Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

Taking land out of direct food production?

Recent news concerning climate change mitigation suggests that taking land out of utilization for grazing meat and dairy animals and allowing that land to rewild, would provide considerable benefits in the reduction of greenhouse gases, hence eventually slowing the warming of the earth.

Movement towards this huge change would be almost unfathomable to many rural societies and cultures.

There have been news reports that some advocates for climate-friendly policies suggest that an area the size of greater London, England, could produce enough food using micro plants (in high rises, my guess) such as algae to feed the world.

The rest of the current farmland could provide other environmental benefits. The assumption is that leaving more wilderness will benefit those people living in rural areas now who will move to urban megalopoli.

Perhaps the air would be cleaner coming from the neo wilderness and age-old medicines and food plants would continue to produce a gene bank which would benefit and inspire scientists and thinkers to lead us to human sustainability in an uncertain future.

While I believe we can do amazing things physically and biologically, I wonder about our capacity to cope with such radical change emotionally, socially, and politically.

Already the tens of millions of people leaving rural areas for the cities around the world are facing social upheaval and starvation. Add to this the changes implied in these radical ideas about feeding us all in small areas and encouraging massive areas to “go back to nature,” we have a recipe for chaos.

This says nothing about the political vulnerability of democracy (some semblance of personal influence over public affairs and government decisions) to autocratic leaders in a time of chaos.

To bring some of this discussion back home to a level we can deal with, there is a lot we can do.

We can show that we can ranch and farm with low impact on wildlife and wild areas. We can raise food while building soil and sequestering carbon. We can breed and feed food animals to produce less methane.

However, to do this requires local knowledge with some proven practice, science, and economics behind it.

My experience over the last years tells me that the preparation work to prove viable alternatives to the status quo is almost missing.

Funding programs now exist to encourage beneficial practices on the farm, such as riparian protection and preventing overgrazing. New programs are coming into existence to grow more carbon in the soil and develop healthier soils.

Much of this is without proven financial viability and appropriate farming practices.

What do we do then? As agricultural citizens we need to work with our neighbours to face the massive changes that are upon us (huge increases in cost of fertilizers and energy, and labour). Governments are setting targets and will hold us to it.

All the lofty ideas about saving the world by displacing farmers need to be tempered by listening to people on the land as to how this transitioning can take place.

I will forgive and encourage some ranting on the part of farmers and ranchers to government politicians and bureaucrats to further involve us in what lies ahead in land-based food production.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher in the Cariboo Chilcotin. He also helped develop the TRU Sustainable Ranching Program and currently sits on BC Farm Industry Review Board. David Zirnhelt also previously served as MLA, and a minister with the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Forests.