One of several papers that have been bunged up in COVID-related publication delays has finally come out today in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Why is grazing management being overlooked in climate adaptation policy?. The article, led by former postdoc Wesley Tourangeau, now at Lincoln in the UK, takes a close look at the two 2018 studies by the Canadian House and Senate of about agriculture and climate change. Despite significant expert advocacy in the evidence-gathering phase about the value of grazing management approaches to climate adaptation, none of that was included in either final report or parliamentary response. Wes took a critical discourse analysis approach to the 112 documents, looking not only at what is said about grazing management but who is saying it, and what that says about power and ideologies. A focus on industry and government voices leads in this case to a focus on expensive, high-tech but low-labour options at the detriment of high-skill and high-labour approaches like grazing management. This techno-fix bias to climate policy pathways closes doors unnecessarily, as the new documentary Kiss the Ground indicates: protecting and rebuilding the soil, as grazing management does, is an important piece of the climate puzzle, not just for adaptation but mitigation, too.
Update: Thanks to Carolyn Mann for telling me that in a moment of synchronicity, rotational grazing was mentioned in the federal budget yesterday (p. 174), viz:
Agricultural Climate Solutions
Farmers are major players in Canada’s fight against climate change. The agricultural sector has the potential to scale up climate solutions, many of which are already underway across the country. Building on Canada’s climate action programs for farmers—including the $185 million Agricultural Climate Solutions program, and the $165 million Agricultural Clean Technology Program—Budget 2021 proposes to:
Provide an additional $200 million over two years, starting in 2021-22, to launch immediate, on-farm climate action under the Agricultural Climate Solutions program. This will target projects accelerating emission reductions by improving nitrogen management, increasing adoption of cover cropping, and normalizing rotational grazing (bold mine).
It’s about time.
Congratulations to Kristine Dahl for her new paper out in Rangeland Ecology & Management, Assessing variation in range health across grazed northern temperate grasslands. This work was funded by my SSHRC Insight Grant on sustainable grazing, and drew in Ed Bork at the University of Alberta who is an expert in rangeland systems. Based on rangeland health assessments and interviews across 28 cattle ranches in Alberta, this new paper provides some insight on how climate, pasture (native v. tame) and rotation interact. Grazing length had more impact on rangeland health than calculated stocking rates, with shorter grazing periods causing improvements in both tame and native pasture under aridity. There is also an indication that native grasslands grazed for shorter periods have lower weed prevalence and more litter, useful as mulch in dry conditions. Nice to see these relationships emerging across such a wide swath of Alberta (grassland, parkland/foothills and boreal) and in working rather than experimental conditions.
Archetypal land sparing in the southeastern Australian grazing landscape.
Back in 2014 colleagues at Leuphana and I had a chapter accepted in a volume of Ecological Reviews on Agricultural Resilience: perspectives from ecology and economics. I’m delighted to be able to report that the volume is finally published, five years later. Our chapter looks at the resilience implications of land sharing and land sparing, using as a case study the southeastern sheep-wheat belt where co-author Joern Fischer and I did our postdocs back at ANU in the late 2000s. We compared grazing archetypes of land sparing (fencing out dense woodlands for protection while continuously grazing the rest; see above) and land sharing (farmers using HM, who grazed intensively and rotationally pretty much everywhere on their farms, supporting scattered trees and their recruitment but few dense woodlands; see below). The resilience implications of these options are analyzed, integrating ecology, economics and social dimensions, and consistent with where the broader sharing/sparing debate has settled, reached the conclusion that a diversity of approaches is needed for system-wide sustainability.
Archetypal land sharing in the southeastern Australian grazing landscape thanks to HM to the left of the fence.
Some of my favourite parts of the chapter are the sample quotes included on the social challenges of adopting HM practices that draw from my 2008 photo-elicitation interviews with graziers across a range of practices. They speak to the mundane yet powerful barriers of change that come from our need for relationships and respect: for instance, not having anything to talk to conventional farmers about at BBQs (“what will I open with?”), or having people think they’ve “lost the plot” and feeling the pressure after HM training to “go like a sheep and follow the rest” rather than convert. Such pressures align with some of what we’re hearing from HM trainers, too.
A new paper is out this week that has been long in coming. Carlisle Kent’s post-graduation research contract in the winter of 2016 with the Reconciling Holistic Management project, released as a report in winter 2017, has been picked up and refined for publication by postdoc Wes Tourangeau. The paper will be out in the first 2019 issue of Weather, Climate and Society and is called: Of climate and weather: Examining Canadian farm and livestock organization discourses from 2010 to 2015. This work was part of our effort to understand the science-practice-policy interface around HM, in this case focusing on farmer organizations and how they communicate about climate and grazing. We found interesting patterns of discourses: Alberta groups speaking to members about acute matters of weather but national groups speaking to policy-makers about chronic climate issues. Climate-related discourses advocated regulation and weather-related discourses advocated insurance and other buffering mechanisms. Both promoted infrastructure and technological fixes as well as land management decisions. The only land management change advocated for both climate and weather challenges was managed/rotational grazing, suggesting that grazing practitioners and their advocates see utility. We are currently following up this work to explore the discourse of recent Senate and House explorations on agriculture and climate change.
Carolyn won’t be wielding any test tubes with us.
Great to have Carolyn Mann joining our sustainable grazing team, working remotely from Ottawa. Carolyn is finishing up her Masters at Dalhousie’s Agricultural Campus in parallel with this part time research contract. Her Masters sees her combining soil testing with farmer interviews about soil quality. She won’t be wielding any test tubes in her work with me, however. Carolyn will be launching the third stream of our Reconciling HM SSHRC project: talking to HM trainers to understand whether HM farmers are born, or made. Welcome aboard.