Regenerative Cattle Grazing

Project Description and Co-Benefits:

Improved land management is a crucial component of climate change mitigation. There is potential for agriculture, representing 13.5% of global GHG emissions, to cut its emissions and store additional CO2 in soil. The Southeast region, unlike the feedlot scenarios dominant within the top 5 cattle producing states, is typified by smaller pasture based cattle operations and represents ~20% of the national herd. By targeting pastured cattle, solutions can prioritize equity by supporting small scale graziers in the Southeast. Small-scale systems are more adaptable, while support for graziers assists rural economic development and resilience-building for the impacts of climate change. Currently, a multidisciplinary team of students, faculty, and staff from Duke University and NC State University are collaborating with small-scale cattle farmers and the NC Extension Service in a year-long project to understand best management practices' (BMP) effect on soil carbon and soil quality. The ultimate goal of this project is to create a carbon offset protocol that lowers barriers of entry to farmers and increases the use of these BMPs.

Responsible cattle grazing can yield many benefits to soil health and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon offsets can capitalize on the benefits of increased soil carbon sequestration and reduced nitrous oxide emissions, due to lower rates of fertilizer application. Learn more about the science behind quantifying these emissions and Duke University’s current research efforts below.

Expected Co-Benefits Include:

  • Educational: Provide educational opportunities for students to learn about soil carbon and to do further research on how different grazing practices affect carbon storage

  • Social: Promote a more laid back lifestyle for the farmer, with reduced dependence on making hay and feeding cows each day

  • Environmental: These practices will increase soil carbon, reduce erosion, and reduce reliance on tractors for mowing; generally, these grazing practices cultivate a closed loop grazing system of increased forage productivity and reduced fertilizer inputs

  • Scalability: This project will remove barriers of entry to farmers and increase the use of these best management practices

  • Project Partners: NC State University, NC Extension Service, local farmers

Current Protocols:

Agricultural Carbon Sequestration (Australian Government):

Grassland Development Protocol:

Other Resources:

Farm Bill Legislation (2018):

Student Involvement:

Duke University is leading a team Bass X Project committed to researching regenerative grazing to mitigate climate change, current protocols, and agricultural policy. The team will create a new offset protocol and implement a corresponding pilot project. The Bass X team consists of students, staff, faculty, and community members; research and protocol development will take place in the 2019-2020 academic year. Learn more about the interdisciplinary team’s efforts here.

Project Organizer Contact Info:

Matthew Arsenault, Program Manager, Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative, 919-613-7466

Project Status:

Research Phase