NRCS looks at improving carbon retention in rangelands
Published on Feb. 29, 2020
“When buyers are interested in buying reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they don’t care where they come from, they just want the most effective, most efficient product for the best price,” says Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Rangeland Ecologist Joel Brown, during the Feb. 4 episode of Kansas State University’s Agriculture Today podcast.
Brown joined a plethora of other speakers at the Kansas section of the Society for Range Management (SRM) during their Jan. 30 symposium titled Rangeland Carbon Storage: A Look to the Horizon. At the symposium, Brown discussed the potential for grasslands to capture carbon and the benefits of increased soil carbon.
Carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon dioxide and other forms of carbon from the atmosphere to mitigate and slow the effects of climate change.
This carbon can be stored in the soil, where it benefits soil organic matter (SOM). SOM improves soil structure and reduces erosion, leading to improved water quality. It also increases water and nutrient retention, resulting in greater productivity of plants in natural environments and agricultural systems, according to NRCS.
“Fortunately for us in rangeland management, the management practices we want to use to sequester the most carbon as possible are the management practices we have long promoted for livestock performance, wildlife habitat management and water quality,” Brown states.
“The number one management practice is getting stocking rates right and adjusting stocking rates as necessary based on the weather,” Brown adds. “Producers generally know what sustainable stocking rates are and how to adjust them.”
The next management practice Brown mentions is to manage for distribution, meaning producers need to make sure they are utilizing their entire ranch.
“We need to make sure we are getting our animals spread out over the entire pasture or the entire ranch and controlling the way they are using the landscape,” he says. “Basically, we need to get animals where we want them, when we want them there.”
Brown explains this can be accomplished through spring burning, placement of water and strategic fencing.
“The third practice is to land at the right season,” Brown says. “We want animals out early in the growing season when the grass is most nutritious and most available.”
“The biggest challenge, we have in rangeland is that it never rains when we need it to rain, or it rains too much when we don’t need it, so I would say weather variability is by far the biggest challenge we have,” Brown explains.
Brown also notes working with rangeland is a challenge in itself.
“We have changes and variability of the weather and changes and variability of the land thrown together with changes and variability of the market, giving us a really difficult set of circumstances to manage,” Brown says.
“The biggest opportunity for carbon on rangeland is to not regard carbon as a stand alone commodity or service, but to look at it as part of an array of other things,” Brown says.
“When we include water quality, livestock performance, open land and wildlife habitat all together, managing carbon really fits right in,” he adds. “They are all achievable with the same set of management practices.”
Another opportunity Brown sees for carbon sequestering of rangelands is the potential ease of motivating producers to adopt the practice.
“First of all, ranchers are always motivated to do a good job and adopt practices,” Brown states. “I think they are this way because all of the management practices we are interested in for carbon sequestration are correlated with good management for livestock production, profitability and good herd management.” Hannah Bugas is the assistant editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.