If Ranching Wants To Survive #Drought And Other #Climate Hassles, It’s Time To Show Soil Some Love — #Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate

Crop residue. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Carbon farmers

A conventional rancher turns cattle out onto pasture for several weeks or months. But that can lead to overgrazing and major damage to the land, especially during a drought. So the Gordons use portable electric fences to keep their cattle moving, mimicking how predators chase herd animals around.

“Whether it be elk or bison that used to be on an area for a short period of time, consuming that one bite or two of the vegetation, and they would move,” Matthew said. “And that’s when the magic happens of the recovery period.”

Since there’s still something left of that grass, it can use photosynthesis to regrow. Through that process, the plant captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and carries it down into the soil through a healthy root system.

“Carbon capture is kind of a buzzword these days, and they’re trying to develop technologies to do it when this is a technology that we’ve had for forever,” Matthew said.

It’s likely that Colorado’s drought will continue into 2021 and Gov. Jared Polis is urging farmers and ranchers to prepare for it. To adapt to climate change, some producers are learning techniques that can also help trap and store carbon.

Industrial farming like intensive tillage, animal feedlots and the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, have done a lot of damage to soil ecosystems worldwide. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the world could run out of topsoil in about 60 years at the current rate of degradation.

Nicole Civita, the sustainable food systems specialization lead at the University of Colorado Boulder, said before farmers and ranchers started to plow up the prairies, there was a “really complex, rich ecosystem.”

“We took what had developed over millennia and had been really well managed by indigenous communities, and destroyed it all very, very quickly to our own peril,” Civita said.

Regenerative agriculture is considered an important climate solution since it has the potential to draw down a lot of carbon. One technique that the U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks is the use of cover crops, which help promote healthy soil instead of leaving the ground bare between harvests.

Support and funding

From 2012 to 2017, there was a 2.8 percent increase in cover crop acreage in Colorado, USDA data shows. But only about 1 percent of the total crop acreage planted in Colorado was used for cover crops.

While more farmers and ranchers are adopting regenerative agriculture techniques, they make up a small number overall. Civita said that it’s not what most producers know.

“There’s a knowledge gap that we need to bridge because we have been farming in agrochemical-ly intensive ways for a long time,” she said…

Farmers and ranchers often need financial support to make the shift. Colorado has created a soil health program to help, but there’s no state funding for it yet. For now, the program is funded by a $5 million partnership with the USDA.

The Gordons got a microloan from a local nonprofit to help them start.

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