Grazing for change: Connecting soil health and ranch viability using adaptive multi-paddock grazing

Project Overview

GW20-203
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $24,867.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2022
Grant Recipient: University of California, Berkeley
Region: Western
State: California
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Timothy Bowles
University of California Berkeley
Major Professor:
Lynn Huntsinger, PhD
University of California, Berkeley
Paige Stanley
University of California, Berkeley

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial)
  • Animals: bovine, sheep

Practices

  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, grazing - rotational, grazing management, pasture fertility, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management, stocking rate
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, public policy

    Proposal abstract:

    Soil carbon (C) sequestration is a top priority for regenerative ranchers, researchers, and policy makers in California. Adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing, characterized by short-duration, high intensity grazing events, is a promising grazing management strategy for increasing soil C sequestration. However, the potential of AMP grazing to sequester soil C is largely unquantified in the highly temporal and spatially variable dynamics of rangelands in the Western U.S. Rangeland systems are also socio-ecological system with complex interactions among social drivers and ecological outcomes, and very little is known about the decision making frameworks utilized by AMP ranchers regarding soil health. The goal of this project is to address these gaps with a unique, interdisciplinary approach. Soil C sequestration, water holding capacity, and other ecosystem functions (i.e. biodiversity) will be measured on AMP ranches across CA. To further understand soil C stabilization and persistence (as a long term greenhouse gas mitigation strategy), a novel soil C fractionation method will be used. Semi-structured interviews with ranchers, technical assistance providers, support organizations and policy makers will also be used to address informational and network challenges facing ranchers to graze for soil C sequestration. This research will aid development of effective grazing strategies across CA rangelands to optimize soil health and rancher livelihoods, and will expand the monitoring and payment opportunities for soil C sequestration.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Quantitative analysis of soil C sequestration on AMP grazed ranches across CA. This Spring 2020, I will be conducting a comparative “fence-line” analysis of soil C outcomes on AMP vs CONT grazed ranches across CA. To build on these data, this proposed project will allow me to conduct additional analyses that provide a more complete assessment of potential AMP benefits.
    2. Conduct interviews with AMP ranchers, technical assistance providers, and associated soil C advocates across CA. The goal of these interviews is to expand on the 11 AMP rancher interviews that I have already conducted. This is a necessary addition to understand the barriers to AMP grazing by identifying gaps in knowledge (e.g. with technical assistance providers) and identify opportunities to link grazing with soil C advocates.
    3. Produce two videos to bolster communication of AMP grazing and soil health. One video will be targeted to a public, general audience, and the other will be aimed at engaging a wider population of ranchers on grazing for soil health (see Educational Outreach Plan). A primary goal of this project is to capitalize on the visual science benefit of this project, and the effectiveness of peer-to-peer knowledge dissemination.
    4. Host a producer workshop to disseminate information, research results, and facilitate knowledge exchange on grazing for soil health. I will host a producer workshop at Paicines Ranch with the support of the Central Coast Rangeland Coalition (see attached collaboration letter from CCRC Board Member Sheila Barry) and University of California Cooperative Extension (Collaborators Leslie Roche and Sheila Barry). The workshop will be structured to share research findings, perform an in-field soil health demonstration, play the rancher educational soil health video (Obj 3), and facilitate knowledge exchange among ranchers, technical assistance providers, soil C advocates and policy makers.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.