“There’s so much bad news about our planet, it’s overwhelming. Truth is, I’ve given up. This is the story of a simple solution, a way to heal our planet. The solution is right under our feet — and it’s as old as dirt.”
“We can fix a lot of our climate issue if we bring the CO2 down into a living plant and put it down into the soil where it belongs.”
— Woody Harrelson et. al., narrator for Kiss The Ground, the film coming out September 2020.
It’s no surprise that we’ve been getting tons of questions and tons of requests to provide documented evidence on the acclaimed and accredited benefits and contributions of regenerative agriculture; particularly in terms of then environment, animal welfare, and human health.
Just as we’ve been getting questions, so have we also been at the receiving end of a lot of critique about our praises and advocacy of regenerative agriculture. Much of the critique has been questioning the efficacy of regenerative agriculture to sequester carbon, build soil, and increase biodiversity in man-made and natural environments; claims levelled at us and other regenerative-agriculture supporters that much of what we promote is, “… merely anecdotal;” “…. can’t be proven;” “… impossible and unrealistic to achieve, though it sounds nice in theory.”
There’s just one problem: such critics don’t seem to be exactly aware about the scientific research that is currently being conducted–and that has been conducted thus far–to show the undeniable proof that regenerative agriculture is so much more than just an improbable, impossible, and unrealistic anecdotal utopian fantasy.
So here at Ethical Omnivore Movement we are working on an ever-growing compilation of evidence that shows that regenerative agriculture, regenerative grazing, and Holistic Management works in the real world, and is the very solution to all our problems that we face today. Such evidence is really starting to show us HOPE in the biggest way, despite our drowning in bad news about how this whole planet is falling down around our ears.
This compilation holds back the tide against the climate change hysteria where we are told by the media that the sky is falling and there’s nothing we can do about it (when there’s obviously something we certainly can do about it), to the human health crisis plaguing society as we face an unprecedented rise in metabolic chronic diseases that we have never seen in human history; it also shows how a new paradigm in agriculture is increasing biodiversity, providing a solution to improving and maintaining wildlife habitat, fixes an ineffective water-cycling problem that current conventional degenerative agriculture has continually failed to resolve, and provides a better alternative to animal welfare concerns compared with animals treated like muscle-building or milk-making machines in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).
With that, please check out the links we’ve provided below, and will continue to provide as time goes on. We strongly encourage you to not just read the links, but also share them–and this blog post–far and wide to your friends and family so that they to become better informed about their food choices and the benefits of regenerative agriculture.
Before that, though, I think it’s appropriate at this point to briefly discussed a particular FAQ we and many of our associates from other organizations receive: Just what the heck is “regenerative agriculture”??
An Answer to the Question, “What is Regenerative Agriculture?“
What if I told you that the definition of regenerative agriculture is really quite simple?
Regenerative agriculture is basically a brand, new, unforeseen way of seeing, understanding, and acknowledging how natural ecological principles can be so easily married with agriculture, especially in the context of providing healthy food for both people and animals while maintaining healthy landscapes, healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy people and health animals.. It’s like a love story where man, through agriculture, finally falls deeply in love with nature after all these years and finds a way to work along with her to build back that Garden of Eden that has been anything but forgotten with time.
Regenerative agriculture puts the proverbial horse before the cart, in describing the climatic, ecological and biological solutions available, with the incredible power of of green, photosynthetic, solar-powered life forms we adoringly call “plants,” to build soil organic matter and breathe life back into the soil, all of which work in sync to reverse climate change, create an effective water cycle, sequester carbon into the soil, create wildlife habitat, and above all and in the end, provide nutrient-dense food for everyone.
It’s no longer about just being “sustainable.” Why would you want to continue to sustain an already-degraded resource? Sustainability is an over-used, abused, cutesy, adulterated buzz-word that doesn’t describe what must be done to save ourselves–and our soil–from the inevitable collapse predicted by scientists in the next several decades if we do nothing but twiddle our thumbs waiting for this “someone else” to save our sorry butts. No, it’s about those few brave individuals who take initiative to literally change the world far beyond their words by regenerating, restoring, rebuilding, rejuvenating, and fixing what’s been broken and falling apart for centuries. It’s the new hope that is rising and taking the place of a dying, disintegrating, failed system, one little step at a time.
It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Still, the proof needs to be shown and be made publicly available for all to see; and, most importantly, to confirm that we at EOM are not merely a bunch of tree-hugging pipe-dreamers who don’t know what the hell we’re even yabbering on about. This schitzen is serious stuff; if it weren’t, I wouldn’t even be talking about it.
