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'Carbon Cowboys': Farmers’ Business Booming During COVID-19, Thanks to Regenerative Grazing

May 14, 2020

CarbonCowboys

A new documentary series that examines an innovative farming technique – that is now positively affecting food supplies during the coronavirus pandemic – has been released today by the award-winning environmental non-profit Carbon Nation in collaboration with Arizona State University.

Peter Byck

Peter Byck

The documentary series of short films, called "Carbon Cowboys", was shot over six years in rural communities in the US, Canada and the UK, and presents farmers who have avoided bankruptcy by using regenerative grazing to produce more food from less land.

Will Harris, a rancher from Bluffton, Georgia, says in the film: “Today I’m very glad that I made the changes that I made because the farm is again profitable, cash flow positive.”

Regenerative grazing involves quickly rotating cattle from pasture to pasture, before they can damage the land - similar to how bison herds moved across The Great Plains. The practice, which does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, builds soils that are richer in carbon, which in turn boosts crop and livestock yields. It also makes the land better equipped to cope with drought and reduces flooding.

The 10-part (or paddock) series has films ranging from 8 to 23 minutes. It was made available for the first time today on a new “Carbon Cowboys” website and YouTube.

Arizona State University professor of practice Peter Byck, the film’s director, said: “As people are getting more concerned about their health, they’re thinking more about where they get their food from, especially their meat. The film shows farmers working with nature, rather than against it. You see them caring for their animals and for their land. You see farmers making more money, and creating an alternative to industrial farming.” Industrial farming has been linked to the transmission of diseases from animals to humans, according to scientists in the UK.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the farmers in the film series who sell direct to consumers are reporting increased sales of between 3 and 10 times over the last year. Some have sold a year's worth of meats in the past month. This distribution method has proven resilient through the coronavirus epidemic, while the centralized industrial beef supply chain has been heavily impacted.

Tim Hoven of Hoven Farms in Alberta, Canada, said: “We are now sold out months in advance. This COVID crisis has made people who have been on the fence for a long time make a purchase. They’re saying, ‘I have always wanted to place an order and finally decided to order now.’”

Regenerative grazing has also been shown by scientists to address climate change, according to scientists at Michigan State University, with the capacity to draw down and store 3.59 tons of soil carbon (13.2 tons of CO2) more per hectare per year than conventional grazing. If the approach was used across all of the world’s grazing lands (3.5 billion hectares), even using a conservative figure of drawing down only 1 ton of soil carbon (3.67 tons of CO2) per hectare per year points to the potential to annually store close to a third of annual global greenhouse gas emissions prior to COVID-19.

About Peter Byck
Peter Byck is the founder and president of Carbon Nation, an environmental film non-profit, which made the award-winning film Carbon Nation, released in 2011. He is also professor of practice at Arizona State University, in both the School of Sustainability and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he teaches students to make short documentary films about sustainability solutions. He is currently helping to lead a $6.3-million research project focused on Adaptive Multi-Paddock (AMP) grazing – a collaboration with 20 scientists and 10 farms, focused on soil health/soil carbon storage, microbial/bug/bird biodiversity, water cycling and more.

About Carbon Nation
Carbon Nation is a non-profit founded in 2007 by filmmaker Peter Byck, to produce and distribute media about climate change solutions and environmental stewardship. The first project – bearing the same name – Carbon Nation, was a feature-length documentary about climate solutions. In recent years, the focus has been on the incredible potential of regenerative agriculture to mitigate climate change, restore soil health and rural economies, and improve food and water security. Carbon Cowboys – a documentary series in 10 parts, or paddocks, is the culmination of this work.