Carbon Test Your Soils 

The other day Ian, Jessica and I were talking. I’ve been asking Ian a lot of questions concerning leasing agricultural land, specifically grazing land. I will have to lease land when I get back to Colorado, I haven’t won the lottery yet! Until our conversation I had been under the impression that I should improve other people’s land while I graze cattle on it. Putting down litter would enhance the mineral cycle, water cycle, energy flow and build biodiversity. I didn’t realize how valuable those things are until Ian pointed out the fact that they are incredibly valuable!

Ian told me that I should graze about 80% of the grass, and leave only 20% as litter or standing dormant grass if I was leasing land. Just for a point of reference, Ian leaves about 80% as litter or standing grass and grazes 20%. Why you might be asking yourself? I was too.

It comes down to the fact that by placing so much litter on the ground and leaving standing grass you are drastically improving the four ecosystem processes that I listed above; water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow and community dynamics. You would also be sequestering massive amounts of carbon in the soil if you grazed in the way Ian does. Improving these processes takes a lot of work and time. Consequently work and time are energy, and energy is money. Basically you are improving and investing in someone else’s land. If you do not own the land then you will not see the long term benefits. It would be like handing the land owner a huge investment that pays out dividends for next 30 years.

The only exception to this would be if you and the landowner worked out a deal where he/she would pay you based on the amount of carbon in the soils. You would have to test before your lease started and after it ends. You could also test the mineralization of the soils and get paid for improving the mineral content on the land. Additionally there would probably be a way to get paid for the amount of soil that is covered or the tonnage of grass/forage you’ve grown. The possibilities are endless. The point is that if you manage properly you should be getting paid, not paying the landowner to improve the land. Their land will now be worth more than anyone else’s and therefore the landowner would be able to sell their land for a higher price, or charge more for grazing.

Ian has told me and other farmers that we’ve come across to get a carbon soil test today, save it, put it in your safe and give it to your grandchildren. Because the way things are going Al Gore might pay us some big bucks for all of the Carbon we’ve put back into our soils.

In conclusion if you are a person who is leasing land consider approaching the landowner about the benefits of your management and try to work out a deal where your lease rates are either drastically reduced or the landowner pays you for the improvement you’ve made to the land. Remember those improvements can benefit the; water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow and community dynamics.

Chris Stelzer

Chris Stelzer is a published Author, founder of Agricultural Insights and creator of many resources that help family farmers and ranchers grow their businesses. His flagship courses are the Grazing Mastery Program and The Farm Marketing Mastery Program. 

Chris Stelzer

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