The Armidale Express

A case for rotational grazing

Lorraine Gordon says rotationally grazing, hoofed animals is also commonly referred to as time controlled grazing, cell grazing or holistic management practices.

Brought to you by The Regenerative Agriculture Alliance.

Misinformation and oversimplification about the environmental impacts of grazing animals are rife.

If we are to champion resilient and productive farming methods and work towards unlocking the real economic opportunity of carbon farming, we need to understand the science.

The fact is, grazing animals makes a vital contribution to the sustainability and regeneration of our landscapes.

Hooved animals have a role to play in sequestration of carbon and removing CO2 (greenhouse gas emissions) from the atmosphere and capturing moisture in the soil.

These animals are an essential tool to regenerating grasslands and preventing our landscapes from turning into deserts.

As Allan Savory, Zimbabwean ecologist and founder of the Savory Institute stated, rotationally grazed, hoofed animals (through their herding affect and hoof impact) in healthy mixed species pastures are an essential management tool for the future.

This is also commonly referred to as time controlled grazing, cell grazing or holistic management practices.

In the simplest of terms, by grazing the top layers of pastures and grasslands, hoofed animals encourage the photosynthesis process to accelerate.

Plant growth speeds up, new plant shoots emerge, extending healthy root systems under the ground, creating humus which feeds soil fauna and microbes, thus continuously building our soil profiles.

Along with planting more trees, these regenerative pasture processors are the key to sequestering carbon and removing CO2 from the atmosphere, thus reducing greenhouse gases.

This plays a major role in preventing the planet from overheating and according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the extinction of over 50 per cent of all known terrestrial and marine species on the planet.

In addition, every percentage of carbon that is sequestrated results in improved water holding capacity.

Therefore, increasing our soil carbon is essential if we are to continue farming in dryer conditions with less water in the future.

Having attended and spoken at the recent Carbon Farmers Conference in Albury and the Australian Farming Institute's Valuing Natural Capital Roundtable in Canberra, it was apparent that there are still many challenges in the carbon farming space.

According to Terry McCosker of CarbonLink, who has worked in the carbon sequestration space with livestock producers for over 20 years, we still have a long way to go.

For instance, there is high variability and inaccuracies in the measurements due to the instruments being used, the environment and of course the operator.

The current technology has its disadvantages, it is not meeting expectations and we do not know the co-variants as yet.

The cost of baselining a farm is a significant investment, with at least nine samples required for every soil type change on a property at a cost of around $86 per sample, this is currently a stretch for most farmers dealing with drought.

One farm may require over 100 samples - not a cheap exercise for an unknown return that may not come for five years or so.

However, there is a real future for livestock producers in carbon farming and the fact is that measurements will become more accurate.

According to McCosker, the returns can only go in one direction - up. Economically, it is overall agreed that grass-fed livestock systems will receive real economic returns for looking after the environment through increasing carbon.

This is the light at the end of the tunnel for many livestock producers who are currently struggling with unprecedented drought conditions.

Carbon farming presents a real economic opportunity for livestock producers in the future and the best time to get started is now given current climatic conditions.

The baseline carbon measurements would be at an all-time low.

Ideally, the government would support farmers to obtain baselines measurements of their carbon through no interest loans (similar to HECS loans for tertiary education) until farmers start receiving credits and commence their carbon trading.

This would be a timely solution, creating real impact over a relatively short period of time for regenerative farming practice in Australia.

Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University's Director of Strategic Projects at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Program. She is also an Associate Director at SCU's Centre for Organics Research.