Can regenerative agriculture save the world’s grasslands? Breeder Daniela Ibarra-Howell says yes
In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many climate change experts say, we need to eat less red meat and dairy. They argue that cattle and other ruminants take up too much land and produce too much methane. Additionally, the crops we feed for livestock, including 70% of all soybeans and 40% of all corn grown in the United States, require enormous amounts of energy, water, and land to grow.
The world is finally paying attention.
Ibarra-Howell, an Argentine-born, New Zealand-educated agronomist, moved to the United States with her husband in 1994 to study with Allan Savory. The Zimbabwean rancher and researcher had invented an approach to ranching he called “holistic management”. It’s based on Savory’s premise that by mimicking the natural process of animal migration instead of letting livestock graze on a single patch of land, we can reverse desertification and boost soil health. If we applied holistic grazing to all of Earth’s grasslands, which make up 40% of its landmass, the effects, he says, could change the world.
In the two years Ibarra-Howell worked with Savory on a 35,000-acre test ranch in New Mexico, she says, he became a “great mentor and friend.” She continued to consult him for the next 17 years, when she and her husband, Jim, managed their family ranch in Colorado, observing firsthand how Savory’s methods improved productivity and biodiversity there. “We did our own research on the ground, to understand what this approach was all about,” she says. “We have become great believers.”
When she helped Savory create the Savory Institute in 2009, Ibarra-Howell’s mentor hired her to be its CEO. “Daniela’s intelligence and character impressed me when she went through the first comprehensive training program I organized many years ago. She was the obvious choice for the CEO,” Savory writes in a E-mail. Now in his 80s, Savory continues to serve as president of the institute, but Ibarra-Howell has turned his theories into a global movement.
How do you are changing the livestock industry in the world, especially when each ecosystem, each culture, each economy is different? Even though the institute has trained nearly 16,000 farmers who collectively manage 54.3 million acres of land, there is no recipe for sustainable livestock farming, let alone making it profitable for farmers in Kenya. from Australia and Oregon.
Too many interventions on climate change, says Ibarra-Howell, are drowning in “swirls of intellectual discussion”. It adopts a more entrepreneurial approach, based on the institute’s network of 51 regional hubs in 34 countries. Each center is anchored on a ranch or educational institution that hosts training and research studies and helps ranchers who practice holistic grazing achieve economic success.
There are already 20 hubs in the United States alone, including Mason, Texas; Santa Barbara, California; and East Lansing, Michigan — and the rate at which new ones are forming is accelerating, Ibarra-Howell says. “We have to make sure our impact lands, and that’s what our hubs are good at,” she says.
“[Daniela’s] an excellent leader, an excellent colleague and an excellent communicator,” says Carrie Balkcom, executive director of the American Grassfed Association. “She understands that this is important work for the soil and for the Earth.
Some scientists have disputed Savory’s claims about how holistic grazing could reverse climate change. So, under Ibarra-Howell’s leadership, the institute has partnered with researchers from universities such as Michigan State and Texas A&M to study the long-term environmental effects of practices such as moving livestock. from paddock to paddock to stimulate vegetation to grow back healthier and denser. .
One of the Savory Institute’s biggest successes is its Land to Market program, which launched in 2018. Companies that source meat, dairy, wool and leather from farms that practice holistic grazing can boast of this seal on their packaging. Already, more than 70 major brands, from clothing companies like UGG and Burberry to food manufacturers like Epic Provisions, have signed up. Brands and breeders have shown such interest that the program now monitors 2.5 million acres of land to verify that farmers are improving soil health, reducing water pollution and enhancing biodiversity. And Ibarra-Howell has seen the impact of the Savory Institute’s work go beyond the environment and the economy. When the earth becomes healthier and the environment changes, there is also a shift in consciousness that occurs, she says. “There is a very deep Why that comes from love of the land, love of people and a desire to be the change,” she says of the global regenerative agriculture movement she helped build. “Having so many different cultures and so many different groups and so many different environments all united by this DNA of purpose is so important. »