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Restoring soil biodiversity can help the bottom line

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The words regenerative and sustainable are not often well received by beef producers, and Hugh Aljoe, director of ranches, outreach and partnerships with the Noble Research Institute, LLC (Noble) understands this. 

But, he also points out Noble has worked over the past 10 to 30 years with producers who implemented regenerative and sustainable practices and suggests a peek over the fence isn’t such a bad idea.

While speaking at the World Wagyu Conference in San Antonio in September, Aljoe told Wagyu enthusiasts long before Europeans settled the country, Mother Nature somehow continued to operate. 

“How do we take those practices or the ecosystem process and enhance them through our management?” Aljoe asked. “This is what we want to achieve.”

Defining regenerative agriculture

Thus, Aljoe defined regenerative agriculture, or specifically regenerative grazing, as this, “It is farming and ranching in synchrony with nature and the four ecosystem processes to repair, rebuild, revitalize and restore the ecosystem function, starting with life beneath the surface of the soil and expanding to life above the soil.”

In other words, regenerative ranching is simply the process of restoring degraded grazing lands using practices based on ecological principles. 

“We want our management practices to mimic what nature does on its own in a natural ecosystem,” he stated. “We want to pay attention to the four ecosystem processes – the energy cycle, the water cycle, the nutrient cycle and community dynamics.”

Seven principles

of regenerative ranching

Aljoe then delineated seven points which comprise the principles of regenerative ranching.

First, he noted, “If we can stock a little more conservatively, then when we manage proactively for improvements to soil health, we will be right back where we were – in times of drought – and have a lot more flexibility.”

Second, Aljoe explained stocking conservatively will leave some grass residue in the pasture. 

“If we leave excess post-graze residual, our soil biology gets kickstarted,” he said. “We have to begin feeding the organisms in the soil intentionally, not accidently.”

Third, producers should rest about 15 to 20 percent of their grazing land before the growing season begins. Aljoe noted this is something all producers can do, but they must be intentional and plan for it. 

The fourth principle, according to Aljoe, is to allow full recovery before each grazing event. 

“A producer is not going to be able to do that unless they have allowed enough grass and forage in reserve coming out of winter for 30 days of grazing,” he stated. “This means long recovery periods of 60 to 120 days on native pastures. For drier pastures in the West, this could be as long as two years.”

Next, Aljoe encouraged producers to increase the number of pastures to at least 10, pointing out more is better. 

“Producers who can get this number closer to 30 while using high-stock density will truly begin to have more rapid improvement in soil health,” he stated.

For the sixth principle, Aljoe said, “If we take more than 50 percent of the leaf area, the roots stop growing. There’s no longer enough leaf area to capture energy, grow roots and grow plant leaf material again. So, graze the top third of the plant.”

Lastly, Aljoe recommended applying high stock density so hoof action can incorporate residual grass into the soil. 

“High-stock density increases herd impact, and we can lay more of the material down and really begin to feed the soil organisms,” he stated.

Aljoe concluded his presentation by reminding producers it’s important to remember, however, that one can’t do all of these principles at the same time and to consider some of them will require more time and labor. 

“If producers can only do one thing, adjust stocking rate,” he advised. “They should build some flexibility into their stocking rate so when they get to the dry years, they won’t have to destock quite so rapidly.”

Producers should also maintain plenty of residual grass and other plants. 

“Always have soil cover and allow full recovery before re-grazing,” Aljoe concluded.

Burt Rutherford is the director of content and senior editor of BEEF Magazine and can be reached by visiting This article was originally published by the American Wagyu Association on Dec. 4.

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