The Grass Is Greener, page 3

Benefits to the Environment

Pasture-based feeding is an ecologically efficient method of farming. Instead of producing tons of grain for feed—which requires extensive land, fertilizer, pest management, and large equipment for cultivating, harvesting, drying, storage and feeding—pasture-based farming lets the animals do the work. They harvest, fertilize, and feed themselves, overseen by the farmer in a carefully-managed system. The net result is significantly less fossil-fuel consumption, less erosion, less air and water pollution and greater soil fertility.

A study in Minnesota found that during one rainstorm, an acre of unplowed pasture lost 53 pounds of soil, while an acre of cornfield lost 10 tons of soil in the same storm. Less erosion means lower levels of sediment and fecal material in waterways, and nitrate-nitrogen runoff as much as 30 to 50 times lower from land planted to perennial grasses than from corn-soybean row crops. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have even found that rotational paddocks attract twice as many nesting songbirds as continuously-grazed fields.

Animals on pasture deposit manure throughout their grazing area, fertilizing the soil and helping to support healthy pasture growth. Manure from animals in confinement is deposited in a concentrated area, where it is collected and hauled away, or stored in large manure pits. Often it is dumped nearby or spread in high concentration where it overloads the soil with concentrated nutrients and pollutes surface and ground water, as well as affecting the air quality. Studies also show that compared to plowed cropland, pasture can bind up many more tons of carbon dioxide in the organic matter of soils. This is an important factor in the reduction of greenhouse gases, meaning that increased amounts of land in pasture may even help to slow global warming.

When the acreage required to produce corn for feed is taken into account, along with grazing on land that is not suitable for cultivation, pasture turns out to be a more efficient use of land than many other types of production. Although there are some areas where grazing is not appropriate, overgrazing is almost always the result of bad pasture management, not grazing itself.

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