Regenerative ranching: balancing nature and nurture

Critics say meat substitutes rely too much on industrialized processes that do little to build resilient ecosystems. A monitored type of farming could be a more sustainable way of raising livestock for consumption.
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Regenerative ranching has been gaining attention, with practices including managed grazing, which can replenish soil and allow carbon emissions to be sequestered (stored) in the ground. Livestock is still butchered, but at lower rates and higher prices. The practice has its critics – there are questions as to whether commodity production is taking precedence over cultivating the environment for wild animals – but industry groups hope it offers another alternative.

‘Sustainability is about the system, not the product,’ says Emily Moose, executive director of A Greener World, which certifies regenerative farms. ‘Just as not all vegetable production is sustainable, there's nuance in how we raise animals – and whether the system has a positive or negative impact.’ According to Kelsey Ducheneaux-Scott, founder of DX Beef, a regenerative ranch housed on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, it could result in an agricultural practice that's more in touch with nature.

‘The argument is easy to make: functioning ecosystems demand the presence of animals,’ Kelsey says. ‘Regenerative ranching embraces the ideal that humans (as animals themselves) are a critical player in land stewardship. Modeling their management systems in a manner that mimics mother nature's beauty, regenerative ranchers marry livestock with the land in a way it so direly craves.’

Although there are plenty of arguments in favor of the practice, others are skeptical. After all, although the meat and alt-meat industries are butting heads, they're judging their own environmental sustainability credentials using entirely different metrics: livestock ranchers are arguing that they're preserving soil health and biodiversity, while plant-based brands are offering an alternative that's low on carbon emissions and protects animal rights. That raises the issue of whether it's fair or even possible to compare the two.

This article was first published in Courier issue 46, April/May 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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