of ideas that had begun to develop some 50 years earlier in the 1890s.

(snip)

These new agriculturists were convinced that the thinking behind industrial agriculture was based upon the mistaken premise that nature is inadequate and needs to be replaced with human systems. They contended that by virtue of that mistake, industrial agriculture has to continually devise new crutches to solve the problems it creates (increasing the quantities of chemicals, stronger pesticides, fungicides, miticides, nematicides, soil sterilization, etc.) It wouldn’t be the first time in the history of science that a theory based on a false premise appeared to be momentarily valid. Temporary functioning is not proof of concept. For example, if we had a book of the long discredited geocentric astronomy of Ptolemy, which was based on the sun revolving around the earth, we could still locate Jupiter in the sky tonight thanks to the many crutches devised by the Ptolemaists to prop up their misconceived system. As organic agriculture has become more prominent, the orthodoxy of chemical agriculture has found itself up against its own Galileo. It will be interesting to see who recants.

The new thinking in agriculture was focused on three issues — how can long lasting soil fertility be achieved? How can pest problems in agriculture be prevented? How can the nutritional value of food crops be optimized? By the 1940s the answers to those questions had coalesced into a new biologically based concept of agriculture that can be simply stated as follows:

1. Soil fertility can be raised to the highest levels by techniques that increase the percentage of soil organic matter, by rotating crops and livestock, and by maintaining soil minerals through using natural inputs such as limestone and other finely ground rock powders.

2. The plant vigor resulting from doing #1 correctly renders plants resistant to pests and diseases.

3. The plant quality resulting from doing #1 correctly provides the most nutritious possible food for maintaining human beings and their animals in bounteous health.


All three begin with and depend upon how the soil is treated. But the fertility of that crucial soil factor is not a function of purchased industrial products. It evolves from intelligent human interaction with the living processes of the earth itself. These are processes that are intrinsic to any soil maintained with organic matter. They are what the earth does. I am puzzled by how the practical success today of the many farms managed on biological rather than on chemical lines can coexist with the striking lack of interest (antagonism actually) from scientific agriculture in exploring why these farms succeed. The foundation upon which our Maine farm operates — a sense that the systems of the natural world offer elegantly designed patterns worth following — appears to be an indecipherable foreign language to agricultural science.

(more at the link: http://grist.org/sustainable-farming/2011-04-20-eliot-coleman-essay-organic/)


It's a brilliant article (from about a year ago) that goes well in-depth, including reasons why high-profit industry aren't as interested in these methods:

That may explain why so few people are aware of the simple ways by which perceptive farmers have learned to successfully satisfy human needs for food and fiber within the framework of Nature’s biological realities. By being self-resourced, biological agriculture offers no foothold for industry, resulting in no advertising, no research and development, no buzz, no audience, no business. If everyone can grow bounteous yields of vigorous plants that are free of pests by using homemade compost and age-old biological techniques, there is no market for fungicides or pesticides or anhydrous ammonia. If a concept cannot be commodified, that is to say if it isn’t dependent upon the purchase of industrial products, industry is antagonistic and the idea gets short shrift in our commercially dominated economy.


But points out that:

...if they studied the needs of biological farmers they would discover a demand that I know exists for consultation and analytical services in lieu of products. Biological farmers could benefit enormously from improved soil biology tests, plant tissue analyses, livestock health and metabolic analyses, computerized crop rotation programs, and the like. The development of a range of services enabling the biological farmers to better keep their fingers on the pulse of these natural systems could be a whole new and positive direction for agricultural science.


And I absolutely love this:

As a biological farmer, I work in partnership with nature, and I’m a very junior partner. Given the limited amount of hard knowledge available, I often refer to my management style as “competent ignorance” and I find that a very apt description. But my level of trust in the elegant design of the natural world, and willingness to be guided by it, is discomforting to those who think we should exercise total power over nature.


There are plenty of other highlights, but I'll stop there. It's a lengthy article, but well worth the read. Finally, for those interested, here's a wonderful documentary currently available on Hulu:

Dirt! The Movie
http://www.hulu.com/watch/191666/dirt-the-movie

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Reply #9)

Thu Sep 27, 2012, 11:06 PM

16. + 1000 or more, great post and sources, ...

so many are unaware, there are alternatives to the corporate farms and the baggage they carry below the skirts of government subsidies.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Mon May 7, 2012, 10:53 PM

10. One more good read...

Last edited Tue May 8, 2012, 12:26 PM - Edit history (1)

How Cows (Grass-Fed Only) Could Save the Planet
source: Time

On a farm in coastal Maine, a barn is going up. Right now it's little more than a concrete slab and some wooden beams, but when it's finished, the barn will provide winter shelter for up to six cows and a few head of sheep. None of this would be remarkable if it weren't for the fact that the people building the barn are two of the most highly regarded organic-vegetable farmers in the country: Eliot Coleman wrote the bible of organic farming, The New Organic Grower, and Barbara Damrosch is the Washington Post's gardening columnist. At a time when a growing number of environmental activists are calling for an end to eating meat, this veggie-centric power couple is beginning to raise it. "Why?" asks Coleman, tromping through the mud on his way toward a greenhouse bursting with December turnips. "Because I care about the fate of the planet."

