Selected tag(s): ranching

How agriculture can help drive a low-carbon economy

Reducing methane emissions from cows is a step in the right directionThe White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) recently released an intriguing report on how the United States can transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050 while continuing economic growth. The report gives a starring role in this job to agricultural lands.

Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization” outlines a 3-pronged strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent while accelerating job-creating innovation. Calling each strategy “critical,” CEQ first lists the familiar call to transition to renewable and low carbon forms of energy.

The second key strategy, however, is less often discussed: the potential of cropland and grassland soils, as well as forests, to store and sequester hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 annually. The report – informed by decades of scientific research – describes the opportunities to explore in this area. Read More »

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Ranchlands: An untapped reservoir of monarch butterfly habitat

The monarch migration path through central Texas is often referred to as the "Texas Funnel." Source: Journey North

The monarch migration path through central Texas is often referred to as the "Texas Funnel." Source: Journey North

As monarch butterflies have returned to Texas on their fall migration south, so have my colleagues and I to Shield Ranch for another round of field testing for the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange, a new conservation program we expect to launch in key states in 2017.

Texas offers a lot of potential habitat for monarchs, being a critical layover on the species’ annual migrations north and south, and having a number of landowners willing and eager to find a solution for the iconic butterfly’s decline.

During our visit to Shield Ranch, we saw dozens of monarchs and other butterflies, as an unusually high amount of rain in August sparked a profusion of fall wildflowers in central Texas. With targeted conservation funding through the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Exchange, we can make rapid progress on the ground. Read More »

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These heartland conservation heroes defy stereotypes

Montana rancher Dusty Crary with his horses.

Montana rancher Dusty Crary with his horses.

Western ranchers, Midwestern commodity crop growers, fishermen who make their livelihoods along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. In some circles, these folks wouldn’t necessarily be considered models of sustainability. And yet, many are leading a quiet revolution in the way our food is raised, harvested and produced.

In her new book Rancher Farmer Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the Heartland, my colleague Miriam Horn journeys down the Mighty Mississippi River System to meet five representatives of this unsung stewardship movement: Read More »

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Monarch butterflies get help from Texas ranch

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed! growing at Shield Ranch.

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed growing at Shield Ranch.

A few weeks ago, I visited Shield Ranch, a 6,000-acre property devoted to responsible cattle management and wildlife conservation. I made the visit to the ranch – less than 20 miles west of my home in Austin – to test a new tool being designed to more accurately assess habitat for the monarch butterfly.

Standing in a field of wildflowers with a team of scientists, we used the monarch butterfly habitat quantification tool to measure vegetation and determine what monarch habitat was available on the property. We’ve used similar habitat quantification tools for other at-risk wildlife like the lesser prairie-chicken and greater sage-grouse, but this was the first time we tested a tool for monarch butterfly habitat.

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Dietary guidelines are one ingredient in the recipe for sustainable food production

myplate_yellow_livetype copySome people don’t like the idea of the federal government telling them what they should and shouldn’t eat. Others feel the science of nutrition is still evolving—are eggs good or bad for us this week?—and don’t know whether to trust the recommendations.

But there’s no denying that USDA dietary guidelines have a profound influence on the public discussion over our food choices.

So it is a good thing that the commission that suggests updates to these guidelines every five years has come forward with a proposal that for the first time recognizes an inarguable fact: dietary choices have an impact not only on our health, but also on the health of our environment. Read More »

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Meet Christine Hamilton, fourth-generation farmer forging a sustainable path

Picture of CCH IMG_5889Christine Hamilton and her family have been farming and ranching in central South Dakota for more than 120 years – and they hope to still be farming there 120 years from now.

But to be able to ensure the long-term viability of her family’s farm, Christine and her colleagues at Christiansen Land and Cattle (CLC) knew that they would need to take a step back, look closely at their operations, and set a vision for the future.

