Unsavory Soil Management:
Why High-Density Grazing is an Unmitigated Climate and Social Disaster
by Moses Seenarine 11/20/17
Many supporters of animal farming question the significance of land degradation and GHG pollution from livestock grazing. They often cite Allan Savory's claim that livestock's damaging effects on soil and the climate can be controlled through “holistic management and planned grazing.” Savory's process purportedly allows domesticated herds to act as “a proxy for former herds and predators”, in trampling dry grass and leaving “dung, urine and litter or mulch.” This supposedly enables the soil to “absorb and hold rain, to store carbon, and to break down methane.”
Contrary to the scientific literature, Savory's popular theory to reverse desertification and return the atmosphere to preindustrial levels requires a massive enlargement in livestock production. Be that as it may, agricultural and environmental science suggests Savory's claim is simply not reasonable. For instance, the massive, ongoing additions of carbon into the atmosphere from human activity far exceed the carbon storage capacity of global grasslands.
Savory’s ultra-high stock density (UHSD) methods have garnered little support from agricultural science, and there are many researchers critical of his unscientific methods. One accuses him of piecing together false assumptions to produce ineffective but popular recommendations on climate mitigation.
Another scholar point to Savory’s numerous inconsistencies and varying methods. A review of experiments from 13 North American sites and additional data from Africa reveal there is little evidence for any of the environmental benefits which Savory claimed for his methods. Other researchers point out that intensive (cell) grazing is only viable where water points are close and labor is cheap. Temporary or permanent fencing is labor intensive, and moving herds daily requires more labor that most livestock operations cannot afford.
Nonetheless, the livestock industry and popular trade magazines are touting the miracle of ultra-high stock density (UHSD) grazing for small-scale farmers. Farming at amounts exceeding 1 million pounds (463,600 kg) of live animal per acre is far beyond the capacity of the family farm. At this high level of stock density, cattle have to be moved multiple times per hour, per grazing period. There is no known "magical" stock density value that expedites the desired outcomes, but the greater the stock density the bigger the herd impact. Farmers need to have capable pen and corral space, sufficient drinking water and recharge capabilities, effective fencing with quality energizer to carry electricity to extremities of the property, plenty of temporary electric fence supplies, and suitable equipment to quickly deploy them.
Due to herd impact, recovery periods are usually longer thus lengthening grazing cycles, especially in areas impacted during wet periods. Intrinsically, UHSD requires massive amounts of land and labor, and cannot be accomplished sustainability or by family farms. Emma Archer's review of 14 years of satellite imaging data in South Africa ascertained that Savory's intensive grazing practices caused lower levels of vegetation than traditional approaches, when rainfall is added.
Rather than the desertification outcome of UHSD, there is massive potential for reforestation in Africa if livestock is removed and the related savanna burning is stopped. Even though Savory's methods have been repeatedly debunked for many decades, it is popularly promoted by the food animal industry, environmentalists and many others, to justify environmentally destructive carnivory. In reality, UHSD causes severe land degradation which may have been a major factor in wars in Darfur and Syria. Far from being a solution, enlarging livestock production is an unmitigated climate and social disaster.