Improving Life through Science and Technology 
Grazing Down the Carbon: The Scientific 
Case for Grassland Restoration 
Bi...
Overview 
 Need to improve ecosystem function 
 Big problems and big opportunities 
 Testing a ranch scale hypothesis 
...
Restore Ecosystem Function 
• Soil formation 
• Soil retention 
• Biodiversity 
• Primary production 
• Water cycling 
• N...
How sustainable is current agriculture? 
Modern agriculture has greatly increased human 
well-being and wealth 
But produc...
The role of forages and grazers 
In contrast, ecologically sensitive, 
regenerative management of ruminants in 
crop and g...
My Goal 
Find out : 
 Why there is a discrepancy between some 
research and rancher achievements 
 What is the best that...
Infiltration with Vegetation Composition 
Thurow 1991
90% of Soil 
function is 
mediated by 
microbes 
Microbes 
depend on 
plants 
So how we 
manage plants 
is critical
Indicator: Soil Temperature 
 At 70 oF, 100% of Soil moisture is used for 
growth. 
 At 100 oF, 85% of Soil moisture is ...
Essential Ecosystem Processes 
1. Energy flow - Maximize the flow of solar energy 
through plants and soil. 
2. Water cycl...
Improving Rangeland Soil Health 
Improve soil microbe function by: 
• Improving plant cover 
• Perennial plants rather tha...
Edwards Plateau Ranch 3-D View w/ GPS Locations 
1. 39% area used 
2. 41% GPS points on 9% area 
3. SR: 21 ac/cow 
4. Effe...
Grazing Pattern 
November to March < 10 
Days present 
10-50 
50-150 
> 150 
Water point 
Senft et al. 1985 
320 acres 
10...
Previous research on multi-paddock grazing 
Teague et al. 2011; 2013
Many Grass farmers use MP grazing successfully 
Most conservation award winners use MP grazing
Planned multi-paddock grazing 
Animals: 
 Graze more of the whole landscape 
 Select a wider variety of plant species 
M...
Landscape impact of continuous grazing 
Planned multi-paddock grazing 
Ranch road 
Existing fence 
Electric fence 
Water p...
Restoration using multi-paddock grazing 
Noble Foundation, Coffey Ranch 
Degraded tallgrass prairie 
18 paddocks + water p...
Restoration using multi-paddock grazing 
Noble Foundation, Coffey Ranch 
Charles Griffith, Hugh Aljoe, Russell Stevens
Summary of Managing for Desired Outcomes 
 Match animal numbers to available forage 
 Spread grazing over whole ranch 
...
Managing proactively for best results 
% Leaf Volume 
Removed 
10% 
20% 
30% 
40% 
50% 
60% 
70% 
80% 
90% 
% Root Growth ...
Managing high animal performance 
80 
70 
60 
50 
40 
30 
20 
10 
0 
0 5 10 15 20 25 
days of grazing in cycle 
kg gain/he...
Managing high animal performance 
80 
70 
60 
50 
40 
30 
20 
10 
0 
0 50 100 150 
days of rest in cycle 
kg gain/head for...
High-density grazing 
Low-density, light continuous grazing
What we need to know: 
Understanding causal mechanisms is critical to knowing 
how to manage to regenerate from a degraded...
Equilibrium of 
soil formation 
and soil erosion 
Degradation 
Spiral 
Decreased cover, 
productivity and SOC 
Deteriorate...
Semi-arid Karroo region in South Africa 
Managed with Holistic Planned Grazing 
No stock for decades 
Average rainfall = 1...
(McNaughton, 1988; Fynn, 2008)
An Alternate Ranch Scale Hypothesis 
We tested the hypothesis that at the 
commercial ranch scale: 
Planned multi-paddock ...
Influence of multi-paddock grazing on 
soil and vegetation 
Jack county 
Parker county 
Cooke county
Influence of multi-paddock grazing on 
soil and vegetation 
In each county on 3 neighbouring ranches : 
Continuous graze ...
Bare Ground 
40 
35 
30 
25 
20 
15 
10 
5 
0 
P = 0.0006 
Heavy Continuous Heavy Rotation Light Continuous 
Bare ground (...
Soil Microbes 
Parameter 
Grazing Management 
Heavy 
continuous 
Light 
continuous 
Multi-paddock 
Grazing 
exclosure 
Tot...