(snip)

So how can Coleman and Damrosch believe that adding livestock to their farm will help the planet? Cattleman Ridge Shinn has the answer. On a wintry Saturday at his farm in Hardwick, Mass., he is out in his pastures encouraging a herd of plump Devon cows to move to a grassy new paddock. Over the course of a year, his 100 cattle will rotate across 175 acres four or five times. "Conventional cattle raising is like mining," he says. "It's unsustainable, because you're just taking without putting anything back. But when you rotate cattle on grass, you change the equation. You put back more than you take."

(snip)

To Allan Savory, the economies-of-scale mentality ignores the role that grass-fed herbivores can play in fighting climate change. A former wildlife conservationist in Zimbabwe, Savory once blamed overgrazing for desertification. "I was prepared to shoot every bloody rancher in the country," he recalls. But through rotational grazing of large herds of ruminants, he found he could reverse land degradation, turning dead soil into thriving grassland.

Like him, Coleman now scoffs at the environmentalist vogue for vilifying meat eating. "The idea that giving up meat is the solution for the world's ills is ridiculous," he says at his Maine farm. "A vegetarian eating tofu made in a factory from soybeans grown in Brazil is responsible for a lot more CO2 than I am." A lifetime raising vegetables year-round has taught him to value the elegance of natural systems. Once he and Damrosch have brought in their livestock, they'll "be able to use the manure to feed the plants, and the plant waste to feed the animals," he says. "And even though we can't eat the grass, we'll be turning it into something we can."

(more at the link: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1953692-1,00.html)

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Thu Jun 7, 2012, 09:38 PM

11. Amazing video - Regenerative Landscapes: Ben Falk, Whole Systems Design



Another one along the same lines:

Farming With Nature - Permaculture with Sepp Holzer

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Fri Jun 8, 2012, 12:22 AM

12. please support your local farmer

vote with your dollars. grass-fed beef is good for you, the economy, and the environment!

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Thu Sep 27, 2012, 01:24 AM

13. Beautiful short film (GLYNWOOD: (re)building a regional food system), utilizes rotational grazing...

Would've made a separate thread, but it fits the theme:

GLYNWOOD: (re)building a regional food system

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Thu Sep 27, 2012, 08:14 AM

14. Or cut out the middle-man - eat buffalo

Ta-Tonka!

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to drokhole (Original post)

Thu Feb 28, 2013, 12:07 PM

17. Fighting the growing deserts, with livestock: Allan Savory at TED2013

Last edited Tue Mar 5, 2013, 08:43 PM - Edit history (1)

Savory just gave a talk at the TED2013 conference. Waiting for the video, but here's the article:




Fighting the growing deserts, with livestock: Allan Savory at TED2013

Allan Savory has dedicated his life to studying management of grasslands. And if that doesn’t sound exciting, just wait, because it touches on the deepest roots of climate change and the future of the planet.

“The most massive, tsunami, perfect storm is bearing down on us,” is the grim beginning to Savory’s talk. This storm is the result of rising population, of land that is turning to desert, and, of course, climate change. Savory is also unsure of the belief that new technology will solve all of the problems. He agrees that only tech will create alternatives to fossil fuels, but that’s not the only thing causing climate change."
-------
So what can they do? “There is only one option left to climatologists and scientists. That is to do the unthinkable: to use livestock, bunched and moving, as a proxy for the herds.” Those herds mulch it down, leaving both the trampled grass and their dung. The grass is then free to grow without having damaged with fire.
------
The results are stunning. For location after location he shows two comparison photos, one using his technique, one not. The difference is, “a profound change,” and he’s not kidding — in some cases the locations are unrecognizable (in one case the audience gasped). Not only is the land greener, crop yields are increasing. For example, in Patagonia, an expanding desert, they put 25,000 sheep into one flock. They found an extraordinary 50% improvement in production of land in the first year.

(more at link)


Edit to add:

Now, with video!

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread