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“We make our own droughts, and our own floods.”
When a USDA soil scientist told me this, I didn’t believe him at first. Yet the truth lies beneath our feet — in grass and soil. Grass covering the soil functions like matted hair, trapping and slowing raindrops as they hit the ground. Their root systems help the soil to soak in water and permeate into the ground. Soil with adequate grass cover stays moist longer than bare soil, and captures more water when it rains. Grasses make our landscapes more resilient against drought, and prevent flood runoff and erosion when it pours.
Grasses also pull carbon out of the atmosphere and store it below ground through their root systems. Since grasslands comprise over a third of the world’s land mass, this is a critical lever in addressing our climate challenges.
What do cows have to do with this?
Our grasslands co-evolved with large migrating herds of grazing animals — bison, elk, antelope, and their predators — ecosystem links that were eradicated. Grassland ecosystems don’t fully work without grazing herds, but uncontrolled herds overgrazing is also damaging. That’s where cows and good management come in.
These cowboys are putting this science into action. Watch this video and see for yourself:
Ranchers like Doniga and Erik Markegard of Markegard Family Grass-Fed use holistic grazing management techniques to move their herds in planned rotations around POST’s landscapes. Planned rotations mimic the predatory pressure of migratory herds.
The Markegards’ management enables grazing the land with care, allowing adequate time for grasses to rest and recover. Cows also trample down old, dry grass, and fertilize soil with their manure, adding organic matter. 1% increase in organic matter increases the soil’s water holding capacity by 27,000 gallons of water per acre. The cows are literally restoring our watershed’s ability to store and cycle water.
Since the Markegards started grazing on POST’s Cloverdale Coastal Ranches property, they have brought back native perennial grasses like purple needlegrass, reduce invasive species, increased grass cover, prevented erosion, and added more wildlife diversity. The Markegards and their grazing practices are bringing resilience back to our landscapes.
Christine Su is the CEO and founder of PastureMap, a startup aiming to help farmers and ranchers graze profitably on healthy grasslands. She also serves as an advisor on POST’s NexGen Committee.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects and cares for open space, farms and parkland in and around Silicon Valley. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 75,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.