Rising CO2 levels, temperatures reduce forage quality

USDA Forest Service Thunder Basin National Grassland, in Wyoming, on July 29, 2019.  Elevation on the national grassland ranges from 3,600 to 5,200 feet, and the climate is semi-arid. The national grassland abounds with wildlife year-round, provides forage for livestock, and is underlain with vast mineral resources. 

Several industry stakeholders have teamed up with major businesses to invest in the future of agricultural land and the beef industry.

Burger King, Cargill and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have partnered to “mitigate effects of climate change” with a new grassland restoration project. The three-year project will utilize cattle grazing to restore ecosystems and protect wildlife.

The program will convert nearly 8,000 acres of marginal cropland throughout Montana and South Dakota to grasslands, with beef cattle as grazers to maintain it. If the program is a success, it is projected to save the carbon equivalent of driving nearly 70 million miles in a car, according to the groups.

“Via the Grasslands Restoration project, we are proactively engaging with our peers, experts and industry stakeholders to help advance beef sustainability and mitigate the effects of climate change,” said Matthew Banton, global head of innovation and sustainability for Burger King.

A released statement from the groups cites data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that the North American beef supply chain is already 35 percent more efficient from a greenhouse gas perspective than the global average.

“The project builds on the strong leadership of farmers and ranchers in this region, by providing additional opportunities to expand their grazing land,” the statement read.

The reseeding efforts will focus on large areas in the Northern Great Plains where the land isn’t productive for farming.

“Native grasses, with roots 10 to 15 feet deep in some cases, pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground to support one of the world’s most stable carbon sinks,” the groups said.

The groups said cattle can help stimulate the growth of grasses and maintain a healthy ecosystem and help provide a habitat to wildlife.

“Ranchers are some of the most important stewards of the grasslands of the Northern Great Plains,” said Martha Kauffman, managing director of WWF’s Northern Great Plains program. “As managers of over 70 percent of the remaining intact grasslands within this region, they hold the key to its future.”

Future of the beef industry

The National Cattlemen’s Foundation (NCF) has also teamed up with Cargill to provide funding to cattle producers in North America to “help manage market shifts, reduce costs, manage finite natural resource availability and withstand extreme weather events.”

The Rancher Resilience Grant program creates a scholarship program and provides educational resources through the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

The four-year $3 million partnership offsets expenses for farmers and ranchers to attend local, national, and global educational events. This includes industry conferences, seminars, and certifications that address animal health and well-being, profitability, natural resources, sustainability, genetics and reproduction education.

“This partnership furthers NCF’s vision by advancing the future of the beef industry,” said NCBA CEO Colin Woodall. “There is no better way to achieve this than by meeting producers on the ground and supporting access to continuing education through free tools and resources.”

The Rancher Resilience Grant program will launch this fall. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor

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