How Cattle Ranchers Can Combat Climate Change

How Cattle Ranchers Can Combat Climate Change

“Planned grazing’s benefits to people, habitat and wildlife are the subject of the article below.


NOTE: this commentary was originally published to on December 1, 2021. It was written by Meredith Ellis and Suzanne Scott.


Texas relies on the multibillion-dollar cattle industry for economic success and the conservation of our iconic landscape — the two are not mutually exclusive.

Ranchers have a devotion to the land that sustains their livelihood, as it did for generations before them. This lifetime connection to the land is bringing ranchers and conservationists together to overcome the mounting challenges of climate change.

As we face the impacts of climate change, ranchers and the beef industry can be part of the solution. The Texas Department of Agriculture estimates the state grossed $12.3 billion in cattle production in 2017, nearly half the state’s commodities. As they contribute to the economy, ranchers are driving solutions to environmental challenges through improved practices fostered by programs, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative. We’ve seen firsthand the best way to effect long-term change is through collaboration. To ensure a resilient future for all Texans, ranchers must play an active role in helping create a sustainable game plan for the industry.

Well-managed grazing lands offer key benefits, from absorbing and filtering water to storing carbon to providing a home for plants and wildlife native to Texas. These working lands play an important part in offering environmental benefits and keeping large landscapes intact — but they are also under threat. Texas lost about 2.2 million acres of working lands to nonagricultural land use from 1997 to 2017. During this period, the rate of conversion accelerated significantly from 2012 to 2017, with more than 1.2 million acres lost, more than 650 acres per day.

We need to help ranchers make sustainable practices the norm on Texas’ working lands. The first steps are partnering with heritage ranching operations to implement innovative practices and collaborating with large food companies to source sustainable beef products. The goal is to mainstream livestock production practices that actively restore and regenerate nature. Through cross-sector partnerships such as the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, we can give ranchers the tools and support to adopt regenerative practices that are good for the environment while providing products that consumers can feel good about buying.

New research shows ranchers can be economically successful while reducing their carbon footprint by adopting proven land-management and production practices. For instance, rotational grazing mimics the behavior of the migrating animals that historically foraged grasslands, stimulating plant growth and incorporating rest for plants to prevent overgrazing. A healthy grassland needs some level of disturbance on it to be a fully functioning ecosystem. As cattle graze, this stimulates root systems, which store carbon while enhancing soil health, benefiting native plants and wildlife. Integrated field management can increase soil health and fertility, capture carbon and provide habitat for pollinators by incorporating the active grazing of cattle on cover crops planted during months when fields would otherwise lay fallow. Initial data modeling suggests a direct benefit in downstream water quality and carbon sequestration by implementing responsible land-management practices such as these.

Conservation and cattle may seem like unlikely allies in the battle to tackle climate change, but by giving ranchers the resources they need to sustainably steward their lands and operations, we can ensure long-term food supply, economic security and a healthy environment for all Texans.

Suzanne Scott is the Texas director at the Nature Conservancy. Meredith Ellis is a sustainable cattle rancher, managing more than 3,000 acres of wildlife habitat, native range and improved forages in Rosston.

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.

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