Regenerative Grazing NC

Advancing sustainable meat production through policy reform and carbon offset funding

What is regenerative grazing?

Meat production is the largest source of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, but regenerative grazing has the potential to change that. Regenerative grazing can mitigate climate change by enhancing soil health and sequestering carbon, all while supporting biodiversity, reducing air and water pollution, and increasing farm resilience to weather-related events. 

 

Regenerative grazing refers to a set of grazing practices that deliver continuous benefits to the ecosystem, the economy, and society. These practices renew the productivity of the pasture by stimulating plant growth while increasing soil carbon sequestration, biodiversity, soil fertility and a long list of co-benefits. Common regenerative grazing practices include intensive rotational grazing or adaptive multi-paddock grazing. Regenerative “graziers”—the term for a farmer raising ruminants—graze more animals on smaller plots of land, and consistently move the grazing location to mimic natural grazing patterns of other ruminants, such as bison.

Regenerative grazing can sequester carbon in pasture soils, improve soil’s water-holding capacity, increase forage and animal health, increase soil organic matter, and increase microbial diversity. In a continuous grazing system, cattle eat their preferred grasses first, which causes weeds to proliferate at a faster rate. The cattle will overgraze these plants to the point where preferred forages cannot regenerate, stunting their roots or leaving bald patches in the pasture. Intensive rotational grazing, by contrast, causes the root systems to develop more extensively, increasing organic matter, feeding nutrient-cycling microbes, and reducing soil erosion. Above ground, the grasses regenerate more rapidly in a diverse forage mix that is more nutritious and palatable to cattle. The new plant growth pulls carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and sequesters the carbon into the soil via the root system. 

Project Description

 

Regenerative Grazing NC is a multi-year, student-led project to increase the adoption of regenerative grazing systems in North Carolina. We believe that regenerative grazing is the key to sustainable meat production in a climate-constrained world. Changing food systems is a tremendously complex undertaking and our community partners are doing amazing work advocating policy, providing extension support, conducting research, and developing robust supply chains to connect producers with consumers. Regenerative Grazing NC is supporting these efforts by developing policy recommendations and novel funding streams to help our farmers continue to do what they do best—produce high-quality food—while becoming an integral part of the solution to climate change.

 

Our policy team provides a menu of options for policymakers and advocates on the federal, state, and local levels that will galvanize adoption of regenerative grazing practices on North Carolina farms. These targeted policy recommendations reward early-adopters--farmers who have already embraced regenerative grazing practices--while addressing barriers to adoption to help new farmers enter the regenerative grazing space.

Our protocol team is diligently exploring new funding streams for farmers interested in adopting regenerative grazing practices. In the project’s inaugural year, they developed a carbon offset protocol for use through the Offset Network. Upon peer-review and validation, this protocol would allow farmers to earn money for sequestering carbon in the soil. A demonstration project is underway in partnership with the Triangle Land Conservancy and Newbold Farms to ensure the protocol is accessible to the operations and scale of most North Carolina graziers.

Co-benefits of Regenerative Grazing

 

Beyond the carbon sequestration benefits of regenerative grazing, these practices - with proper management - offer a host of additional benefits, including: 

Environmental 

  • Reduces soil erosion due to continuous root systems in the soil

  • Improves soil health by increasing soil organic matter and microbial populations, which strengthen soil structure and aggregation

  • Increases water infiltration to replenish groundwater and improves water quality of nearby surface water systems from reduced runoff of soils and fertilizer

  • Increases water absorption and drought and flood resistance of working lands, which is particularly important for climate change resilience

  • Improves the biodiversity and quality of forage for livestock and wildlife

  • Improves pasture nutrient management by increasing the rate of nutrient cycling and decreasing the use of fertilizers

Source: The Nature Conservancy

Economic 

  • Involves partnerships along the supply chain, from farmers to processors to retailers, and builds a stronger local, farming community

  • Promotes local and sustainably raised meat products, keeping dollars in the hands of producers closer to home

  • Reduces needs for feed, saving farmers money on inputs 

  • Reduces needs for fuel and inorganic fertilizer, saving farmers money on inputs 

  • Improves welfare of animals in pasture-based operations compared to feedlot operations

Social 

  • Promotes the movement towards more sustainable and climate-friendly food products; consumers are also interested in purchasing more sustainable products and purchasing meat that has been grown sustainably

  • Reduces environmental nuisances associated with Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

  • Maintains North Carolina’s agricultural heritage and rural landscapes, preventing the conversion and development of valuable agricultural land

  • Engages student and faculty participation in soil sampling and monitoring 

  • Enables farmers who are interested in regenerative grazing to be taught easily by farmers already implementing these practices

  • Informs community members about the benefits of regenerative agriculture

© 2023 by Regenerative Grazing NC, a project of Duke Bass Connections.

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