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Measuring the Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture- TomKat Ranch and Ag Tech

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August 9 2017 read full article at AgFunder News/Successful Farming

Regenerative agriculture is a method of farming that aims to restore the fertility of the soil and the overall health of the land it’s conducted on….consistent with sustainable agriculture practices, … limiting the use of synthetic inputs like pesticides and fertilizers and limiting tillage of the soil, which can negatively impact soil health. Often, regenerative agriculture involves livestock.

This might seem confusing if you’ve read the countless headlines that livestock farming is the biggest culprit of greenhouse gas emissions – according to the FAO it accounts for 18% of emissions – but there is a school of thought that’s gathering momentum and evidence that managing livestock in certain ways not only can reduce the negative impact of livestock farming on the environment but also can actually regenerate the land and have a positive impact….’

Through what’s called holistic planned grazing, or rotational grazing, ranchers strategically move their cattle around the land so that no one area is too depleted, yet every inch of rangeland is trimmed and fertilized by the cows.

These methods can lead to increased forage production, soil fertility, resistance to drought, water retention, and the sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, among other benefits.

TomKat Ranch, a proponent of regenerative ranching, is betting that the rise of precision agriculture and big data technologies could help prove the financial viability of regenerative ranching, as well as the environmental benefits. The idea of adding only what is absolutely necessary to an agricultural process is a fundamental principle behind precision farming, and TomKat is working to apply these principles to cattle grazing.

Kevin Watt, land and livestock manager at TomKat Ranch in California, thinks that once the benefits of regenerative ranching can be fully quantified – through soil carbon measurements, forage density, and more – it could become a mainstay of both ranching and soil management.

“When you’re doing something that is regenerative, you’re basically saying that your productive asset should not be losing value. Your productive asset should be gaining value, and that appeals to everybody,” Watt told AgFunderNews….We caught up with Watt at the Forbes Agtech Summit in Salinas, California, to find out what kind of technology he’ll need to make his case and what challenges are standing in the way…

…”We have onsite conservation scientists from Point Blue Conservation Science doing very meticulous technician-driven soil tests, vegetation surveys, and wildlife surveys that we can compare to our very rigorous management records and see what strategies grow us more grass, which ones grow us more beef, which ones keep our streams running longer. For every 1% of soil organic matter change or growth, we get an extra 25,000 gallons of water per acre being stored. That’s a USDA figure so people know about this.

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We’ve learned that if you can get that feedback from your landscape, whether or not you share a philosophical interest in environmentalism or humane treatment of animals, you start to see that it really makes sense to evolve with your landscape; to see what the ROI is on every one of your management choices. That’s why precision ranching could be so transformative…”

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