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To Graze, Forage, or Browse

With the population growing and development of land proceeding at record pace, grazing land (both native and improved pasture) should be preserved for multiple reasons. Taking economic impact of cattle, goat, and horse production aside, grazing land actually helps in the net reduction of greenhouse gases. The grasses in grazing land remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere both through photosynthesis and carbon sequestration. These processes can be enhanced with proper management by all agriculturalists; both large and small land owners can play a part.
What is carbon sequestration?

“Sequester” means to keep apart or segregate. So, if carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere (particularly those produced by man-made processes), it is a win-win situation. Carbon sequestration is the process by which plants transfer carbon dioxide to the soil. What makes grazing land particularly favorable is both native and improved pasture management usually causes little soil disturbance. This, in turn, reduces the carbon loss from organic matter and allows new plant materials from the grasses to become part of the soil organic matter over time. Large amounts of carbon in grazing-land ecosystems are located in the soil and readily transferred into more permanent storage in the soil. Because carbon stored below ground is more permanent than plant biomass, soil carbon sequestration in grazing lands provides a long-term alternative to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
What Best Management Practices can you implement?

Best Management Practices (BMP) maximize sequestration which also has been shown to improve soil and water quality, reduce soil erosion, increase water conservation, and crop productivity. Fortunately, the same BMPs that optimize carbon sequestration also improve forage production. Proper fertilization, optimum grazing management (not overgrazing), fire regimen, introduction of legumes (such as perennial peanut), and use of improved grass species can boost plant productivity while promoting soil carbon sequestration. Think healthy plant = healthy roots = healthy carbon sequestration.
Something to chew on

Pardon the pun, but this does give citizens something to consider. Reducing grazing land area will change the amounts of carbon sequestered in our environment. Perhaps next time you drive through a rural area, and see cattle or other livestock utilizing grazing land, consider the widespread benefit these operations provide…some that we cannot even see.

Author: Laura Bennett, Extension Agent I
Multi-County Livestock Agent
Pasco, Sumter and Hernando Counties