Closer look by NAU finds mixed results for intensive grazing

One of Savory’s points was that the intensive grazing helps the soil store carbon, which would help reverse climate change. But when Johnson and NAU research specialist Aradhana Roberts looked through the scientific literature, they couldn’t find consistent support for Savory’s assertion.
This is what happens when you turn things over to academia–perfectly logical conclusions rapidly (at the speed of light) turn into nonsense and taxpayer money disappears just as quickly from financing unnecessary “research.”
Have fun finding where these clowns missed the boat and add your comments below. — jtl, 419


Among environmentalists, ranchers and land managers, the name Allan Savory can elicit a range of responses. An ecologist who did much of his work in Africa, Savory advocates an intriguing idea: that a regimen of high intensity, short duration grazing, combined with holistic land management, can help fight desertification and even reverse climate change.
The technique of “mob grazing” imitates natural cycles of dense herds of grazing animals constantly moving across the landscape, Savory says.
Savory’s method has drawn criticism from many who say its benefits haven’t been replicated elsewhere and that the concept is riddled with caveats and unsupported by scientific information. At the same time, Savory’s ideas have spawned an entire institute in Boulder, Colorado, dedicated to perpetuating his land management teachings.
Now, researchers at Northern Arizona University are wading into the debate with their own test of Savory’s grazing methods on ranchland southeast of Flagstaff.
Nancy Johnson, a soil ecologist at NAU, decided to pursue the idea after seeing Savory’s 2013 TED talk.
It “made me crazy,” Johnson said.
Savory was so absolute, saying in no uncertain terms that there is only one solution and that is to graze according to his method, she said.
One of Savory’s points was that the intensive grazing helps the soil store carbon, which would help reverse climate change. But when Johnson and NAU research specialist Aradhana Roberts looked through the scientific literature, they couldn’t find consistent support for Savory’s assertion. So the two decided to do the experiments themselves.
Luckily, the team already had an ideal location. Another NAU professor, Tom Sisk, had nine plots at the Flying M Ranch where, since 1997, he has been comparing how native and invasive species respond to three grazing treatments: intensive grazing, with 200 cattle grazed on a one-hectare area for 24 hours once a year, no grazing, and the normal grazing regime practiced by ranch owner Kit Metzger. It was exactly the setup Johnson and Roberts needed for their study as well.
The main goal, Roberts said, was to study the effect of grazing management on soil carbon and how that tied into carbon sequestration and the potential to affect climate change.
According to Savory, masses of cattle allowed to graze only briefly on a segment of land act to trample the grass over the soil and cover it with dung and urine, which prepares it perfectly to absorb and hold rain, store carbon and break down methane. He contends that using this method on half the world’s grasslands could remove enough carbon from the atmosphere to return the planet to pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels.
At her experimental plots on the Flying M Ranch, Roberts spent a year measuring the soil carbon, which includes roots, fungus, bacteria, microscopic organisms and mycorrhiza, at each of the nine plots. What she found was that the intensively grazed plots did indeed have a higher amount of carbon per gram of soil. Over a year of measurements, the carbon content was 11 percent higher than plots that weren’t grazed at all.
Johnson explained that one hypothesis is that when cows munch the plant shoots above ground, it causes a dieback of roots, which delivers organic carbon deeper into the soil that may then decompose more slowly. Another hypothesis is that the cattle’s hooves push the plant pieces deeper into the soil.
“The key factor for increasing carbon storage below ground is to make the inputs of dead plants greater than the decomposer organisms can break down the compounds and respire out CO2,” Johnson wrote in a follow up email.
At the same time, Savory’s grazing method proved to have some drawbacks. The experiments found an increase in invasive species and noxious weeds on the heavily grazed land. Soil compaction also rose, which changes the ability for the water to filter into the ground and created drier soils, Roberts said.
The land grazed according to rancher Kit Metzger’s established systems landed somewhere in the middle of the two extremes in terms of vegetation characteristics and carbon content, she said.
The amount of carbon stored in soil also is important on a broader scale for cap-and-trade systems implemented in places like California, where emitters of greenhouse gases buy and sell credits allowing them to release more carbon into the atmosphere.
Additional information on how different grazing practices affect carbon storage can be used to improve and simplify carbon credit systems that allow ranchers to earn revenue by proving their responsible land management helps lock up more carbon in soils, said Megan McKenna, master’s student for environmental science and policy who is also working on the project.
“If there are protocols that are usable for a landowner but also rigorous enough for a market, I think there is a lot of potential to produce revenue,” she said.

