What is soil carbon and its role in regenerative agriculture? In this episode, host Koen van Seijen and Russ Conser, co-founder of StandardSoil and BlueNest Beef, discuss the potential of soil carbon in regenerative agriculture, the role of regenerative entrepreneurs and the science behind livestock farming.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
Key points of the interview:
- the key role of regenerative entrepreneurs to find business models to get regenerative produce sold
- why birds are a key proxy for healthy farms/soils
- this story is so much bigger than carbon
- why regeneration is inevitable
This is the story of how a former Shell engineer and manager discovered the potential of soil carbon and the key role of regenerative entrepreneurs to find profitable business models to get regen products from the farmers to the consumers. A discussion grass, cows, methane, carbon, distribution models, bird friendly ranching, the Gaia hypothesis and how to scale regenerative agriculture. Hope you enjoy this wide ranging interview!
The Role of Regenerative Entrepreneurs
One of the main keys that are often overlooked is how to scale regenerative agriculture. As a mechanical engineer, for Conser scaling from an industrial perspective means building something big, such as a feedlot that is seen as fragile in our food system. It’s easy to go to people and create relationships with local ranchers, but that will not work in large areas with a major urban population.
“The challenge was ‘how can we help you?’ This sounds really good because you have both a supply-side and you have a customer base. If you really want to make this thing work at scale, you have to figure out how to aggregate that supply process. Put it together, market it, ship it, all of it.” – Russ Conser
The Importance of Grassland Birds
It is a challenge to create a story that engages the consumers to understand and enthuse about change. Furthermore, the protection of grassland birds is especially hard with the rise of industrial agriculture in the United States which means there was a steep decline of up to 50% of their populations in the last 50 years. The birds play a vital role in the ecosystem and help in the production of great tasting food through the soil.
“We like to say birds are the treasure in the measure. You know, for Audubon, there are legitimate conservation goals. They is also a legitimate biological sensor, that votes with its wings to go around and say, ‘This place is better than that one.’ I think we can use wildlife as a leading indicator of regenerative agriculture. Then it has a double benefit. It’s a much easier story to engage consumers around birds and butterflies.” – Russ Conser
Regenerative Livestock Farming
One of the traditional conservation methods in protecting grassland bird habitats is buying a piece of land, regenerating it and protecting its bird habitat. However, resources are limited and private ranchers can only buy as much land. Conser wondered how they would create a market-based incentive mechanism to work if they produce friendly coffee and chocolate from the rainforest.
“I tell people, ‘Hey, if you have a local rancher, especially one that’s Audubon certified, that can understand and develop a relationship to buy beef that’s been produced in a way in your ecosystem. It’s doing good things for birds and good things for wildlife and good things for carbon and all this kind of stuff.’” – Russ Conser
The Potential of Soil Carbon
Soil Carbon, simply, is taking carbon out of the air and storing it in soil. For Conser, looking through their data, the quantity and distribution of carbon was identical to the source rocks that were buried hundreds of millions of years ago that later formed oil and gas. The connection between the two is that source rocks were made of dead organic matter and were buried, decomposed and cooked under time, temperature, pressure in the deep earth.
“I spent 30 years figuring out how to take carbon out of the ground that was dead. Now, I’m in the business, realizing the potential to put living carbon back into the soil. I’ve come to see in a very unusual way that these are all part of just the one big carbon cycle that drives the overall health of planet Earth.” – Russ Conser
Influence of Soil in Taste
Many think that animal genetics is most important in terms of good taste. Actually good taste starts with healthy soil and plants. Managing the soil means liberating all the nutrients that are needed for it to grow. In food production, managing healthy soils liberates the rest of your nutrition analysis that comes from the soil, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron.
“As human beings, we’ve evolved in the same type of ecosystem. What you and I say, that something tastes good is really your body’s way of telling you that ‘Oh, there’s nourishment in that food for you.’” – Russ Conser
To learn more about Russ Conser and the importance of soil carbon and regenerative livestock farming, download, and listen to this episode!
Russ Conser is a broadly skilled Fortune 50 business and technology leader with practical experience in making big ideas real at scale and an emerging voice for soil and ecosystem science.
- BlueNest Beef
- Shell gamechanger
- Carbon cowboys documentary
- Standard Oil
- Nourishment book by Fred Provenza
- The Dorito effect book by Mark Schatzker
- The Omnivore’s dilemma by Micheal Pollan
- Gabe Brown
- Ray Archuleta – Understanding Ag
- tedX Grassfed Exchange – We mentioned a number of times Russ’ tedX talk on Methane and Cows. Actually it was a presentation at the Grass-fed Exchange
- Gaia hypothesis
- Interview with David R Montgomery
- Keeling Curve – Earth is breathing
- 2016 paper by Paige L. Stanley, Jason E. Rowntree David K. Beede, Marcia S., DeLongeb, Michael W. Hamm – Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems
- Can responsible grazing make beef climate neutral
- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
- 1491 book
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.Join the Community