New York is one of the top three dairy states in the nation, second only to California and Wisconsin. It is the top yogurt producer. That kind of production takes lots of cows. And cows have gotten a bad rap when it comes to global warming because they burp bovine methane gas into the atmosphere.
But cows can actually combat global warming. Here’s how. Reducing the carbon in the atmosphere is actually a balancing act. We’ve been focusing on cutting carbon emissions—mostly those created by fossil fuels. That’s essential but it’s just half the story. We can also pull carbon out of the atmosphere into “sinks,” or giant carbon repositories. The soil is one of the biggest carbon sinks out there, offering solutions to our climate problems.
How do we do this?
Photosynthesis. Plants are mostly carbon. Grow a plant, suck carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the soil. And that’s good for many reasons. Besides fighting global warming, it enriches soil leached of nutrients, improves water management, and promotes plant diversity.
And where do cows come in? Cows can help manage grasslands through something called holistic grazing. Originally, grazing animals grazed and traveled. They didn’t hang out long in any particular mountain meadow or river plain because predators kept them on the move. That prevented overgrazing and bare ground, which emits carbon into the air. Farmers that use holistic grazing practices which mimic those primeval patterns move grazing animals from one place to another for limited periods of time. Cows eat all plants, not just those they like better. Their hooves push the parts of what they don’t eat into the soil, which enriches it. The cow pies they leave behind do the same.
This a low-tech, low-cost solution that offers big payoffs if adopted on a large scale. Implementing them globally could lower greenhouse gas concentrations to pre-industrial era levels in a matter of decades, according to the Savory Institute. Applying holistic management to five billion hectares of degraded grassland soils could pull 10 billion tons of excess atmospheric carbon into the terrestrial sink.
The Institute facilitates large-scale restoration of the world’s grasslands using holistic management and regenerative farming. Part of its mandate includes training and educating farmers and ranchers worldwide.
We can see this grazing practice at work here in New York. Dharma Lea farm in Sharon Springs is a 100% grass-fed dairy farm that not only practices holistic management but educates other farmers and consumers as well. The problem is part of the solution—making it a lot easier to enjoy some New York ice cream or yogurt!