When you think of agriculture in the United States what comes to mind? Corn and soybeans perhaps?
Well, did you know that rangeland and grassland pasture cover 614 million acres in the U.S.? That’s over 200 million more acres than cropland, or roughly a quarter of the total land area. All types of ruminant animals, from cattle to goats, are raised on this land every year. For the key role pasture plays in our food system, it sure seems underrated.1
It’s about time pasture gets the love and respect it deserves. Pasture is perfect and here are five reasons why—
1. It protects our land and water
Well-managed pastures can provide a multitude of environmental benefits. Pasture helps reduce the risk of soil erosion and increase soil fertility. It also plays a leading role in building agriculture’s capacity to sequester carbon.
2. It makes use of land not suitable for crop production
Not all land is prime farmland but that doesn’t mean it can’t contribute to the food supply. Permanent pasture and rangeland dedicated to ruminant grazing are often on lands not suitable for crop production. Ruminants were born to graze. Unlike humans and other animals, ruminants are mammals that can break down cellulose, thanks to their unique stomach and the symbiotic micro-organisms that live in their guts. Millions of acres of pasture nourish these animals on a land base often not suitable for any other type of food production.
3. It’s breathtaking
If passing by pasture is part of your morning commute you know what I mean. And if it’s not, I encourage you to take a drive through the countryside.
4. It’s full of health benefits
The chemical differences between forage and grains, and the way each is processed by ruminants results in nutrient differences in the meat and milk they produce. Compelling research shows that milk and beef from pasture-based cows is more nutritious than their more grain-fed counterparts.
5. And if you still aren’t convinced, just watch the joy it brings to these beautiful bovine…
1 For the purposes of this article the definition of grazing land and pasture are synonymous and include all land commonly used for grazing (including rangeland). Check out some grazing terminology to discover the many nuanced terms related to this topic!