Importance of Fungi 
Fungi provide: 
 Access and transport nutrients 
 Extend root volume and depth 
 Exude glomalin to...
Penetration Resistance (compaction) 
300 
250 
200 
150 
100 
50 
0 
P = 0.0005 
Heavy Continuous Heavy Rotation Light Con...
Total Carbon Stock in Top 90 cm (t/ha) 
Heavy continuous 
Light continuous 
Multi-paddock 
Russ Conser SHELL pers comm 
16...
Soil Carbon, Nutrients and Water 
Parameter Heavy 
Continuous 
Light 
Continuous 
Multi-paddock 
Soil Organic Matter 3.1b ...
Tall Grasses 
3000 
2500 
2000 
1500 
1000 
500 
0 
Heavy 
Continuous 
P = 0.003 
Heavy Rotation Light Continuous 
Biomass...
Mid Grasses 
2500 
2000 
1500 
1000 
500 
0 
P = 0.188 a 
Heavy 
Continuous 
Heavy Rotation Light Continuous 
Biomass (kg ...
Annual Forbs 
600 
500 
400 
300 
200 
100 
0 
P = 0.014 
Heavy Continuous Heavy Rotation Light Continuous 
Biomass (kg ha...
Profit Scenarios for HC or LC farms (20-year 
scenario) under a CO2 price of $6 per ton 
Initial Farm 
management 
Practic...
Simulation modelling results 
 Both ecological condition and profitability increase 
with increasing number of paddocks 
...
Summary 
Successful multi-paddocks managers use: 
 Flexible stocking to match forage availability 
 Spread grazing over ...
Conclusions 
Appropriate regenerative grazing management: 
 Sequesters more soil carbon 
 Improves watershed function 
...
Improving Pasture Soil Health 
Improve soil microbe function by: 
• Perennial plants rather than annuals 
• Manage for mos...
Soil health differences due to management 
High density grazing 
Christine Jones, 2014 Multi species pasture
Importance for Ecosystem Function? 
Using regenerative cropping and grazing 
management can: 
 Build SOC levels and soil ...
Importance for climate change mitigation 
Northern Great Plains carbon sinks and emissions of: 
 Light continuous grazing...
Soil Health for climate change mitigation?
Soil Health for Climate Change Mitigation? 
EPA 2013; Lal 2003 
Current Reduce 
Ruminants
Soil Health for Climate Change Mitigation? 
25% 
Regenerative 
cropping and 
grazing 
-3.0 t C ha-1 yr-1 for 263 mil ha 
C...
Soil Health for Climate Change Mitigation? 
25% 
Regenerative 
cropping and 
grazing 
50% 
Regenerative 
cropping and 
gra...
Importance for Climate Change Mitigation? 
Using regenerative cropping and grazing 
management to: 
 Build SOC levels and...
Future Management Research……………….(1) 
Research needs to investigate: 
 How good is Holistic Planned Grazing as a 
restora...
Future Management Research……………………..(2) 
 Include ranch-based research at scale of management 
 Use retrospective, remot...
