Regenerative Grazing to Mitigate Climate Change (2019-2020)


The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states that previous climate change predictions were drastic underestimates and warming must be capped at 1.5 degrees to avoid extreme climate disruptions. There is potential for agriculture, representing 13.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, to cut its emissions and store additional CO2 in soil.

Cattle are the largest contributor to agriculture emissions, but recent research shows promising results for pasture-based carbon sequestration as a climate solution in the southeast U.S. This is further validated by’s evaluation of climate solutions that includes silvopasture, regenerative agriculture, conservation agriculture and managed grazing all within the top 20 most impactful efforts.

Industrial cattle production is dominant in the United States but globally contributes only 10% of total beef produced. Targeting pastured cattle could build an agriculture emissions solution that prioritizes equity by supporting U.S. farmers (who are often excluded by USDA and Farm Bill policies) but is also globally applicable. Small-scale systems are more adaptable, while support for graziers assists rural economic development and resilience-building for the impacts of climate change.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will pursue:

  1. Research and education in the policy, history and market contexts that inform farming systems
  2. Implementation and assessment of pilot carbon offset project in coordination with the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative
  3. Development of a carbon offset protocol for pasture-based rotational grazing systems.

The carbon offset protocol is the primary deliverable that the team will work toward, and progress toward this protocol will contribute to the first and second goals.

The team will determine the most effective direction for the carbon offset protocol by working with experts from the North Carolina State Extension Cooperative, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) and others to establish methodologies for tracking and monitoring the following parameters: soil carbon, fertilizer applied, fuel use, supplemental feed and other methods for reducing emissions (e.g., seaweed feed-amendments for methane reduction).

To increase understanding of the competing priorities with which graziers must contend, the team will conduct field research at pilot sites and explore diverse historical perspectives. Team members will also investigate existing agricultural policies, including the federal Farm Bill, to understand the incentives that drive current farming practices. The interplay between policy and ecosystem service markets will, in large part, shape the direction that climate adaption takes. The project team will assess the landscape for agricultural and climate policy and recommend policy changes at the state and national levels to promote on-farm practices that improve soil and transform small-scale farms into carbon sinks.

The project seeks to identify the most effective point in the small-scale pastured cattle supply chain to insert the additional revenue generated by carbon offsets. To provide the best solution for farmers, the team will engage local meat aggregator Firsthand Foods to compare the impacts of a novel product like “carbon neutral beef” with direct payments to farmers.

The team will also consider the implications for scaling these practices through existing certifications for meat production and explore application of the protocol for crop production and industrial livestock management. Throughout the project, the team will analyze data from active pilot sites and work with farm owners to ensure that graziers can respond to data requests and implement the BMPs.

Erik Rieger (M.E.M. ’21) serves as the team’s project manager.

Anticipated Outputs

Carbon offset protocol for pastured cattle operations; data for educational material to contribute to the field of soil science; policy recommendations to promote best practices; development and/or fostering of Amazing Grazing workshops


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Fall 2019: Familiarization with project types and offset markets; workplan and goal setting; trips to research sites, conferences and workshops; focus group assembly and research development; outline of grazing protocol
  • Spring 2020: Offset protocol development, review and guidance; policy trip to Washington, DC; monthly writing assignments

Team Outputs to Date

Sustainable Meat Production in NC (Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase 2020)

Regenerative Grazing NC

This Team in the News

Carolina Meat Conference

Reflections of the Carolina Meat Conference

See related team, Regenerative Grazing to Mitigate Climate Change (2020-2021).


Image: Rocks and cows, by Bob White, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Rocks and cows, by Bob White, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Team Leaders

  • Matthew Arsenault, Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative
  • Emma Fulop, Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative
  • Daniel Miller, Duke Law
  • Michelle Nowlin, Duke Law
  • Leslie Wolverton, Duke Campus Farm

/graduate Team Members

  • Paelina DeStephano, Masters of Public Policy
  • Bridget Eklund, Juris Doctor
  • Hannah Elson, Juris Doctor
  • Hannah Kelley-Bell, Business and Environment
  • Courtney McCorstin, Business and Environment
  • Emily McNamara, Master of Environmental Management, Ecosystem Science and Conservation
  • Erik Rieger, Master of Environmental Management, Ecosystem Science and Conservation
  • Corey Sugerik, Master of Environmental Management, Environmental Economics/Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Olivia Olsher
  • Annie Roberts, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Amy Yoon

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Robert Bonnie, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Marcus Carson, Office of Sustainability
  • Daniel Richter, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Sarah Blacklin, NC Choices
  • Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
  • Jeffrey Creque, Marin Carbon Project
  • Jennifer Curtis, Firsthand Foods
  • Torri Estrada, Marin Carbon Project
  • Alan Franzluebbers, North Carolina State University
  • Paul Gambill, Nori
  • Anthony Myint, The Perennial and ZeroFoodprint
  • Matt Poore, North Carolina State University
  • Nancy Ranney, Ranney Ranch
  • Johnny Rogers, Amazing Grazing
  • Tom Shea, Undergraduate Student, NCSU
  • Charlotte Talbott, Undergraduate Student, NCSU