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Ranching's role in climate change

Ranching's role in climate change
Livestock account for up to 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. But if raised properly and sustainably, livestock can play a crucial and beneficial role in preserving native grassland ecosystems.

Chefs know that creating the right eating experience with bison meat often requires the right mix of temperature and moisture during cooking.

Ranchers know that these factors are important long before the meat ever hits the grill. Temperature and moisture are two factors that determine profitability and sustainability in all aspects of agriculture, including bison.   

Last weekend, I knocked snow off my tree branches only one day after working in my garden in shirtsleeves. I was in southwest Texas a few day earlier, where talk of persistent drought punctuated most of the conversations. A recent drive across southern Minnesota found producers frustrated by the delays in getting into their muddy fields.

This tends to be an optimistic time of year. After all, it’s hard to feel pessimistic when the new crop of calves are starting to romp across the pastures.

But the recent reports concerning the onset of climate change should be a sobering wake-up call for everyone…particularly farmers and ranchers. And, these reports need to prompt everyone—including farmers and ranchers—to assess how our practices may impact the changing climate.

While many people target livestock as a significant contributor to greenhouse gases (a report from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization attributes 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emission to livestock), I contend that livestock raised properly actually play a vital role in maintaining a stable environment. With nearly 40 percent of the world’s land mass comprised of native grassland ecosystems, grazing animals like bison and cattle are a major component in that environment. On top of that, the UN report states that "greenhouse gas emissions by the livestock sector could be cut by as much as 30 percent through the wider use of existing best practices and technologies."

Intensive crop and livestock production practices relying on petroleum fertilizers and chemicals, along with water extracted from depleting underground aquifers, are undeniably disrupt many aspects of our environment, including the climate.

A growing number of producers are shifting practices toward environmentally sustainable practices. Those producers, though, will fall by the wayside unless they are economically sustainable as well. Chefs have learned to control their cooking process with a turn of the knob on the grill, or the addition of a half-cup of broth. Farmers and ranchers don’t have that luxury.

That’s where everyone else, retailers, restaurants, and customers, play a role. Increasing demand for organic, non-GMO and other sustainably grown products will provide more incentive for farmers and ranchers to make the transitions that are so crucial to preserving the environment.

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