Farmers, Ranchers and Global Warming

You have heard President Obama and other folks talking about the Climate Change agreement reached in Paris.

But did you know that farmland is part of the solution? One reason our soil can help solve the problem is because farming has helped cause the problem in the past.

Before I get too deep in the dirt, you may be wondering, what is the connection between carbon dioxide in the air and farmland? We know that climate scientists say that carbon dioxide in the air is increasing. And it is reaching worrisome levels which cause global temperatures to increase. And those higher average temperatures cause polar ice and glaciers to melt and the oceans to rise.

Well, the carbon in the air is the same carbon that is in our soil. Or used to be in our soil. The carbon in soil is organic matter, sometimes called humus. Before our ancestors figured out how to grow crops by tilling the ground, the native prairie and forest land contained a fair amount of organic carbon. In Iowa or Illinois, for example, the deep, black ground probably included at least 5 percent carbon among the soil particles. Now, because the land has been plowed for more than 150 years the soil has only about half as much carbon.

The good news is that if farmers stop plowing, and instead use practices that add organic matter to the soil, mainly no-till farming with cover crops and chemical herbicides to control weeds, then the world’s farmland becomes part of the solution. The added carbon comes from the roots of corn, wheat, soybeans and other crops, plus the roots of plants grown in the off-season, such as clover, ryegrass and sunflowers. By not plowing the ground, the carbon stays in the soil, adding carbon year after year. Soil with more organic matter is healthier and produces better crops.

What about ranch land and cattle? Well, cattle do not contribute nearly as much to global warming as the vegetarians would have you believe. Most cattle spend at least three-fourths of their life eating grass, usually from land that is too steep, too dry or too poor to grow other food crops. They are only fed grain for 3 or 4 months before you get served steak on a plate or hamburger on a bun. And many ranchers will sell you beef raised only on grass, no grain at all. Another practice that helps store more carbon in the soil is rotational grazing because it lets the grass grow more roots.

A few modern day no-till grain farmers are grazing cattle on their cover crops, which ends up adding more organic matter to the soil.

Plants take carbon out of the air to grow and they give up oxygen. This is mighty convenient for us because we take oxygen out of the air and give up carbon dioxide. I don’t know much about “plant population” but in the last 150 years our human population has gone from about 1 billion up to 7 billion. Nobody ever mentions that the extra 6 billion of us walking around every day, spewing out carbon dioxide, might be a cause of rising temperatures.

Well, this is my feeble attempt to explain in a few minutes what a university professor could lecture on for a whole day.

Another bit of good news, according to our President, is that this agreement to end climate change will cause ISIS to cease terrorism and pledge to live in peace with the civilized world. Isn’t that what we’ve been told?

Historic quotes by Will Rogers:
“I am on a ranch of 600,000 acres, belonging to W. T. Waggoner, with 25,000 cattle… He is one cowman that was smart enough to solve the low prices of cattle and make ranches pay. Every cow has got her own oil well.” DT #1847, July 6, 1932
“When you ever have any doubt as to what might happen in these United States, go to the country and talk with (cattlemen) and you will come back reassured.” DT # 2430, May 17, 1934