USDA Endorses Environmentally Friendly Ranching

According to recent scientific studies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pastoral herding can have environmental benefits over indoor cattle farming. The recent USDA study comes at a time of uncertainty about the sustainability (both financial and environmental) of American agriculture. Recent action by the USDA has focused on environmental protection as a vital part of the future of the agricultural industry. The USDA’s efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollution are one such example of the agency’s increased environmental stewardship.

The study also comes on the heels of a report by the National Research Council which claimed that American agricultural production, as it currently exists, is not sustainable in the long-term. The depletion of natural resources and the toll that large-scale farming takes on the environment cannot be kept up indefinitely, the study claimed. The solution to these long-term problems, the NRC said, lay with encourage more small-scale, environmentally friendly agricultural practices.

The USDA cattle herd study, headed by agricultural engineer Al Rotz, used computer simulations to compare confinement operation common on many cattle farms to cattle farms that use year round, outdoor operations. Outdoor, pastoral operations, the study found, significantly reduced the emission of ammonia, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide.

In addition, using converting field used for feed crops to perennial grasslands for grazing greatly increased carbon sequestration, reducing the emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere. Overall, the carbon footprint for outdoor cattle herd was six percent lower than herd production done in barns.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer