'Archers' fans will know that David and Ruth are serious about keeping their grass pastures in good health for their herd of Hereford beef cattle and the dairy cows. Graham Harvey, agricultural editor of the 'Archers', has written a well researched book (Carbon Fields ) describing how permanent pasture land is helping to store carbon.
Producing the food we eat today contributes somewhere between 17% and 32% of greenhouse gases (ghg) to the atmosphere. This comes from using fossil fuels in producing fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, running farm machinery, storage (especially refrigeration), supply chains (lorries, ships and planes); felling tropuical rainforest to make space for growing soya to feed cattle and palm oil which is in 10% of our food as vegetable oil; plus methane from farm animals.
However, farming can also be part of the solution. Agriculture can help to reduce the amount of ghgs by locking up, or sequestering, carbon in the soil. The world's soils are a reservoir of carbon. Farming methods determine whether soils take up carbon or emit it. The UK Royal Society estimate that carbon capture by the world's farmlands could total 10 billion tons of CO2 a year - IF soils are well managed.
Permanent grassland (e.g. clover rich, mixed species of plants with deep-rooting herbs) takes up and stores carbon. Soils cultivated each year with annual crops release carbon into the atmosphere. 80% of the world's agricultural land is cultivated with annual crops such as rice, wheat and maize. (These three crops alone supply us with 50% of our food energy).
The traditional way to produce food from pasture is to raise grazing animals. Grass-fed meat is good for the animals and the planet. Grassland can supply: beef, lamb, milk, butter and cheese. Raising cows and sheep on permanent grassland also releases less carbon, as grain is not being grown on former rainforest land and transported around the world to feed animals. No oil-based fertilizers are needed to fertilise the grass - manure does that. One climate related problem of livestock farming is the production of methane from the animals. A number of plants found in species rich, natural grasslands reduce methane emissions from animals grazing on them.
Visit your nearest Farmers' Market and you will almost certainly find stalls selling cheese and meat from local grass-fed animals, plus local vegetables and preserves.