Tools and certification programs can help farmers like Christine to measure and understand the sustainability of their farm and ranch operations, and to set specific goals. But none of these platforms was a good fit for CLC, which raises crops such as corn, soybeans, and winter wheat, as well as cattle. So Christine led the development of a customized sustainability management plan for CLC that articulates what is important to them now and what they want to improve in the future.

Here, in honor of USDA’s new focus on women in agriculture, I ask Christine about her farm’s visionary plan. Read More »

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A sixth-generation farmer with a fresh and optimistic perspective on conservation

O'Toole Family

Pat O'Toole (second from left) and his family at Ladder Ranch.

Pat O’Toole is a rancher and farmer at Ladder Livestock, a sixth-generation family operation on the Little Snake River along the Wyoming-Colorado border. A leader in collaborative conservation, Pat is engaged in a number of innovative land and water conservation efforts in his capacity as president of the Family Farm Alliance and a member of the AGree advisory board.

This past September, Pat co-authored an AGree paper with Dan Keppen, Executive Director of Family Farm Alliance. The paper – Securing the Future of Western Agriculture: A Perspective of Western Producers – addresses some broad challenges facing the global food and agriculture system. Namely, the need to meet future demands for food while simultaneously enhancing water, soil and other natural resources.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Pat’s ranch to get a sense of these challenges that he and other Western producers face, and to learn more about what Pat is doing to overcome these challenges on his ranch. I asked him to give us a recap of our discussion and to tell us more about his vision for the future.
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A cattleman’s quest to save a bird and help ranchers thrive

Terry Fankhauser, Executive Vice President of Colorado Cattelmen's Association

Terry Fankhauser, Executive Vice President of Colorado Cattelmen's Association

Terry Fankhauser is a rancher and executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. He is also a board member and executive director of Partners for Western Conservation, which seeks to implement market-based conservation services that benefit wildlife and the economy.

Terry joined me and other conservation colleagues last week in Washington, D.C., to discuss habitat exchanges at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation. I asked him to give us a recap of the discussion and to tell us why he got involved in the development of exchanges.

Why were you in D.C. last week?

I took the opportunity to travel to Washington to convey the message that agriculture producers are investing time and resources into developing conservation markets like the Colorado Habitat Exchange.  We are just as interested as other parties in addressing conservation concerns, regulatory challenges and the ongoing need for viable businesses that drive our economies.

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Spreading compost on the range can earn ranchers new revenue

Improving the soil helps ranchers and the climate. © rui vale sousa / Shutterstock Images.

Improving the soil helps ranchers and the climate. © rui vale sousa / Shutterstock Images.

Rangeland ecosystems cover approximately one third of the land area in the United States and half the land area of California. What if that vast domain could be utilized to combat climate change, and ranchers could get paid for land management practices that keep more carbon in the soil and enhance production?

That’s the direction we’re going, thanks to a new carbon accounting standard approved today by the American Carbon Registry. The new protocol allows ranchers who reduce their greenhouse gas footprint by applying compost to their fields to earn credits that can be traded on the voluntary carbon market.

Climate benefits

The standard is supported by research conducted by the Silver Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, which shows that applying a half inch of compost to rangeland soils removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at the rate of half a ton per acre each year.

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Wyoming ranchers steward land, cattle and the greater sage-grouse

Cattle ranching and greater sage-grouse can not only co-exist, but thrive. Or, as some would say, "What's good for the herd is good for the bird."

Cattle ranching and greater sage-grouse can not only coexist, but thrive. 

Ranchers and other private landowners have a critical role to play in conserving wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, which could face listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2015.

Home to nearly half of the greater sage-grouse’s remaining habitat, Wyoming is a landscape critical to the recovery of the species. A full 40 percent of the bird’s habitat in the state is privately held. Therefore, common sense solutions are needed to reward ranchers and other private landowners for conservation actions that protect vital habitat.

A rural, working landscape

Private lands in the West are often found near water, as ranches and other homesteaders put down stakes where they had ready access to water. For similar reasons, these areas are also critically important to wildlife.

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