Challenge update December 2014: some monitoring results

Peter Donovan and Ralph Corcoran. Photos by Didi Pershouse.

Sometimes it has been lonely. Often there have been unexpected gifts of friendship and hospitality. In the 30,000 miles of travel in my school bus home, plus many thousands more by train, bus, plane, and car in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, I have glimpsed bits and pieces of a miracle: a growing interest and commitment, by many people, to growing soil and regenerating land.

Since 2010 I’ve established about 270 baseline carbon plots in the US, Mexico, and Canada. As we start re-monitoring we now get to see results, not just baselines, which means we can track the actual changes in soil carbon and plant cover over time. These can teach us, one plot at a time, what is actually possible when creative and committed people work with the most powerful and creative planetary force.

The Soil Carbon Challenge is an international (and localized) competition to recognize land managers who are growing water-holding, fertility-enhancing soil organic matter. It is designed for those who are, or will be, managing for more carbon and water in their soils and enhanced ecological function, and who want feedback and accountability relative to this goal. We seek to recognize grassroots leadership, to help discover what is possible through management of the most powerful and creative planetary force, and to help build management capacity at all scales from society to individuals managing land.

Northeast Oregon: Tony and Andrea Malmberg of Union, Oregon had a 23% increase in soil carbon in the top 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) after not quite three years, following a transition from 23 years in the Conservation Reserve Program where no farming or grazing was done, to planned grazing beginning in October 2010. Above-ground plant diversity increased as well.

Peter Donovan, Blain Hjertaas, and Neil Dennis

Southeast Saskatchewan: Every one of the 5 farms with baseline plots that Blain Hjertaas and I remonitored in October 2014 showed substantial increases in soil carbon, over 40 percent in some cases (see links below to graphs and summary data for all layers sampled). These plots are in pastures, mainly smooth brome or meadow brome, and bluegrass. These graziers are all using some type of planned grazing, with fairly short times of exposure to grazing and fairly long recovery periods. In some cases, they have given their cattle access to round bales of hay spaced around the field for winter supplement. None of the plots were located in the rings of lusher grass growth that persist for some years around the location of each bale, but some hay feeding did occur over the plot SUNB1 and the surface litter there did contain hay residue.

Blain Hjertaas, who has helped a group of graziers in southeast Saskatchewan learn planned grazing and holistic management, noted the excellent growing conditions over the last three years.

Neil Dennis, one of the Saskatchewan graziers who is featured in the film "Soil Carbon Cowboys," has used high stock density and recovery periods of 80 days or longer for years on his pastures of brome and bluegrass. “As your land gets healthier, your recovery time should get longer. Everything starts changing when you get healthier land—the health of the animals, and the response of the grass. My brome hasn’t set seed in a year.”

See graphic plot summaries here.

as well as on the map.

The sampling methods are detailed in Measuring Soil Carbon Change: A flexible, local, practical method, available here.

These results mean that some dedicated land stewards, by turning atmospheric carbon into soil carbon, are growing soil and soil structure. This has a large influence on water-holding capacity, yearlong productivity, profit, quality of life, and the well-being of their communities. They are doing this with the tools and resources that are already available on their farms, namely sunlight, rain, plants, livestock, countless microbes, and well-directed human management.

Content type: 

Atlas of biological work

A short proposal for a fully featured Atlas of biological work, an expansion of the Map of Soil Carbon Change.

PDF here

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Buckminster Fuller

Wendell Berry, writing on health and agriculture, noted that fragmentation "cannot be our cure, because it is our disease." Competition between major problems, and competition between solutions to these problems, renders effective action largely elusive for individuals, groups, and governments, even with trillions spent. Governments and individuals feel powerless. Enormous energy goes into blame. Our trust in expert solutions, or in anybody's solutions, vanishes overnight.

We need major changes, both locally and globally, in the huge flows of water, carbon, and nitrogen through soils and atmosphere. These changes will require an enormous amount of work (force times distance, or force against resistance).

We are in some early stages of a Copernican shift, beginning from the view that our technology is all-powerful, and nature correspondingly vulnerable or dominated. Faced with the inability of our technology--currently powered at about 16 trillion watts worldwide---to accomplish the needed work and to grow or maintain the needed soil aggregates, some innovative graziers, farmers, and scientists have glimpsed and even explored the opportunity to better manage, enlist, and enhance the sunlight energy captured by photosynthesis. Globally, photosynthesis runs at about 130 trillion watts, the terrestrial half of which is multiplied dozens of times by life's diversity and abundance, creating topsoil, soil cover, and the carbon-rich soil aggregates that accept, retain, and filter water.

Even when we recognize at some level the need to manage wholes, to work toward what we want and need, our best-trod paths of knowing and doing sabotage our efforts. We have an almost complete absence of open and accessible data about localized, farm-scale changes over time in water, carbon, or nitrogen cycle function that could show us what might be practical and possible. Instead we depend on research to establish best or worst practices. We spend enormous sums on prediction, modeling, mapping and data systems focusing on classifications of land cover, problems, or species---all of which perpetuate our tendency to problem-solve, to manage against what we don't want. The problems have the power, producing a cacophony of perverse incentives, competing advocacies, solutioneering, and fragmentation.

