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Why Carbon Flows with Alan Lauder

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Last Blog: Sustainable Beef can’t be defined without discussing carbon flows”

THE most over-used and misused word in the English language is “sustainable”. Everybody uses it, but often there is little agreement on what it means. The term is like a magnet to nebulous feel good words. Beef production being sustainable has two aspects, producers have to remain profitable and the environment has to remain healthy as a result of beef production, including water quality. To achieve both aspects of sustainability, the “resilience” of the paddock has to be maintained. The only way paddock resilience can be maintained in both the short-term and long-term, is to ensure that sufficient carbon keeps flowing through the paddock. The natural world can’t “function” without ....

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Short-term carbon is the driver of change

When people get their head around the carbon flows way of thinking, they quickly discover that the bulk of the carbon that is moving in the paddock involves short-term carbon compounds, not long-term carbon compounds. Over a twelve month period, maybe 2% of the flowing carbon in a paddock involves long-term carbon. In other words virtually none. As you know, long-term carbon is moving, but it is moving very slowly. Carbon flows involve pasture as well as the soil. The point being made is ....

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Animals can be very selective

We all know that grazing animals, especially sheep, are selective in what they eat. They graze selectively the best species of plants and also the best portions of the plant. The best plant parts are the palatable new growth.   Animals select new growth first, be it from grasses or edible shrubs Why do animals select their diet so precisely? Animals select new growth because it has higher nitrogen (protein) levels. The digestibility of what grows on the tips is higher. As a generalised comment, allowing for different plant species and different soils, there is 2.5% nitrogen in new leaf and 0.5% nitrogen in the stem. This is why animals select ....

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Why resilience is important

Australia has one of the most variable climates on earth and extreme weather repeatedly affects the Australian farming sectors. We have always had droughts, floods and heatwaves, however the climate seems to be getting more extreme lately and it seems to be becoming even more variable. Some would suggest it is becoming a bit random, which is worse than being variable, because we need patterns to plan, i.e. when to plant, when to harvest, when to put the bulls and rams out etc. When anybody talks about adapting to a changing climate, ask them what adaptation means? The question has to be asked; are we concentrating too much on our response to ....

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Where carbon resides

At a land management forum I attended a few years ago, a retired scientist commented that from his experience, problems are never solved by reductionist science. He said it was taking a systems approach that solved problems. The point he was making was that you need to be aware of everything that could possibly be influencing the problem you are trying to solve, i.e. you need to understand the big picture. The flow of carbon through a paddock influences a lot of processes. If the flow falls too low, it causes a multitude of problems. Production and environmental issues ....

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Practical facts that provide understanding

Did you know that if we compressed the atmosphere and turned it into liquid, then the oceans would be 500 times bigger? This reminds us that we perceive things the way we think. What actually happens in the paddock can at times be very different to our perceptions. Take the case of root growth with grasses. When livestock over consume the leaves of grasses, while they are trying to grow after rain, some would assume that this is just reducing potential ground cover. Even amongst those who are aware that there is a relationship between root growth and grazing pressure, they still may not be aware that there is a ....

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Wet years are over emphasised for regeneration

Thinking a wet period on its own can improve a paddock’s productive capacity and resilience is like thinking a runner can win a race without adequate preparation. To understand the true driver of paddock regeneration it is what you do in the average years that matters just as much as the wet years. The foreground had a deficiency of carbon above and below ground prior to the wet period, so hardly regenerated Thinking a wet period on its own can improve a paddock’s productive capacity and resilience is like thinking a runner can win a race without adequate preparation. To understand the true driver of paddock regeneration it is what ....

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Edible shrubs need different management to perennial grasses

When I visited South Africa in the late 1990’s, I met rangelands scientist Dr Louis du Pisani. He told me how he had discovered the difference between perennial grasses and perennial edible shrubs, in terms of how they store and utilise energy reserves. He explained that what happens in the roots is different. With ongoing grazing pressure that depletes energy reserves, old man saltbush starts to grow very small leaves which is a sign it is close to dying. His research into the Karoo Bush, which is similar to our perennial saltbushes, showed that when the ....