August 25, 2021

D&R Greenway Farm Preserve Welcomes Cows to Climate Effort

COWS AND CLIMATE: A herd of Hereford and Devon cattle are now grazing at St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell, helping keep the earth cool while drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequestering it in soil.

By Anne Levin

For the past few months, 15 cows have been contentedly munching on grasses at a farm preserve in Hopewell Township. When the sun gets too hot, they are shaded by a “cow umbrella” that moves when they move.

This happy group of Hereford and Devon cattle are unwittingly helping to slow climate change, part of a new project of D&R Greenway Land Trust.

“We are so excited to be involved in this research,” said Linda Mead, D&R Greenway CEO and president. “The extreme weather that has been plaguing all of us has been devastating. We need to come up with solutions to the problems with climate change not just here, but all over. The fact that we are able to work with Soil Carbon Partners (SCP) on this project, to demonstrate how this will reduce these extreme situations, is a really important contribution to the scientific thought process.”

This past spring, SCP added a mix of organic materials to 50 acres of farm fields at D&R Greenway’s St. Michaels Farm Preserve. According to a release from D&R Greenway, the dry weight of newly planted forage grasses is 300 percent greater compared to control plots, after only two months.

“Growing more food on less land is essential for combatting climate change, because if food production per acre could be significantly increased, we would no longer need to cut down forests to feed a growing population,” reads the release. “Recent Princeton [University] research proves that forests powerfully cool the planet. The authors, Sara Cerasoli and Amilcare Porporato, recently published their breakthrough research on the cooling effect of forests in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Bringing the cows to the fields follows a time-honored practice. Cows, buffalo, elk, and other grazing animals have long been used to eat grass on pastures, which sequesters atmospheric carbon in the soil. “By doing so, these grazing animals have been key players in keeping the earth cool for tens of thousands of years,” the release continues. “They are just as important now for keeping the grass trimmed, and actively drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the soil.”

Results of the project are being measured by three independent advisors from academic institutions. In coming weeks, they will monitor the cattle’s weight gain, which is expected to surpass that of cows grazing on conventional grasses today.

“The ability to sequester carbon in farm and forest soils is increasingly recognized as a key strategy for helping slow climate change,” the release concludes. “Extreme weather events this summer occurring all over the world have been attributed to climate change. D&R Greenway and Soil Carbon Partners believe that techniques like this could be part of the solution.”

D&R Greenway has preserved almost 22,000 acres of land since its founding in 1989. The climate project marks the first time the organization has been involved in this type of endeavor. “To be able to use some of our land for science-related projects means we are making a contribution to the bigger picture,” said Mead. “We have certainly leased farmland to farmers, but that was more for producing crops and produce. This is really taking it to a different level.”