Can managed grazing reduce atmospheric CO2?

image courtesy of ILRI on flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

image courtesy of ILRI on flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“We can take enough carbon out of the atmosphere and safely store it in the grassland soils for thousands of years. And if we just do that on about half the world’s grasslands … we can take us back to preindustrial levels.” – Allan Savory<1>


map courtesy of USDA via Wikipedia click to enlarge.

Grassland Soil Turning to Desert (desertification)            map courtesy of USDA via Wikipedia click here to enlarge.


What if local farmers could keep from losing their deteriorating farmland and at the same time increase their standard of living? What if, while they do this, they could help stop global warming, increase agricultural output, and conserve water? Well, this could just possibly happen in tomorrow’s world, if enough farmers adopt “holistic management” grazing practices for their livestock<2>.

Advocates of holistic management grazing want to rotate herds of livestock between local grazing areas in a way that mimics natural roaming of wild herds<1>. Animals can trample and spread plant material over the soil at the times when the material is best suited to return to the soil. Livestock droppings also help nourish the soil.

The resulting healthier soil holds moisture and allows good plant growth season after season, keeping range land from turning to desert. When plants decompose naturally their CO2 stays in the soil. Natural decomposition also breaks down methane.

In today’s world, it’s an all too common practice to let grassland plants wither after their growing season. Fields must then be cleared using controlled burning, to prepare for the next season.

What else does controlled burning do? You guessed it: burning releases CO2 into the atmosphere. The burning also leaves behind unnourished soil that can’t retain water<3>.

With holistic grazing, soil that’s naturally nourished doesn’t need to be artificially prepared for the next growing season. Less fossil fuel is burned since there’s less irrigation pumping and less fertilizer spreading.

With relatively little initial investment, properly managed grazing can make local farming economical over perhaps most of the Earth’s land area.


Further Study

Holistic management grazing promises fabulous results, saving or enriching billions of lives. But further effort is needed to verify and implement potential benefits. That’s why the title of this article is posed as a question.

As with any proposed change, there are proponents and skeptics. The proponents have monitored farms using careful holistic rotation patterns, observing substantial land recovery<4>.

Skeptics point out that large scale scientific studies have observed little change in soil composition<5><6>.

The proponents counter that the large scale studies lacked correctly timed herd rotations<7>.


Can You Help?

If you’d like to learn more about holistic management grazing, check out the Savory Institute website at

You can read about some issues and possible problems at these sites:

An Evidence-Based Assessment of Prescribed Grazing Practices


Holistic Management Research Portfolio

Read through the comments posted in response to the Allan Savory TED talk site at

<2>”holistic”: characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole | “Holistic Planned Grazing”
<3>”… we are burning, in Africa, every single year, more than one billion hectares [2.47 billion acres] of grasslands.” [2.47 billion acres is over twice the total area of Australia.]
<6>Further study may be needed to fully address net impact on atmospheric methane levels.
Categories: Huge Changes

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