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Time for a One-Eighty on Cows and Climate – Part 7

Tuesday, March 19, 2024 3:08 PM

Time for a One-Eighty on Cows and Climate – Part 7
APRIL 29, 2014
Photo by Conscious Design on 

Research Project

The capacity of grass to store carbon is well recognized, but its potential as a major factor in reducing atmospheric CO2 hasn’t been seriously considered. There haven’t been experimental studies to accurately quantify its effect. Scientists haven’t even considered grass capable of involvement in carbon trading. This situation is about to change with the work of the Marin Carbon Project. 

This is a research project initiated by a Marin County, California rancher named John Wick. Like Allan Savory, he discovered that removing livestock from his land and resting it had the reverse effect to what he was seeking. Both density of turf and soil fertility diminished faster than had been occurring with livestock on the range. 

He wanted to try a new approach. He teamed up with one of the world’s foremost soil carbon sequestration experts, a bio-geophysicist with a lab at Berkeley named Whendee Silver. She agreed to do the study despite considerable initial skepticism. What he wanted was a controlled study that would yield unassailable statistics. With the cooperation and support of other interested ranchers in the area, Wick spread daily manure composted with straw a half-inch deep over several large test plots. Adjacent plots served as controls. After a year, core samples were taken to measure soil carbon to compare with samples taken at the beginning of the trial. At the end of the year, carbon in the treated plots had increased by a ton per hectare, not counting the carbon in the compost. They have now measured an additional ton of carbon per hectare per year without adding any more compost. This is new carbon in the soil which had been removed from the air. 

Carbon behaves like a sponge, so that the treated soil held three times as much water. John Wick and the other ranchers also noted that the land could carry more cattle, an observation often noted by Allen Savory, and that the land profits from the additional livestock. 

What Wick and Dr. Silver found with their core samples is that this newly sequestered carbon moves downward to lower soil levels where it remains in stable storage unless it is plowed. Using computer modeling, Dr. Silver’s research group asserts that if half of California’s rangeland were treated with compost in this way, in any given year, as much atmospheric carbon as is emitted by California’s traffic could be removed from the air and permanently stored. Land restoration, improved air quality, and increased agricultural productivity have been claimed by Savory and many others. What the Marin Carbon project does is provide solid proof that by working with natural systems, our air and soil damage can be reversed with unexpected speed. Complete statistics on the Project are available online. 

This is an incomparably important study. I hope that we can now hear less about technofixes involving filling the sea with iron filings or building machines to put carbon down holes in the ground. The Marin Carbon Project proves that by working with a natural process we can both feed ourselves and reverse global warming. Furthermore, it is something that we can all do ourselves without waiting for someone to form a new government agency and hire contractors.

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