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5 Responses to Closer look by NAU finds mixed results for intensive grazing

  1. Hondo Davis says:

    Im under the impression the carbon sequestration referenced by Savory was a result more abundant grass absorbing carbon from the air, not due to root die-back or plants trampled into the soil. Also, if you experience root die back, your grazing a growing plant too short- your grazing cycle has must be adjusted according to plant growth.


  2. Hondo Davis says:

    Oh, and in my opinion, the carbon sequestration issue with regard to planned grazing isn’t on my radar. This is my main gripe with Dave Pratt and his Ranching For Profit school. It’s mostly about production/profit per acre for me. Followed by appearance of the landscape.


    • Both Alan and Dave need to stick to business and range ecology and leave the politics to those that have a better understanding of economics (as in the Austrian School). I copy and pasted the following from the Preface of “Planned Grazing.”

      First, a few comments on the terminology: Those even vaguely familiar with the “holistic” approach to planned grazing will immediately recognize that I have avoided the use of certain “buzz” words that, frankly, offend me and for good reason.

      Take, for example, the words holistic and sustainability. By dictionary definition, both words have meanings to which hardly anyone could object. Who in their right mind could be opposed to sustainable agriculture? Especially when dealing with human and natural systems, very few would deny the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts or that the organization’s land, its people and their money should be viewed as one.

      Never-the-less, these words have been co-opted by malevolent and misguided elements in society and incorporated into a code that furthers their agenda. This terminology has become the language of radical environmentalism as advocated by the United Nations and its Agenda 21.

      This massive wealth re-distribution scheme is one of the most destructive forces of life, liberty and property ever faced by mankind. Their claims that overpopulation, declining energy resources, deforestation, species loss, water shortages, certain aspects of global warming, and an assortment of other global environmental issues are unsupported by analysis of the relevant data.

      Where” Holistic” Management Crosses Paths with Agenda 21: The anti-private property and anti-free market “sustainable development” movement utilizes triple-bottom-line accounting (TBL). TBL was created by the United Nations to advance the four main initiatives birthed at the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio: Climate Change, Agenda 21.

      TBL (also known as people, planet, profit or ‘the three pillars’) captures an expanded spectrum of values and criteria for measuring organizational (and societal) success: economic, ecological and social. With the ratification of the United Nations and ICLEEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) TBL became the standard for urban and community accounting in early 2007. It has now become the dominant approach to public-sector full-cost accounting.

      In the private sector, a commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) implies a commitment to some form of TBL reporting.

      With Holistic Management, decisions are made and tested for soundness and to make sure they will take you toward your holistic goal. There are seven of these tests, including “sustainability, society and culture” – i.e. echoes of Agenda 21.

      Of course, people who make their living in the free market know that economics already accounts for “society” and “environment.” Every day in every purchase decision made by each of the approximately 330 million people in the United States, a value is given to society and environment through price.

      Imposing a value for society and environment ensures they are double counted. No matter how well-intended industry’s acknowledgement of the triple bottom line, there is no escaping the fact that it sets producers up for a tax at some point in the future. Whatever extraneous values are agreed to will eventually become a financial penalty on production.

      We do not advocate the use of triple bottom line accounting.

      Neither do we agree with other aspects of the financial planning methodology for example, the contention that all planning forms should be prepared by hand. Instead, we advocate taking advantages of modern technology where it is appropriate.

      Although these deviations are noted in the text, we present the method in its entirety for the sake of purity and to provide the reader with the option of doing his/her planning precisely as described.

      Other (but related) differences in philosophy: Practitioners of “holistic” management tend to embrace non-profit organizations and government interventionism. We do not. We strongly advocate private property and free markets as the optimum allocator of all resources—natural, financial and managerial.

      Experience tells us that no government bureaucrat can (or will) care for a resource better than the man who owns a capital interest in that resource. There is nothing that any government can do that a private property-natural law based, free market, for profit, society cannot do better.

      There is no better, more efficient or effective allocator of scarce resources than the free market working through its pricing mechanism. The environmental issues we are facing today would disappear as if by magic in the absence of government interventionism.


  3. tom Sidwell says:

    Academia!! What a waste of money(present company excepted). Intensive management on several thousand acres of land is different than simulated intensive grazing on nine plots. After 10 years of holistic management our soil has 4 tons more carbon than the soil across the fence that is under continuous grazing. This is based on a couple of hundred soil samples analyzed by ARS in Reno. We don’t have soil compaction and it is also higher in nitrogen. And bare ground has decreased 38% while stocking rate increased from 58 acres/AU to 32 acres/AU. We are measuring static water levels in the wells and I expect to see them rise over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. says:

    I don’t know about all the scientific findings, only that when I was ranching and using the Savory method, everything improved dramatically.


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