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Regenerative grazing can mitigate climate change and at the same time improve soil fertility

  • At NEIKER we have been implementing this grazing method in our dairy sheep flock in Arkaute (Álava) for almost a decade, with positive results
  • Among other benefits, we have found that regenerative grazing increases soil carbon storage by 4%, thus reducing the impact of climate change
  • In addition, it improves soil fertility, increases the amount of grass produced and reduces the carbon footprint, all without affecting the sheep’s milk production

Grazing is one of the most common activities in our livestock production system. However, in recent years and due to the consequences caused by climate change, different European institutions have demanded a reduction in the environmental impact of livestock farming, as in other sectors. In order to reach the objectives set by Europe, this sector has had to reinvent itself and promote more environmentally sustainable techniques.

In this context, at NEIKER we have been implementing regenerative grazing in our dairy sheep flock in Arkaute (Álava) for about a decade. This technique consists of grazing in small plots for short periods of time and then giving the pasture enough rest to ensure better conservation of soil quality.

The results achieved after these years of work are bearing fruit. According to Nerea Mandaluniz and Lur Epelde, researchers from NEIKER’s Animal Production and Natural Resources Conservation departments, thanks to regenerative grazing, “during the first three years, carbon fixation and soil fertility increased, as well as grass production, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint, and all this without affecting the sheep’s milk production”.

Specifically, as Mandaluniz points out, after 6 years of implementing this method with the flock, a relevant milestone was reached: “an increase of 4% in soil carbon storage, a figure higher than that proposed in Paris at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change COP21, which proposed improving the organic matter content by 4/1000 of the carbon in soils”.

As Epelde adds, as the implementation of this type of grazing progresses, the results increase. “Specifically, after 9 years of regenerative grazing with the herd we observed that carbon accumulates mainly in the top layer of the soil and in the form of particulate organic matter (+18%).” These results indicate that the soil is more fertile than it was almost a decade ago, which favors biological activity and plant growth.

In addition to its ability to mitigate the climatic emergency, regenerative grazing offers several benefits to the farmer. On the one hand, it increases grass production, thus leading to lower feed purchase costs. On the other hand, it reinforces the ecosystem or environmental services provided by these systems linked to natural resources.

Extensive livestock farming, more profitable and sustainable

In recent years, extensive livestock farming has been gaining strength in the first sector thanks to the fact that it is a set of livestock production systems that make efficient use of the territory’s resources with the appropriate species and breeds, making production compatible with sustainability and generating environmental and social services.

This type of livestock farming contributes to environmental care, reduces plant biomass, prevents fires, keeps the forest open, protects and regenerates the soil, favors water cycles and even contributes to fixing large amounts of carbon in the soil.

Extensive livestock farming also has a social benefit, as it helps society to focus its attention on the rural population and helps to fix and recover the rural population, preserve the knowledge of local natural resources and their sustainable use. In addition, it is a mode of production that saves energy and material resources and makes it possible to move towards more profitable and sustainable production.

This initiative has been financed by the Basque Government, the LIFE REGEN FARMING project and EIT-Food.