END
Richard Teague - Grazing Down the Carbon: The Scientific Case for Grassland Restoration
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Richard Teague - Grazing Down the Carbon: The Scientific Case for Grassland Restoration
From Biodiversity for a Livable Climate conference: "Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming"
Saturday November 22nd, 2014

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Richard Teague - Grazing Down the Carbon: The Scientific Case for Grassland Restoration

  1. 1. Improving Life through Science and Technology Grazing Down the Carbon: The Scientific Case for Grassland Restoration Biodiversity for a Livable Climate 15th November 2014 Boston Richard Teague, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Vernon
  2. 2. Overview  Need to improve ecosystem function  Big problems and big opportunities  Testing a ranch scale hypothesis  Published research results  Conclusions  Importance for climate change mitigation  Regenerative management to mitigate agriculture’s Carbon footprint
  3. 3. Restore Ecosystem Function • Soil formation • Soil retention • Biodiversity • Primary production • Water cycling • Nutrient cycling • Habitat provision • Fresh water • Food, fiber • Water purification • Climate regulation • Temperature moderation • Biological control • Soil maintenance • Erosion control • Flood mitigation • Seed dispersal • Pollination
  4. 4. How sustainable is current agriculture? Modern agriculture has greatly increased human well-being and wealth But production of food has come at considerable environmental and social cost Negative effects include:  disruption of hydrological and biogeochemical processes,  soil erosion and impoverishment,  excessive water use and aquifer depletion,  contamination of soil and water by fertilizer and biocides,  air pollution from aerosols,  loss of pollinators  loss of habitat and biodiversity, and  increased GHG emissions
  5. 5. The role of forages and grazers In contrast, ecologically sensitive, regenerative management of ruminants in crop and grazing agriculture contributes positively to critical ecosystem benefits Conservation management measures and inclusion of perennial forages in cropping systems have been demonstrated to reduce negative impacts
  6. 6. My Goal Find out :  Why there is a discrepancy between some research and rancher achievements  What is the best that management can achieve to sustain:  livelihoods  delivery of ecosystem goods and services
  7. 7. Infiltration with Vegetation Composition Thurow 1991
  8. 8. 90% of Soil function is mediated by microbes Microbes depend on plants So how we manage plants is critical
  9. 9. Indicator: Soil Temperature  At 70 oF, 100% of Soil moisture is used for growth.  At 100 oF, 85% of Soil moisture is lost and 15% is used for growth.  At 115 oF, microbes begin to breakdown, and  At 140 oF they die.
  10. 10. Essential Ecosystem Processes 1. Energy flow - Maximize the flow of solar energy through plants and soil. 2. Water cycle - Maximize capture and cycling of water through plants and soil. Reduce export and import. 3. Mineral cycle - Maximize cycling of nutrients through plants and soil. 4. Community dynamics - High ecosystem biodiversity with more complex mixtures and combinations of desirable plant species leads to increased resilience and productivity.
  11. 11. Improving Rangeland Soil Health Improve soil microbe function by: • Improving plant cover • Perennial plants rather than annuals • Manage for most productive plants • Leave adequate plant residue • Minimizing bare ground - plant and litter cover • Grow plants for as many months each year as possible
  12. 12. Edwards Plateau Ranch 3-D View w/ GPS Locations 1. 39% area used 2. 41% GPS points on 9% area 3. SR: 21 ac/cow 4. Effective SR: 9 ac/cow
  13. 13. Grazing Pattern November to March < 10 Days present 10-50 50-150 > 150 Water point Senft et al. 1985 320 acres 10-12 stockers
  14. 14. Previous research on multi-paddock grazing Teague et al. 2011; 2013
  15. 15. Many Grass farmers use MP grazing successfully Most conservation award winners use MP grazing
  16. 16. Planned multi-paddock grazing Animals:  Graze more of the whole landscape  Select a wider variety of plant species Manager can control:  How much is grazed  The period of grazing, and  The length and time of recovery
  17. 17. Landscape impact of continuous grazing Planned multi-paddock grazing Ranch road Existing fence Electric fence Water point
  18. 18. Restoration using multi-paddock grazing Noble Foundation, Coffey Ranch Degraded tallgrass prairie 18 paddocks + water point Managed to improve plant species
  19. 19. Restoration using multi-paddock grazing Noble Foundation, Coffey Ranch Charles Griffith, Hugh Aljoe, Russell Stevens
  20. 20. Summary of Managing for Desired Outcomes  Match animal numbers to available forage  Spread grazing over whole ranch  Defoliate moderately in growing season  Short grazing periods  Adequate recovery before regrazing  Graze again before forage too mature  Adaptively change these elements according to changing conditions Teague et al. 2013
  21. 21. Managing proactively for best results % Leaf Volume Removed 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% % Root Growth Stoppage 0% 0% 0% 0% 2-4% 50% 78% 100% 100% Range Condition Excellent Good Poor
  22. 22. Managing high animal performance 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 0 5 10 15 20 25 days of grazing in cycle kg gain/head for season Low SR High SR Barnes and Denny cited by Norton 2003 Days of grazing before recovery
  23. 23. Managing high animal performance 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 0 50 100 150 days of rest in cycle kg gain/head for season Barnes and Denny cited by Norton 2003 Days of recovery in cycle
  24. 24. High-density grazing Low-density, light continuous grazing
  25. 25. What we need to know: Understanding causal mechanisms is critical to knowing how to manage to regenerate from a degraded situation.  What are the mechanisms causing degradation?  What management reverses degradation?  How good is Planned Holistic Management as a restoration and management tool?  Where does it work and not work?  How does it need to be managed to make it work as well as it can?
  26. 26. Equilibrium of soil formation and soil erosion Degradation Spiral Decreased cover, productivity and SOC Deteriorated soil structure Decreased infiltration and water holding capacity Decreased cover and SOC We know what causes this at the small scale Increased cover and SOC Enhanced infiltration and water holding capacity Enhanced soil structure Increased cover, productivity and SOC Regeneration Spiral How to manage for this at the ranch scale? Thurow 1991; Teague et al., 2011
  27. 27. Semi-arid Karroo region in South Africa Managed with Holistic Planned Grazing No stock for decades Average rainfall = 14” H2O, CO H 2 2O, CO2
  28. 28. (McNaughton, 1988; Fynn, 2008)
  29. 29. An Alternate Ranch Scale Hypothesis We tested the hypothesis that at the commercial ranch scale: Planned multi-paddock grazing, when adaptively managed to give best vegetation and animal performance, has the potential to produce superior long-term: 1. Conservation and restoration of resources; 2. Ecosystem goods and services; and 3. Ranch profitability
  30. 30. Influence of multi-paddock grazing on soil and vegetation Jack county Parker county Cooke county
  31. 31. Influence of multi-paddock grazing on soil and vegetation In each county on 3 neighbouring ranches : Continuous graze @ ± 20 ac/AU (Best in class continuous) Continuous graze @ ± 10 ac/AU (Most common management) Planned multi-paddock @ ± 10 ac/AU (Best in class) Grazing treatment at least 10 years
  32. 32. Bare Ground 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 P = 0.0006 Heavy Continuous Heavy Rotation Light Continuous Bare ground (%) a b b Heavy Multi-camp Teague et al. 2011
  33. 33. Soil Microbes Parameter Grazing Management Heavy continuous Light continuous Multi-paddock Grazing exclosure Total bacteria (g m-2) 82a 74a 78a 98a Total fungi (g m-2) 97b 98b 174a 105ab Fungi to Bacteria ratio 1.2b 1.1b 3.1a 0.7b
  34. 34. Importance of Fungi Fungi provide:  Access and transport nutrients  Extend root volume and depth  Exude glomalin to enhance soil C  Increase water and nutrient retention  Increase drought resistance  Plant growth highest with highest fungal – bacterial ratio Killham 1994; Leake et al. 2004; Averill et al. 2014
  35. 35. Penetration Resistance (compaction) 300 250 200 150 100 50 0 P = 0.0005 Heavy Continuous Heavy Rotation Light Continuous Energy (Joules) a c b Heavy Multi-camp
  36. 36. Total Carbon Stock in Top 90 cm (t/ha) Heavy continuous Light continuous Multi-paddock Russ Conser SHELL pers comm 160 140 120 100 80 60
  37. 37. Soil Carbon, Nutrients and Water Parameter Heavy Continuous Light Continuous Multi-paddock Soil Organic Matter 3.1b 4.4b 4.86a Cation Exchange Capacity 24.6b 23.7b 27.4a Water holding (Gal/acre) 55,700 79,059 87,324
  38. 38. Tall Grasses 3000 2500 2000 1500 1000 500 0 Heavy Continuous P = 0.003 Heavy Rotation Light Continuous Biomass (kg ha-1) b a b Heavy Multi-camp
  39. 39. Mid Grasses 2500 2000 1500 1000 500 0 P = 0.188 a Heavy Continuous Heavy Rotation Light Continuous Biomass (kg ha-1) b ab Heavy Multi-camp
  40. 40. Annual Forbs 600 500 400 300 200 100 0 P = 0.014 Heavy Continuous Heavy Rotation Light Continuous Biomass (kg ha-1) a b b Heavy Multi-camp
  41. 41. Profit Scenarios for HC or LC farms (20-year scenario) under a CO2 price of $6 per ton Initial Farm management Practice Change Economic Profit ($ ha-1) Carbon Profit ($ ha-1) Total Profit ($ ha-1) Best Choice Initially Practicing HC HC unchanged -2.39 0 -2.39 HC → MP 16.29 32.97 49.26  HC → LC -0.31 28.77 28.46 Initially Practicing LC LC unchanged -0.31 0 -0.31 LC → MP 16.29 0.09 16.38  LC → HC -2.39 -28.77 -31.16
  42. 42. Simulation modelling results  Both ecological condition and profitability increase with increasing number of paddocks  Adjusting HPG management with changing conditions increases ecological condition and profitability  Short periods of grazing with adequate recovery gave the greatest profit and improved ecological condition  Profitability is decreased if recovery is too long  HPG management ameliorated impact of increasing stocking rate in proportion to number of paddocks Journal of Environmental Management 2014