So, let’s get on with that compilation of references and links we’ve been promising you so far.
Peer-Reviewed Scientific Journal Articles
The following is courtesy of Seth Itzkhan and co-founder Karl Thidemann from Soil4Climate Inc., who has graciously permitted us to share the subsequent scientific articles that have been collected over time here for you all to review at your own leisure. I have provided a brief summary of the each of the articles to save you from wading through all the scientific fluff that comes with these kind of research papers. I have also included other research papers not included in the Soil4Climate’s Publication Compendium below.
Research papers have been organized chronologically. As mentioned above, this list is never complete; more studies will be added as they are found or recently published.
A 2020 paper in Interface Focus finds that “…‘[managed] grazing’ is gaining attention for its potential to contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing bare ground and promoting perennialization, thereby enhancing soil carbon sequestration (SCS).” The paper explores principles and practices associated with the larger enterprise of ‘regenerative ranching’ (RR) which, it states, “…includes managed grazing but infuses the practice with holistic decision-making.” It argues that the holistic framework is appealing “due to a suite of ecological, economic and social benefits,” and, thus, making climate change mitigation a “co-benefit.” Read more in Climate change mitigation as a co-benefit of regenerative ranching: insights from Australia and the United States.
This 2020 paper in Agriculture and Human Values provides a meta-analysis of Holistic Management (HM) considering that an explanation for the controversy between rangeland ecology and management sciences could be down to the “epistemic” differences between the two main disciplines associated with agricultural sciences. It concludes that the way to resolve this controversy over HM is to, “… research, in partnership with ranchers, rangeland social-ecological systems in more holistic, integrated ways.” This broader approach to research, it argues, can better account for “the full range of human experience, co-produce new knowledge, and contribute to social-ecological transformation.” Read more in A half century of Holistic Management: what does the evidence reveal?
This 2020 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment finds that holistic planned grazing protocols, used in adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) management, had superior ecological performance in a tall grass prairie region when compared with high-density continuous grazing and medium-density continuous grazing systems. Results demonstrate AMP grazing had lower soil temperature, higher soil moisture, and lower N2O and CH4 emissions. Interestingly, CO2 emissions were higher with AMP grazing than continuous grazing systems, however this indicated that AMP encourages greater soil microbial activity due to higher soil respiration. They concluded that AMP grazing management has far more flexibility in being able to make adjustments so that higher proportions of green plant material can be maintained to benefit greater energy capture and improve livestock diet quality; such cannot be achieved with continuous grazing. Read more in Soil greenhouse gas emissions as impacted by soil moisture and temperature under continuous and holistic planned grazing in native tallgrass prairie.
The following 2019 study via Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment finds that there were significant improvements in water infiltration levels and plant composition, as well as better fine litter cover and a decrease in invasive plants, and better carbon stocks with improved grazing management. They used bison in this study and compared with the traditional grazing that has been in place since the mid 19th century with cattle (set-stock continuous grazing). I want to note here that such findings in this study doesn’t justify the argument that bison are good and cattle are bad, instead it tells me that bison need to be managed as well as cattle do, and similar findings can be found when cattle are managed in the same way that the bison were in this study. Read more in Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie.
This 2019 paper in the Journal of Environmental Management shows that integrated crop-livestock (ICL) systems have superior water retention (reduction in “water yields”) and a significant reduction in surface runoff than with cropping systems that do not utilize livestock grazing as part of the production rotation. Read more at Simulating the influence of integrated crop-livestock systems on water yield at watershed scale.
A paper based on the presentation Dr. Richard Teague gave at the 2017 Forage and Pastures Symposium in Maryland discusses the role and partnership that scientists must play in working alongside land managers to convert experimental results into sound environmental, economical and social benefits that answer questions such as what would work at a commercial scale, and integrating limited, component-oriented scientific findings into whole-system responses. Read more here: Forages and Pastures Symposium: Cover Crops in Livestock Production: Whole-System Approach.
A 2018 Michigan State University study found 1.5 tons of carbon per acre per year (1.5 tC/ac/yr) drawdown via well-managed grazing, which is more than enough to offset all GHG emissions associated with the beef finishing phase via feedlot. This study flies in the face of the all-too popular conclusions that feedlot production is the only thing in the beef production system that reduces GHG emissions via greater productivity (and resource use efficiency), compared with pastured production systems. Read more in Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems.
