Pastures play major role in carbon capture

Jose Graziano Da Silva, United Nations’ director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, is a big believer in the importance of soil.

“We need healthy soils to achieve our food security and nutrition goals, to fight climate change and to ensure overall sustainable development,” he said.

“You can count on FAO’s commitment and active participation in this effort.”

As a testament to this statement, the 68th UN General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, a symbolic designation intended to highlight the importance of soil stewardship and the cornerstone role it plays in all discussions related to food, food security and the sustainable production of food.

Although many of the images displayed on the UN website relate to annual cropping of valued soils, a recent article that Blain Hjertaas wrote in Saskatchewan Cattleman’s Connection highlighted the crucial role that grazing livestock play in maintaining and improving soil biology.

Much of the article is dedicated to carbon capture within grazing systems.

The carbon capture is a result of plant photosynthesis and grazing management of those plants to encourage residual plant material to be incorporated into the soil profile, thus building soil’s organic matter content.

The key building block of the organic matter is carbon.

Hjertaas claims that each acre in a recent project negated the carbon footprint of .6 Canadians. This project and others that will follow are good news stories for Canadian agriculture.

Too often, the commentary surrounding greenhouse gas reduction criticizes cattle production as a large contributor to the problem, but a recently published book, Defending Beef, challenges the original source of that criticism.

Interestingly enough, that source, according to the book’s author, Nicolette Hahn Niman, is the FAO, which erroneously included emissions estimates from deforestation in South American rain forests for soybean production.

Niman explains the irrelevance of the estimation and suggests that cattle production in the United States uses little imported soybeans as cattle feed.

As a result, deforestation-related emission estimates do not apply to North American cattle production.

Niman uses her own California ranch and related cattle production methods as an example of the misleading FAO information, but many of the arguments also apply to Canadian producers, especially given that the vast majority of cattle diets in this country comprise locally grown forages, which can be managed to capture carbon.

It appears that Canadian cattle production may be an extremely important factor in supporting soil health and corresponding greenhouse gas reduction.

This subject clearly warrants more investigation.

It is imperative that we challenge local and global assumptions to better understand where the local opportunities exist to demonstrate our capacity to be better than the global average and lead by example.

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