Regenerative Ranching Could Solve Climate Change

A new study from Oregon State University shows regenerative ranching increases adaptability and socioeconomic status while helping to mitigate climate change.   

Climate Reality Project describes regenerative agriculture as a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more.   

According to Regeneration International, this method can help to reverse climate change as it works to rebuild organic matter and restore biodiversity to the soil.   

Regenerative ranching refers to the practices familiar to most of us as organic farming. These changes are brought about by using a dynamic and holistic approach, including organic farming techniques such as cover crops, crop rotations, no till and compost. These practices encourage carbon sequestration, and can dramatically affect the climate in extremely positive ways.   

An article by the Newsroom at OSU covering the recent study says regenerative ranching helps to rebuild ecological processes, allowing ranchers to reduce reliance on products such as chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. In a study by UC Berkeley, nitrogen-based fertilizer was found to have caused a dramatic rise in nitrous-oxide in the atmosphere.   

The surprising thing about the Oregon State study is that helping the climate is not usually the primary motivation for ranchers to adopt these practices. The study’s lead author, Hannah Gosnell, says that it’s important to understand the driving factors that encourage ranchers to adopt carbon-friendly farming.   

“What we found is that ranchers manage regeneratively for all these other benefits, and if there’s some measurable soil carbon sequestration and it contributes to climate change mitigation, then that’s icing on the cake,” she said.  

Not only are there benefits to the climate as a whole, but individual ranchers see marked gains in their crops. According to Regeneration International, farmers can grow more food while using widely available and inexpensive methods and creating better resilience for themselves.   

After the switch, they will not rely on expensive chemicals or fertilizers, which makes farmers more immune to sudden financial stresses, especially for farmers who are vulnerable to things such as political turmoil, deforestation, or drought and other climate uncertainties.   

The yields of regenerative farms are equal to or better than that of industrially farmed crops, and during serious weather conditions, the crops raised with regenerative ranching perform better than those that are chemically raised.   

The hardest part of getting farms and ranches to switch to these farming techniques is convincing them of the long-term benefits reaped by learning a completely new way of farming. Gosnell said in the Newsroom article that giving farmers a credit or a stimulus promotion is only half the battle.   

“It’s hard to transition to regenerative ranching because it requires such a deep commitment,” Gosnell said. “If you want ranchers to make the switch, paying them is likely not motivation enough.”  

During her interviews with ranchers, Gosnell discovered the most common reward of regenerative agriculture was an uptick in deep ground cover. This is important because deep ground cover increases soil carbon sequestration and can lead to increased pasturage for livestock. Along with increased ground cover, other benefits included improved water retention and increased soil fertility.  

Gosnell maintains that research and education are pivotal to helping ranchers understand the ecological processes going on in the soil that make switching to these processes so efficient. “This is a low-cost, low-tech, natural climate solution, and it can be a really effective and important one,” she told Newsroom. “But it is hard for ranchers to transition to because it requires … adoption of a new set of management tools.”  

Regeneration International suggests that there are many ways to help small farmers make the switch to regenerative ranching. First, make sure you’re buying local produce and meats, and boycott factory farm raised animal products. Invest in fair trade products, and grow your own food wherever possible, even if it’s in a pot on your balcony.  

 Finally, educate yourself on the benefits of regenerative ranching and farming, and share your knowledge with your friends. Together, we can use this low-cost solution to stop climate change in its tracks.  

Kyra Blank