Carbon, Cows, and Climate: A Look at Regenerative Agriculture and the Barriers to Adoption

Wednesday, Jan 15, 2020 - 3:00pm to 4:30pm

The Jacob Marschak Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Mathematics in the Behavioral Sciences at UCLA

Speaker: Jason Rowntree, Associate Professor of Animal Science, Michigan State University

Faculty host: Aaron Blaisdell, Professor of Psychology, UCLA

Based on a 2016 EPA report, California is predicted to incur continued challenges with rising temperatures, decreased water availability and increased incidence and severity of fire. From an agriculture perspective, 90% of California's production relies on irrigation. The uncertainty in climate and functioning water cycles will challenge the resilience of California's landscape, agricultural economy and the state's citizens.

To counteract the predicted changes in climate, there has been a global call to reduce CO2 emissions. The IPCC latest report indicates that globally, agriculture emissions comprise 24% of total emissions (including forestry and other impacts of land use change). While United States Agriculture comprises a considerably lower percentage of domestic emissions (9%), there is a growing call to address agriculture emissions. Importantly, global corporations (McDonalds, Tyson, JBS-Swift, Shell) have made pledges to reduce their emission footprint by 30% over the next half century.

Seventy percent of the world's terrestrial carbon is stored in land, which is three-fold more carbon than contained in the atmosphere. Because of tillage or overgrazing, roughly half of the pre-Green Revolution soil carbon has been eroded. This soil loss has caused challenges to functioning water cycles combined with increases in sedimentation and eutrophication in large water bodies. 

To counter these agriculture challenges, there is growing research that indicate there are agriculture practices that can actually restore large amounts of carbon back into the soil while improving water cycling. These agriculture practices are considered 'regenerative' because they leave the land improved from an ecosystem service standpoint.

However, is regenerative agriculture the silver bullet in terms of agriculture's future and climate mitigation? This notion will be discussed by the presentation of a series of datasets from Lake City AgBioResearch Center, Michigan State University along with case studies performed on regenerative farms in the United States.

Rowntree earned a BS at Texas A&M University and his PhD degree at Michigan State University. As an associate professor of Animal Science, he coordinates Lake City and UPREC AgBioResearch and Extension Centers where he address economoc, environmental, and social complexity in agriculture. He is former chair of the Grassfed Exchange, a leading U.S. grass-fed beef educational organization, serves on the board of the American Grassfed Association, is an accredited Holistic Management Educator, and is an advisor of Standard Soil, a startup corporation that aims to meet the nation's growing demand for grass-fed finished beef while restoring the ecosystems they manage.

Light refreshments will be served. Please RSVP at


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