A 2018 paper in the African Journal of Range & Forage Science finds positive long-term effects on ecosystem services (soils and vegetation) for Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG). It shows that this approach enhances the sustainability of livestock and wildlife in the arid rangeland conditions of Dimbangombe, Zimbabwe. The effect of Holistic Planned Grazing™ on African rangelands: a case study from Zimbabwe.
This 2018 study in West Pokot County, Kenya via BMC Ecology demonstrates that controlling livestock grazing through the establishment of paddocks is a key strategy for enhancing multiple ecological indicators including total soil organic carbon, and that, “… the establishment of enclosures is an effective restoration approach to restore degraded soils in semi-arid rangelands.” Other improved indicators include reduced soil bulk density (indicating reduced soil compaction), and higher concentrations of particulate organic carbon, microbial biomass carbon, and microbial biomass nitrogen. Read more at Enhancing soil organic carbon, particulate organic carbon and microbial biomass in semi-arid rangeland using pasture enclosures.
A 2017 review from the African Journal of Range & Forage Science analyses how previous grazing research has undermined the kind of management required for larger, more complex landscapes that grazing managers must work with in a rangeland context than usually used in most grazing management research trials, and argue for better future research that accounts for more real-life contexts that land managers must face when making management decisions on the ranch. Read more in Grazing management that regenerates ecosystem function and grazingland livelihoods.
A 2016 Texas A&M study headed by Dr. Richard Teague, published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, found that 1.2 tons of carbon per acre per year (1.2 tC/ac/yr) was sequestered via properly-managed grazing, and that the drawdown potential of North American pasturelands is 800 million tons (megatonnes) of carbon per year (800 MtC/yr). Through this study they found that ruminants, like cows, had much more potential to be carbon-neutral (or even carbon-negative) than what most of society has been lead to believe. See more in The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint in North America.
This 2016 paper in Journal on Food, Agriculture & Society finds that where soil carbon sequestration is included in a life cycle assessment of two different upper Midwest grass-finished beef production systems, they become soil carbon sinks overall, instead of GHG sources when soil carbon sequestration was not included in the calculations. Read more on Potential mitigation of midwest grass-finished beef production emissions with soil carbon sequestration in the United States of America.
Machmuller et. al. through the University of Georgia found a drawdown of 3 tons of carbon per acre per year (3 tC/ac/yr) following a conversion from row cropping to regenerative grazing. They postulated this would mean a likely decrease in fertilizer and irrigation demands. This was discussed in the 2015 Nature Communications paper, Emerging land use practices rapidly increase soil organic matter.
This 2015 paper in Sustainability finds that a conversion from heavy continuous to multi-paddock grazing on cow-calf farms in the US southern Great Plains can result in a carbon sequestration rate in soil of 2 tonnes per hectare per year or approximately 0.89 tonnes per acre per year. In a sensitivity analysis that accounts for farm animal emissions, this sequestration in soil is sufficient to make the farm a net carbon sink for decades. Read more on GHG Mitigation Potential of Different Grazing Strategies in the United States Southern Great Plains.
A 2013 paper by Dr. R. Teague and others takes a good look at some of the issues that are related to the misunderstandings of adaptive multi-paddock grazing versus continuous set-stock grazing, especially in terms of rangeland management context. They look at the knowledge gaps that need to be addressed in order to better understand how multi-paddock grazing can benefit ranchers and be applied at the rangeland scale, as well as interpretation of results by researchers in grazing trials compared with successful grazing managers. But most importantly is this: “Our goal is to provide a framework for rangeland management decisions that support the productivity and resiliency of rangelands and then to identify why different perceptions exist among rangeland managers who have effectively used multi-paddock grazing systems and research scientists who have studied them.”
See more in Multi-paddock grazing on rangelands: Why the perceptual dichotomy between research results and rancher experience?
A 2013 paper by University of Oregon Department of Geological Sciences professor, Gregory J. Retallack, shows that the co-evolution of ruminants and grassland soil (mollisols [American soil science term] or chernozems [Canadian soil science term]) was essential for geologic cooling of the last 20 million years–which lead to the conditions suitable for human evolution–and can be an instrumental part of the necessary cooling in the future to mitigate and reverse global warming. Read more in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences‘ Global Cooling by Grassland Soils of the Geological Past and Near Future.
This 2013 study in Agricultural Systems finds that practitioners of Holistic Management in the dry tropical region of Chiapas, Mexico have denser grass, deeper topsoil, and more earthworms in their pastures than conventional graziers, and that, “… holistic management is leading to greater ecological and economic sustainability.” Sustainability of holistic and conventional cattle ranching in the seasonally dry tropics of Chiapas, Mexico.
This is a great report, published in 2013, where the FAO expresses the importance of livestock in helping to tackle climate change. This is a great resource to use against those naysayers who try to make the claim that the FAO has a staunch anti-livestock stance in the context of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. This particular report denounces such claims. See more in Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities.
A 2012 study in Soil Science Society of America Journal demonstrates how improved grazing management systems can have an enormous benefit on surface soil fertility restoration of degraded soils in the southeastern United States, and managed grazing can sequester 1.5 metric tons of carbon per hectare per year. This was in comparing grazing versus haying a tall fescue stand, as well as in comparing applications of broiler (chicken) manure versus synthetic inorganic nitrogen fertilizer applications. More in Tall Fescue Management in the Piedmont: Sequestration of Soil Organic Carbon and Total Nitrogen.
A 2011 paper in Journal of Arid Environments finds that simulated holistic planned grazing (SHPG) had significantly higher percent soil volumetric-water content (%VWC) after two years of comparing with similar ranch plots using rest-rotation (RESTROT), and total rest (TREST) systems in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho. Measured percent volumetric-water content were 45.8 for SHPG and 34.7 and 29.8 for RESTROT and TREST, respectively. In other words, the simulated holistic planned grazing treatment had greater water infiltration and water-holding capacity than the other trials, which pointed to the important role management decisions play in just one ecological aspect of a complex natural community simply by changing how long animals remain on a piece of land to graze as well as the length of time that piece of land is permitted to recover. You can read more here: Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho.
This 2011 paper in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment demonstrates that multi-paddock grazing, of the type recommended by Allan Savory and representative of Holistic Management, led to various improved soil health indicators including reduced bare ground (which is evidence of reduced soil erosion), reduced soil penetration resistance (which indicates reduced soil compaction), higher soil organic matter, and increased fungal/bacterial ratios which indicated higher water-holding capacity, all when compared with continuous set-stock single-paddock grazing (typical of traditional, conventional beef pasturing systems that have been the norm since before the mid-19th century, notably in the North American context). Soil organic matter averaged 3.61% in the multi-paddock ranches, compared to 2.4% for heavy continuous, single-paddock grazing. This study was done in the tall-grass prairie, however much of what has been studied could be transferred over in different grassland or savannah ecosystems, with some tweaks in management. Read more in Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie.
A 2008 meta-analysis (or literature review, rather) through Grasslands: Ecology, Management, and Restoration finds that multi-paddock rotational grazing produces superior results for grassland ecology when compared to conventional set-stock continuous grazing. It also finds that misunderstandings exist in the management techniques needed to achieve these benefits and in the scientific protocols required to assess them. The paper expresses the need for better understandings to be achieved through answering particular questions like what does it take to make multi-paddock grazing as successful as possible? You can read more in Benefits of multi-paddock grazing management on rangelands: Limitations of experimental grazing research and knowledge gaps.
Third party sustainability science firm validates Southwest Georgia farm (White Oak Pastures) is storing more carbon in its soil than pasture-raised cows emit during their lifetimes:
- Study: White Oak Pastures Beef Reduces Atmospheric Carbon from White Oak Pastures blog
- From PR Newswire: White Oak Pastures Beef Reduces Atmospheric Carbon
The following paper suggests that the global potential carbon drawdown may be quite larger than previously estimated, where restorative grazing had not been factored. It is suggested that 25 to 60 ton of carbon per hectare (t C/ha) may be sequestered on semi-arid grasslands and savannahs, representing a transition from highly degraded to fully restored landscapes. The global potential is estimated to be in the range of 88 to 210 giga-tons (Gt), with a CO2 equivalence of approximately 41 to 99 ppm, enough to significantly mitigate global warming. The introduction and first-part conclusions are provided herein. The full paper including citations is available at the bottom of this page and at the link below.
