I was a Marine Cyrptologic Arabic Linguist from 04-2013. I deployed to Iraq twice and was stationed on the edge of the “Fertile Crescent” or the birthplace of civilization aka the Euphrates river and the land extending over to the Tigris. What I saw was miles and miles of intense desert and dust storms, 100 feet of palm trees, river, 100 feet of palm trees, desert. No top soil. No agriculture except with what little water they could divert from the river maybe 200 feet. What a fall from grace this region experienced. Yes, deserts exist naturally but so much land throughout the world is turning into desert. Central US is the place closest to home where this is happening. There is a line exisitng on no maps but very visible from the air running north to south across our heart land. It is the increasingly abrupt change moving from west to east of arid to humid climate and each year it moves more and more east. Why? What happened to the fertile crescent? Was the American South west always such an extreme desert? Was so much of modern day california always barren and brown? See pictures attached for effect.
I left Iraq determined to teach myself at least where my food comes from and loftily to prevent another dust bowl. I reenlisted and move to Georgia where we purchased a cookie cutter house on a clear cut .13 acres. Learned edible landscaping and loved everything about producing food. We got a few chickens and the rest is history. Chickens are the gateway livestock by the way.
Due to budget cuts in 2012, The Marine Corps was going to force me to move very soon to a different duty station. My wife and I didn’t want to so we turned down the orders and signed paperwork to exit the Marine Corps. Sad. But we finished out my time and determined it be best we move back home. I had taken to farming so much, we decided to start our own so Semper Grazing Ranch was born. I have learned so much from other farmers and been obsessed ever since that first chicken.
But I didn’t really see the bigger picture until I learned about desertification and a man deserving of the Nobel Prize: Allan Savory. He has proven you can reverse desertification with the use of domesticated livestock. Allan Savory is the Godfather of Holistic Management and the founder of the Savory Insitute. To learn more about him and reversing desertification, check out this link: https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI. His preserve in Zimbabwe called the Africa Centre for Holistic Management borders a National Park. Almost immediately after the rainy season, the ecosystem in the National park dries up, animals fight for food, streams dry then ponds and lakes. But using cattle wisely, land on his preserve/farm has been so restored, the streams and rivers run year round filled with fish. There is so much food, his preserve supports more wildlife than the National Park. You can see the website here: https://www.africacentreforholisticmanagement.org. One day, I will visit this holy grail of natural world understanding and repair. Now, obviously Ohio isn’t in any danger of becoming a desert in the next 20 years. But what if we became more arid? What if all the rain for the year fell April thru June? As we let plants recover before bringining animals back around to eat them, we deepen the grass roots and improve soil health. We increase the water holding capacity and the soil’s water infiltration capacity. Deeper roots and more consistent soil moisture are how we drought proof ourselves. Sounds good right?
I had the wonderful fortune of being trained intensely by the Savory institute on behalf of my own farm down in Georgia at White Oak Pastures for 10 days in 2019. We had people from all over the world and every climate. Rod, the Australian sheep farmer with 25000 acres (Turner is roughly 220 and only 80 acres of pasture) was the student from arid climate. Manuel managed a 900 acre family heirloom ranch in the mountains of Colombia. We had people from Denmark, Germany, Virginia, California and Ohio. We all were still basically taught the same things: move the animals, cover the soil and make sure the grass is recovered. How that is done differs massively depending on all the factors or individual wholes. Holistic farming is basically laying out your values, what you want life to look like, your strengths weakness, what the land is like now and what you want it to become, what assets you have… and on and on. Once you have all that laid out, you come up with what is called your holistic context: the summation of your life goals, values and business methodology that guides your day to day decisions. We use that here at Turner, although you may not see it. Why do we fence animals out of the wood line in the Spring but give them access in Summer? Is it because they don’t need shade in Spring and they will in Summer but if giving them access both times maybe things won’t be recovered under the trees in time? Is it because we are encouraging a cool season native called wild rye to expand it’s footprint here? Is it to protect our water way during such a soft soil season to prevent erosion?????? Answer: All of the above. This is one very very small example of success using the domesticated livestock to create a better environment and product here at Semper Grazing Ranch.
What other effects does improving our soil’s water abilities have? We have the ability to mitigate flooding. A one percent increase in organic matter leads to an average of 25,000 gallons of water being held per acre. If we increase our 80 acres OM by 1 % that is a staggering 2 million gallons. What if the land on 320,000 acres increased by 1 percent? That is an extra 8 billion gallons of water holding capacity. That is such a random number to chose. 320,000 acres is the size of the East Fork Watershed. The other benefit to holding extra water is the soil slowly releasing the water over time which means creeks, streams and rivers are more constant. The water is also cleaner. And we can go much deeper into this. Tax savings. flood insurance savings. infrastructure repair reducitons etc.
Ok. Water is great. is that all? As we increase the organic matter, the soil produces more grass. More grass means we can feed more animals. You know all the people who freak out about us feeding a growing population of people? This is how we do it. Not meatless mondays. Not hydroponics. We need to reconnect with the land. One great example of this phenomenon is in the Chihuahuan Desert, home of Las Damas Ranch amongst many other ranches. The average amount of land needed to feed one cow is 200 to 300 acres. Las Damas ranch used to be able to run one cow on 125 to 150 acres. Using holistic management, they decreased the land need down to just 42 acres per cow!!!! Check out this amazing case study on Understanding Ag’s webiste: https://understandingag.com/case_studies/las-damas-ranch-case-study/. Do you know it also rains more often on their ranch because their soil holds more water?
Ok, so we can green the desert, produce more and more food and do better with water. What about what is going on at Semper Grazing Ranch??? As there is always tall grass around somewhere, we have seen an explosion of bunnies, field mice, voles, snakes and amphibians. We also have reduced predation from hawks, owls and coyotes because there is so much wildlife to be had and not fight our net fences. And you can ask other regenerative farmers and they will tell you similiar stories. We also have been increasing the diversity in our pastures which leads to more pollinator plant species and more pollinators.
Holy cow… anything else? Yes, the coup de gras if you will. Increasing our soil organic matter which correlates to soil organic carbon means we are pulling atmospheric carbon dioxide from the air and “sequestering” it in the ground. Yes plants respirate some back off but the increase in measurable organic matter is what is left at the end of said process. A 1% increase in SOM per acre is the equivalent of removing 18.35 tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Semper Grazing Ranch on average has increased pasture organic matter levels by 2% in the past 4 years. I know many places in humid environments who have done way way better but 2% is nothing to scoff at. That means we removed 734 tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide. A person’s annual carbon foot print in our country is a whopping 20 tons. Lets divide the 730 by 6 to get annual numbers averaged out. So annually we sequestered 183 tons of ACO2 equivalent. We offest 9 people’s carbon foot print by producing food. Now, if we look at the true picture case study, we would need to know how much we emitted in the production of the meat to have an apples to apples comparison and my favorite farm in the world was able to do just that: White Oak Pastures. Here is their case study and notice how the absolutely crush the beyond burger and impossible beef: https://blog.whiteoakpastures.com/blog/carbon-negative-grassfed-beef
If you made it this far into my ramble, I am impressed. If anyone has any questions, please reach out and I will try to post a response in case someone else may have the same quesiton.