Maximizing Soil Carbon Sequestration: Carbon Farming and Rotational Grazing

While the potential for trees to store carbon is well-known, fewer people are aware of soil carbon sequestration. It is possible that rotational grazing practices can not only support the carbon holding capacity of soils, but also combine raising livestock with the emerging field of carbon farming.

  • Meat A Benign Extravagance Cover
    In his groundbreaking book "Meat: A Benign Extravagance," author Simon Fairlie explores whether the hypothesis that vegetarianism is better for human health and the environment holds true. Based on numbers from the UK, Fairlie's well-founded scientific research explores the difficult environmental impact of eating meat along with the ethical and social issues surrounding the future of farming livestock across the globe.
  • Rotational Grazing
    Using fences and rotational grazing practices, the carbon sequestration of the soils under the cattle herd's hooves can improve.

  • Meat A Benign Extravagance Cover
  • Rotational Grazing

With research based in deep permacultural theory and a repect for natural systems that flourised long before corporate agriculture and animal factory farms, Meat: A Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlie (Chelsea Green, 2012) delves into the ethical and environmental impact of eating meat and livestock farming. The following excerpt describes his findings on soil carbon sequestration and how carbon farming and the use of rotational grazing practices when raising livestock could go hand-in-hand. The text is adapted with permission from the chapter entitled "Holistic Cowboys and Carbon Farmers." 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Meat: A Benign Extravagance.

In his book, The Carbon Fields, under the heading "No More Climate Change", Graham Harvey writes:

Our food supply hides a big, fat life-denying secret. It’s something no one in the food and farming business ever wants to talk about. Yet it has the potential to transform the lives of everyone on this planet as well as the lives of future generations. It’s the power of soils to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and to end for all time the threat of global warming.

Soil Carbon Sequestration

Though you’ll seldom hear it mentioned, the world’s soils are the largest terrestrial reservoir of carbon. A sizable part of the damaging extra load of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today comes from soil carbon released when we switched from traditional farming to intensive grain growing. The good news is that it is a process we could easily reverse. By moving to sustainable ways of growing our food — particularly through the use of grazing animals — we could quickly put the excess carbon back in the soil.

Amongst scientists, there is widespread, probably universal, agreement that agricultural soils can sequester carbon in much the same way that tree cover can, and that the potential for them to do so in some circumstances is not negligible. Beyond that there is uncertainty and dispute. For every scientific paper showing that a land use change such as converting pasture to woodland, using minimum tillage on cropland, or excluding livestock from pasture increases the amount of carbon sequestered in the soil, there is another showing that, in other circumstances, the effect is the opposite. Moreover an increase in soil carbon on one site, for example by converting it from arable to pasture, may result in a decrease on another where pasture is converted to arable. An increase in soil carbon may also result in the release of other greenhouse gases: pasture sequestrates carbon, but grazing animals release methane. Similarly, adding nitrogen, by planting legumes for example, increases vegetation and hence the amount of carbon which the soil can potentially assimilate; but it also releases nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.

David Capocci
8/29/2012 4:08:50 PM

This is exactly the approaches we demonstrate here at Paca Pride Guest Ranch in the Cascade Mountains. Our fencing and cross fencing act like the predators keeping the herd together to mob graze an area. Then the chicken tractor follows them. The area is then given a rest period. For us, creating a permaculture on a parcel of land that was intended to be used as a quarry gravel pit, with zero tilth, the challenge of sequestering carbon has become very important, not necessarily to benefit the environment, but to increase the available organic matter on what is essentially rock and create a living loam. By doing so, we've created an alpine meadow stage that is managed to stay at that stage and not move on to a primary, then secondary forest. Our pastures do not use any chemical fertilizers and we never till the soil (we'd just be turning rock!)



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters