Understanding The Carbon Cycle In Farming

Share on social media

Capturing Carbon Across US Range & Pasturelands

Undoubtedly, ranching demands immense effort and sacrifices. The increasing producer interests. However, carbon ranching presents an opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate farmer and ranchers’ contributions in more ways than one. By partnering with the right experts, carbon ranching or “carbon cropping” offers long-lasting benefits that extend beyond today’s generation. These practices not only benefit the planet but provide advantages, like enhanced soil quality, improved resilience to changing weather patterns, and, notably, financial rewards through carbon credit generation, to hardworking agriculture operations.

Which practices generate carbon credits for range and pastureland in the United States?

Agoro Carbon Alliance offers three practices for range and pasture lands participants, enabling ranchers nation-wide to generate carbon credits:

  • Improved grazing: This practice involves various options based on your operation and current grazing program. The goal is to provide timely rest for the grass and promote efficient forage utilization, leaving enough biomass for critical regrowth.
  • Seeding: This practice requires introducing at least one new species to your land, to enhance biodiversity and increase biomass. There are multiple options available within this program.
  • Fertilization: This practice involves fertilizing historically unfertilized ground. Fertilizer, particularly nitrogen, is often lacking in range and pasture areas, and this practice addresses that deficiency.
What can an ag carbon program look like?

Improved grazing offers numerous possibilities. Common tactics include dividing pastures into smaller sections, or paddocks, and implementing rotational grazing by moving animals between these smaller areas. Water and mineral sources are also relocated to encourage animals to utilize different parts of the pasture. Another effective strategy is to increase the frequency of moving animals between existing pastures.

Seeding can often involve alternative methods to traditional range drill seeding. Broadcast seeding has shown positive results, utilizing ground rigs or airplanes in late fall, preferably around a snow event to facilitate seed penetration. Local seed companies and extension agents can assist in determining the most suitable species to add, which helps diversify existing vegetation and addresses pasture maturity and nutritional value.

Fertilizer can be applied simultaneously with seeding, especially with broadcast methods. The effects of water movement and freeze/thaw cycles aid in the incorporation of fertilizer into the soil. Fertilization primarily boosts forage production but can also enhance plant vigor and increase crude protein levels. Care should be taken to ensure the desired plants are benefiting from fertilization, as undesired plants may thrive at their expense. Seeding and fertilization complement each other, providing mutual benefits.

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reduce the human carbon footprint and prevent atmospheric warming. The practices described above contribute to this process:

Improved grazing promotes plant growth and root system development. Perennial grasslands excel at carbon sequestration, as their deep root systems store more carbon in the soil profile. Leaving sufficient biomass after grazing is crucial for plant regrowth and sustainability. Above-ground biomass can withstand utilization of up to 50%, but root systems are even more sensitive. By reducing stocking rates and leaving over 50% of above-ground material, root systems improve, stimulating microbial activity and enhancing soil organic carbon.

Seeding and fertilization also facilitate carbon sequestration. Seeding introduces new species, while fertilization enhances existing species health, resulting in increased biomass and root development. These practices improve soil health by increasing ground cover, enhancing soil structure, and promoting water infiltration, making the land more resilient and productive.

Range and pasture carbon programs offer significant customization options to suit each operation’s unique needs. With endless possibilities and combinations of practices, you can achieve real change on your land while improving soil health. Carbon programs can also look different depending on what region or state the operation is located; here is an example of what carbon ranching looks like in the Pacific Northwest. Agoro Carbon is dedicated to assisting farmers and ranchers in reaping the full range of benefits from capturing carbon, ensuring that their efforts are duly recognized and rewarded.

Matt Rellaford
Matt Rellaford
Agronomist, California and Pacific Northwest
Matt has an eclectic professional background and considers his path in agriculture a non-traditional one. He specializes in soil moisture monitoring, arid soils, nitrogen management with cover crops, variable rate nitrogen management, and wheat and potatoes. Matt grew up in the suburbs of Ohio and Utah. He worked on horse ranches during a couple of summers, but it was his time spent in rural villages abroad that generated his interest in agriculture. He completed a year-long Fulbright project in Moldova, which helped him to recognize the importance of agriculture in economic development. Prior to getting more involved in agriculture, Matt served as a children’s educator, worked in the solar industry, and managed city recreational events. He earned his B.S. in Recreation Management from BYU and M.S. in Plant Science from NDSU. He gained experience during grad school working on various research projects, and later at Penn State as a research assistant managing corn and soybean trials (which involved precision soil sampling and cover crops). In 2019, Matt became the precision ag manager for Mountain West at Simplot, creating prescription maps and gaining expertise in soil moisture monitoring. During the last several months of his time at Simplot, he became increasingly involved with their internal sustainability team, working closely with a sustainability manager to estimate the carbon footprint of potatoes. His time with the sustainability group led Matt to an ‘irresistible’ opportunity with Agoro Carbon. Matt is a Certified Crop Advisor and is currently working on his ag irrigation specialist certification.
More about Matt Rellaford
Talk To An Agronomist Calculate Your Carbon Potential