Microbes Are the Key to Improving Rangeland Soil Fertility

David C. Johnson, Ph.D, of New Mexico State University discusses how his compost research shows tremendous promise for soil carbon sequestration, and the potential benefits that may have on climate change, our food system, rangelands and the wildlife they support. Microbes – ignored in most research – are the key.

Transcript: “Most of the other researchers are seeing very low possibility for capturing carbon in soils. The rates at which they’re seeing this are so low that it would never happen. We would never actually make any headway in reducing atmospheric CO2. With the biology, things change. It starts to restore the dynamic of the system, that, how it used to operate before we came in and crippled every biological pathway that is in the soil. And I’ve seen with the biology, we can do it at at least 10 times the rate of carbon capture that anybody else is seeing in their research. And other people now, progressive farmers and ranchers that are doing this are seeing as much as I’m seeing or more, as far as our ability to capture carbon. So, I see this as hope. I see this as the only mechanism that we can use to capture carbon. Practically. Cost-effectively. And to offer so many co-benefits in the process. The carbon capture is the icing on the cake. You know, pulling it from the atmosphere. But what we’re doing to our soils, what we’re doing to our rangelands, it will change the whole paradigm of how we grow food on this planet. And implementing the microbes back into this system is the key. At least that’s what I’m seeing in my research.”

David C. Johnson, Ph.D. on Rapid Carbon Sequestration from Center for Food Safety on Vimeo.

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    • Hello John,

      Yes he is familiar with Savory’s work but he is addressing another issue: Why it works physiologically.

      The anti-cattle movement includes a group that says that cattle (and presumably all herbivores) harm the atmosphere because they burp and fart methane. According to them this methane harms world climate, which would improve if all herbivores – starting wth cows – just disappeared. In other words, plants with no animals is desirable. Holy Cow! (the pun is intentional).

      The enteric methane bunch say that their studies prove planned grazing does not lead to net carbon sequestration. David Johnson says they are wrong because they assumed microbial activity is a constant, whereas increased activity of soil life (including microbes) is the main reason for increased soil carbon.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Hi Chris,
    Good story by David Johnson.
    To my knowledge how to improve Microbes and Fertility in the soil is to deep work to around 10” introduce more Legumes and grass seeds, By doing the above you will allow more rain and air to penetrate deeper into the soil and creating a bigger healthier environment for the plant to grow.

    • Hello Keith,

      I would agree in this sense: Contour subsoil plowing 10’ – 18’ deep of open rangeland using a plow which opens soil to air and rain absorption without turning it over or killing existing plants, greatly stimulates existing weed and grass plant growth.

      Add to that water harvesting, planned grazing of cattle, and the animal impact of lots of wild animals and you have the combined practices we call “Drought Busters”.

      This does not require costly seeding because native seeds are present in abundance and the ones that will do best in whatever specific range conditions exist, are the ones that will sprout. Then as range conditions change for the reasons discussed in the piece, plant succession will proceed.

      We should be evaluating every practice in terms of the effect on soil fertility, which is synonymous with increasing soil life. Carbon sequestration, water retention, fertility, plant growth and increased health of soil life, are all facets of the same thing.

      Thanks for commenting.

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