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Pasture Cropping Restores Depleted Soils, Improves Wood Yields

Pasture Cropping, where annual crops are cyclically planted in perennial pastures, is one of the 20 carbon reduction options that Drawdown lists as Coming Attractions—strategies that weren’t ready for prime time when the book was published, but looked like promising approaches through mid-century.

The technique was first introduced in the 1980s in Australia by Colin Seis, a sheep and grain farmer who was down on his luck and troubled by how worn out his farmland had become after decades of business-as-usual agricultural practice: heavy plowing, extensive use of herbicides and pesticides, and the segregation of pastured animals from cropland.

At its lowest point—just prior to a massive fire which destroyed the Seis family estate—the soil had become “compacted and acidic, topsoil bottomed out at four inches, and carbon measured less than 1.5%,” reports Drawdown.

While recovering from burns he sustained in the fire, Seis decided to experiment with planting his wheat crops, not in plowed rows, but in the midst of rich, perennial pasture that had recently been accommodating his herds of grazing and copiously fertilizing sheep.

While it took a few years for the soil to recover from its dependency on ammonium phosphate fertilizers, writes Drawdown, Seis’ efforts at pasture cropping proved a roaring success on all points: in addition saving $60,000 a year on fuel and chemical inputs he no longer needed, soil carbon and water retention tripled, and insect infestations virtually disappeared. At the same time, the pasture side of the operation saw increases in wool yield and quality, while native bird and animal populations rebounded.