  43. 43. Summary Successful multi-paddocks managers use:  Flexible stocking to match forage availability  Spread grazing over whole ranch  Moderate grazing during growing season  Short graze periods  Allow recovery before regrazing  Graze again before forage too mature  Adaptively adjust to prevailing conditions  Use multiple species
  44. 44. Conclusions Appropriate regenerative grazing management:  Sequesters more soil carbon  Improves watershed function  Improves species composition  Stabilizes soil and soil fertility  Enhances wildlife and biodiversity  Improves economic returns while improving the resource base
  45. 45. Improving Pasture Soil Health Improve soil microbe function by: • Perennial plants rather than annuals • Manage for most productive plants • Leave adequate plant residue • Use diverse species mixes and cover crops • Eliminate tillage • Minimize bare ground • Use organic soil amendments • Reduce N-fertilizer use • Grow plants for maximum months each year Delgado et al 2011; Rodale 2014; Jones, 2014
  46. 46. Soil health differences due to management High density grazing Christine Jones, 2014 Multi species pasture
  47. 47. Importance for Ecosystem Function? Using regenerative cropping and grazing management can:  Build SOC levels and soil microbial functions  Control erosion more effectively  Build soil fertility  Reduce damaging inputs  Enhance watershed hydrological function  Increase biodiversity Could result in agricultural soils being a net GHG sink rather than a major GHG source
  48. 48. Importance for climate change mitigation Northern Great Plains carbon sinks and emissions of:  Light continuous grazing -0.783 tons CO2eq /ha/yr  With enteric methane of 0.176 tons CO2eq /ha/yr  Heavy continuous grazing -0.618 tons CO2eq /ha/yr  With enteric methane of 0.484 tons CO2eq /ha/yr Liebig et al., 2010 Data from pasture and southern tallgrass prairie  Best pasture management sequestered 11 tons CO2eq /ha/yr Conant et al., 2001  Best multi-paddock grazing on prairie sequestered 11 tons CO2eq /ha/yr more than heavy continuous grazing Teague et al., 2011
  49. 49. Soil Health for climate change mitigation?
  50. 50. Soil Health for Climate Change Mitigation? EPA 2013; Lal 2003 Current Reduce Ruminants
  51. 51. Soil Health for Climate Change Mitigation? 25% Regenerative cropping and grazing -3.0 t C ha-1 yr-1 for 263 mil ha Conant et al., 2001; Teague et al., 2011 Current Reduce Ruminants
  52. 52. Soil Health for Climate Change Mitigation? 25% Regenerative cropping and grazing 50% Regenerative cropping and grazing -3.0 t C ha-1 yr-1 for 263 mil ha Conant et al., 2001; Teague et al., 2011 100% Regenerative cropping and grazing Current Reduce Ruminants
  53. 53. Importance for Climate Change Mitigation? Using regenerative cropping and grazing management to:  Build SOC levels and soil microbial functions  Control erosion more effectively Could result in soils being a net sink for agricultural GHGs rather than a major source of GHGs as at present.
  54. 54. Future Management Research……………….(1) Research needs to investigate:  How good is Holistic Planned Grazing as a restoration and management tool?  What multi-paddock management best reverses the causes of degradation?  Where does it work and not work?  How does it need to be managed to make it work as well as it can?
  55. 55. Future Management Research……………………..(2)  Include ranch-based research at scale of management  Use retrospective, remote sensing to evaluate 20-year impacts of different management at landscape scale  Develop and test theories to check conclusions for inconsistencies with evidence from other sources  Corroborate output of biological models with field results from commercial ranches under a range of management strategies  Use models to determine what combination of management choices yields superior results?
  56. 56. END

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