Ask any vegetarian, and most will point to raising cattle for beef as a major greenhouse gas contributor.
If the current Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) were the only show in town, I would tend to agree with them. But that system goes against nature. I would argue that we need all of the cattle we can get onto the landscape, to reverse our current march to calamity.
Our agricultural society owes its existence to large ungulates like bison. The very soil that we depend on for our food was built under the hooves of herding grazers. For eons, large herds roamed the plains in the millions, amassed into tight herds, to avoid being picked-off by circling predators. As they grazed, they would defecate and urinate, and stomp those nutrients into the soil. Then they would move on, to find a lush salad bar of vegetation thriving in living soil the following season.
Those massive herds are gone now, but the rich soil that they created is their legacy. We have been farming on borrowed days, as we extract the last of the sequestered nutrients and carbon, leave fields exposed to wind and water erosion, and douse the now-dead soil with chemicals to grow commodity crops. Who needs nature, when we have technology?
We do, and a growing number of farmers are starting to get it, due to some pioneering folks like Allon Savory, Joel Salatin, Gabe Brown and many others, who are working with nature to build soil by mob grazing their cattle. Thanks to electric fencing, we can now mimic the temporary concentration of grazers on the landscape. Gabe Brown, in Bismark, N.D., mob grazes up to a million pounds of cattle per acre -- for just a day -- on his 5,000-acre ranch, while also practicing no-till farming, growing high-value crops, making a good profit, and not receiving a cent in farm subsidies.
Farmers are slowly learning to work with nature, to keep the ground covered, plant diverse cover crops, and mob graze cattle, to build healthy soil. They call it regenerative farming, and besides building healthy soil it also stops erosion, recharges aquifers, restores streams and wetlands, and creates habitat.
With regenerative farming, we could potentially sequester enough carbon to reduce CO2 to pre- industrial levels. It just might be the only thing that will save us from ourselves.