- Upside (Drawdown) – The Potential of Restorative Grazing to Mitigate Global Warming by Increasing Carbon Capture on Grasslands https://www.planet-tech.com/upsidedrawdown
Website Blogs and Media Articles
Sheldon Frith created an extensive and excellent compilation for Holistic Management which can be read on Evidence Supporting Holistic Management from RegenerateLand.com
A special report on the market potential for grass-fed beef put together by Stone Barns Centre for Food and Agriculture, Bonterra Partners, and SLM Partners called Back to Grass – The Market Potential for U.S. Grassfed Beef
The following quotes come from Hooves Not Harrows: Pasture Regeneration. An article on Dr. Allen William’s adaptive multi-paddock grazing practices:
“Soil organic matter, once under 2%, was 5.2 to 5.6%. There were now 43 forage species, not four, some of them natives. Plant Brix readings averaged 15 to 22%, up from 2%. Water infiltration was at 10-plus inches per hour, not ½ inch like before. And stocking rate increased nearly threefold, effectively tripling carrying capacity of the ground.
“Adaptive grazing also gave soils more ability to sequester carbon. Sampling every 6 inches into the soil down to 3 feet, Williams says adaptive-grazing areas held 51.41 tons of carbon per acre compared to 28.71 in a continuous rotational-grazing system used for comparison.”
And from Dr. Richard Teague: Regenerative Organic Practices “Clean Up the Act of Agriculture” via AgFunderNews: “‘Most academics deny that regenerative grazing and cropping management works at all, and yet there’s a whole network of people around the world that we’re connected with who have increased a minimum of two-to-three-fold in production of their land and profitability compared to when they started,’ he explains.”
We at EOM also have our other blog posts we’d like to include in this one-stop-shop compilation-of-evidence post. These are, namely:
- The Least Harm Fallacy of Veganism
- Are Farm Animals Starving the Planet of Food… Humans Can’t Even Eat?
- Dear FCRN: No, We’re Not Confused About Grazing
- How to Save Australia (and the World) from Desertification and Conflict
- From the Practicum: Dear Oxford Scientists, Regenerating Soil is What’s Essential, Not Avoiding Meat
Good Books on Regenerative Agriculture:
- In Defence of Beef by Nicolette Hahn Niman
- Righteous Pork Chop by Nicolette Hahn Niman
- Grass, Soil, Hope by Courtney White
- Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massy
- Cows Save the Planet by Judith D. Schwartz
- Water in Plain Sight by Judith D. Schwartz
- One Size Fits None by Stephanie Anderson
- Fibershed by Rebecca Burgess
- Wilding by Isabella Tree
- Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David R. Montgomery
- Hidden Half of Nature by David R. Montgomery
- Growing a Revolution by David R. Montgomery
- For the Love of Soil by Nicole Masters
- Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson
- Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy
- The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Kieth
- Nourishing Diets by Sally Fallon Morell
- The Great Warming by Brian Fagan
- American Serengeti by Dan Flores
- Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown
- Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard
- Against the Grain by James C. Scott
- Kiss the Ground by Josh Tickell
- The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
- The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks
- Silvopasture by Steve Gabriel
- The Carbon Farming Solution by Eric Toensmeier
- Holistic Management (3rd ed.) by Allan Savory
- Nourishment by Fred Provenza
- Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
- Collapse by Jared Diamond
- Regenerative Agriculture by Richard Perkins
- Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems by Stephen R. Gliesmann
- Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison
- The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry
- Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka
- The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
- The Natural Way of Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka
- The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson
Videos Worth Checking Out
Inspired by Charles Massy’s best-selling book “Call of the Reed Warbler“, filmmaker Amy Browne set out across the dry farming country of South East NSW to meet Massy and the other trailblazing farmers bringing new life to their land.
A few notable videos featuring Allan Savory and Holistic Management:
- Running out of Time | Documentary on Holistic Management
- How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change | Allan Savory – TED Talks
- Allan Savory: Hope for Reversing Desertification and Climate Change – What You Can Do – Soil4Climate
Other videos we highly recommend to check out:
- How regenerative farming can help heal the planet and human health | Charles Massy – TEDx Canberra
- A Regenerative Secret – Joyce Farms
- Soil Carbon Cowboys – CarbonNation Film
- Treating the Farm as an Ecosystem with Gabe Brown Part 1: The Tenets of Soil Health – Living Web Farms
“My grazing records show an increase in carrying capacity of 64% using Holistic Planned Grazing in just two years. [They also] show a ten-fold higher carrying capacity in well-tended soils vs. abused, same soil type. I produce commercial 100% grassfed milk. Seventy-five head in New York.”
– Phyllis Van Amburgh, 2017, Dharma Lea Farm, Sharon Springs, NY
We welcome any additional links, videos, articles, and scientific journals that we can add to this list, as it is by no means exhaustive. If you have any more suggestions to add, please leave a comment below.