Agriculture Cattle for carbon farms? (creative commons)

Published on May 1st, 2014 | by Sandy Dechert


Forest “Carbon Farms” More Profitable Than Raising Cattle

May 1st, 2014 by  

Cattle for carbon farms? (creative commons)

Multinational researchers this week divulged the results of a study of Colombia’s western Andes, one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems, that confirmed that letting cattle land regrow as forest “carbon farms” could remove significant amounts of carbon dioxide from earth’s atmosphere without damaging local economies.

Environmental scientists have focused on reforestation as a climate mitigation technique since the introduction of the UNFCCC’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) strategy over nine years ago. The Andes study casts an important and useful light on the economics of transformation of cattle land to carbon farm as it relates to current agricultural practices. It provides real-life measurements on the benefits to farmers of growing carbon instead of cows.

The researchers surveyed carbon stocks, biodiversity, and economic values in the western Andes. Currently, the main use of land in this part of Colombia is cattle farming, but its economic benefits are minimal. The study found that farmers could make the same money, or more, by allowing their land to serve as forest. With a functioning carbon offset economy, they would get paid to change the land use to carbon farming, receiving around $1.99 per ton of CO2 that the trees remove from the atmosphere. The study also found that letting forests regenerate would have a massive impact on threatened species and biodiversity.

Says senior scientist David Edwards of the University of Sheffield’s renowned Department of Animal and Plant Sciences:

“This would cost very little money. Providing people are willing to spend [it], this could be a critical mechanism for stopping climate change and protecting some of the world’s most endangered species.”

Lead researcher Dr. James Gilroy from the University of East Anglia, via Norwegian University of Life Sciences, states that the team has found that unlike carbon capture and sequestration, a massive, expensive, and protracted technique still in its infancy, reforestation of cattle lands could capture significant amounts of carbon dioxide at minimal cost. Gilroy characterizes it as a “a win-win situation.” The impressive scholarly team comes from from the Sheffield, Norwegian, Bangor University, University of Leeds, University College London, Investigación de Recursos Biológicos Alexander von Humboldt (Bogota), and James Cook University, Australia.

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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

  • Noitsme

    It is insane destroying forest to feed cows, then trying to re-grow the forest to offset carbon. The burning of forest to create grazing land needs to stop, intensive cattle grazing can be sustainable, and even restore grasslands, providing carbon. See the work done by Allan Savory

  • LookingForward

    The best thing developed nations can do for carbon capture, I think, is plant a lot of trees. There is enough space in the US, to remove all carbon the US has put in the air in the last 150 years, it would take atleast 100 years, but got to start some where. Why not put all finanaces for CCS into planting trees? Use the subsidies for fossil fuels for trees, carbon taxes for trees, it will whine it self out.
    Or is this a stupid idea? I mean how many trees can you plant for 1 billion let alone 10 or 100 billion over 100 years.

  • Matthew

    Bamboo is better than a tree in reducing carbon. They grow faster and denser so they offset more carbon.

  • JamesWimberley

    I’ve seen cattle land in upstate Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, in the area formerly covered by the great Mata Atlantica forest. Much of it is steep hillsides that cattle can barely move about on, with a low stocking density. Unlike in the Amazon, the remaining forest is stably protected, Some reafforestation is going on, but not on a large scale.

    $2 a tonne of carbon is incredibly cheap. A forest tree grown to maturity fixes about a tonne in its life. You have to plant at least three or four more which will be lost to thinning or accident. Can you really get the locals to plant and maintain five trees for $2?

    The ultimate fate of the carbon is of interest. It the wood is chipped and burnt or fermented, it reenters the atmosphere – sustainable, but not a net reduction over 40 years. The best is if the timber is used in building or furniture, where it stays out of circulation for another 50 to 100 years.

  • sault

    We would also see the benefits of reduced methane emissions and water pollution with less cattle grazing on less land due to this policy.
    In the USA, I wonder how much we could achieve turning a lot of the factory farmland we grow animal feed on into pasture to let cows graze naturally. It would require a major restructuring of our subsidy and agricultural policy regime, so the politics are a major roadblock. Beef prices would increase as well, but we eat too much of that stuff anyway.

    • Otis11

      I’m not so sure beef prices would increase – in a sense. Sure, the cheapest beef would not be as available, but the average quality of the beef would likely increase. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same quality of meat actually went down in price a bit for the mid-to-upper quality…

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