Media type: 

Infiltration test

Stan Boyd of South Dakota NRCS made a great little video about doing a simple, single-ring infiltration test on three different types of management. "[Infiltration] responds very rapidly to changes in management."

Single-ring infiltration tests are part of the Soil Carbon Challenge baseline method.

Media type: 
Content type: 

Soil Carbon Cowboys: 12-minute Peter Byck film

SOIL CARBON COWBOYS from Peter Byck on Vimeo.

This short film features two participants in the Soil Carbon Challenge.

Media type: 
Content type: 

Lake Champlain, Vermont water issues

Jack Lazor, an organic pioneer in Vermont of Butterworks Farm in Westfield, recently wrote a great little article about Lake Champlain.

"You can’t beat roots in the ground to prevent runoff and leaching. The same holds true for residential lawns and public parking lots. We need the permeability that comes with soils high in humus and organic matter. There is hope for Lake Champlain and we can still have dairying in Vermont if we can figure out how to put carbon back into the earth."

Media type: 
Content type: 

Cows save the planet: and other improbable ways of restoring soil to heal the earth

Judith Schwartz's new book is out (we're in it!):

From the publisher:

Unmaking the Deserts, Rethinking Climate Change, Bringing Back Biodiversity, and Restoring Nutrients to our Food

Cows saving the planet? Why not? An idea that sounds preposterous begins to make sense when you take a soil’s-eye view of our current ecological predicament.

In Cows Save the Planet, journalist Judith D. Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for our many overlapping environmental, economic, and social crises. Schwartz reveals that for many of these problems—climate change, desertification, biodiversity loss, droughts, floods, wildfires, rural poverty, malnutrition, and obesity—our ability to turn these crises into opportunities depends on how we treat the soil. Where do cows fit in?

Cattle, like all grazing creatures, can, if appropriately managed, restore land and help build soil. Rebuilding soil is only one aspect of this important, paradigm-shifting book. Drawing on the work of thinkers and doers, renegade scientists and institutional whistleblowers from around the world, Schwartz challenges much of the conventional thinking about global warming and other problems. For example, land can suffer from undergrazing as well as overgrazing, since certain landscapes, such as grasslands, require the disturbance from livestock to thrive. Regarding climate, when we focus on carbon dioxide, we neglect the central role of water in soil—“green water”—in temperature regulation. And much of the carbon dioxide that burdens the atmosphere is not the result of fuel emissions, but from agriculture; returning carbon to the soil not only reduces carbon dioxide levels but also enhances soil fertility.

Media type: 

California Rancher to Rancher project field demo

The Rancher-to-Rancher project, which will support central coast California ranchers in setting up low-cost, risk-free learning site trials, held a demonstration April 12 on Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, where Joe Morris grazes stocker cattle.

Joe Morris explains the learning site idea where livestock are concentrated for a short period followed by a generous recovery period. In the background, the learning site has about 700,000 pounds of stocker cattle per acre.
Media type: 
Content type: 

Burleigh County, North Dakota: Healthy soil, healthy farms, healthy communities

Brian DeVore of Minnesota's Land Stewardship Project wrote a good piece about Gabe Brown and others:

http://landstewardshipproject.org/posts/blog/360

Included in the article is a link to a presentation by Kristine Nichols that is a great introduction some soil health concepts from a simple, practical perspective that looks at the whole. Included in this presentation is a picture of Gabe and Paul Brown's ranch after it received 13 inches of rain in 24 hours, and there is no standing water.

Media type: 
Content type: 

Joe and Julie Morris receiving Burch award at Quivira Coalition conference

Joe Morris, of Morris Grassfed in San Juan Bautista, California, is receiving the Clarence Burch stewardship award at the Quivira Conference this month in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I am honored to be recognized by the Quivira Coalition for this year’s Clarence Burch award, and deeply appreciative to all of our partners for making this possible,” Joe said.

Media type: 
Content type: 

Grass fed beef is best

according to a recent report by the National Trust in the UK. The report uses modeling.

"Research reveals that grass-fed beef is better for people and the environment. Feeding cattle on grass throughout their lifecycle is the most environmentally sustainable way to rear beef, according to new research we've commissioned."

"The results are contrary to recent thinking that livestock farming methods must intensify further in order to lessen carbon emissions to feed an ever-increasing world population."

Media type: 
Content type: 

Pages

Subscribe to Soil Carbon Coalition RSS

Participate!

Subscribe to our mailing list

All fields required

For these:

+ help monitoring

+ post data

+ share info

please send an email with your name, location, and request to:
managingwholes (dot) com (at) gmail (dot) com





ManagingWholes.com is our sister site, packed with articles and tutorials on decision making, low-stress livestock handling, ranching, farming, consensus building, and more.

NRCS soil quality site

savoryinstitute.com

Mas Humus, an alliance of professionals who seek to improve the quality of life in the rural world. They work on increasing the capacity of farmers to improve their soil and produce healthy food.

holisticmanagement.org

marincarbonproject.org

Carbon Grazing site

soilcarbon.com.au

aboutlistening.com