For some years (even now), cattle have been in the eye of the storm as the main air pollutants resulting from CO2 emissions. However, that is only part of the movie, because animals in pastures and, even more so, in silvopastoral contexts, can put emissions and captures in brown, even be carbon positive.
There are two silvopastoral systems: on the one hand, the Native Forest Management with Integrated Livestock (MBGI) and, on the other, the forestry-livestock management that is with tree species implanted with a commercial purpose where a double income is sought. Silvopastoral producer, private consultant in Mercosur and CREA advisor, Jorge Esquivel, spoke with Clarín Rural and referred to the potential and benefits of the second example, forestry-livestock systems.
In Argentina, Misiones and Corrientes are the two provinces where they are most put into practice. “It was easy to implement it because it is a region that already had a history with the two activities, so it already had the people, the knowledge, the nurseries, contractors, etc … and the only thing that had to be done was to unite both worlds that went from compete for the land to share it, ”said Esquivel, who, at the end of the 1980s, when he received it, proposed to his father, a typical rancher from the north of Argentina (Misiones and Corrientes), to plant some trees to get wood in addition to meat.
That society continues to this day. Esquivel’s father is 88 years old. “We put two floors in the field,” Esquivel said. And he added: “Being a producer also helped me a lot in my career as a consultant, because when you can demonstrate in your own establishment that the system works, it is easier for producers to accept it.”
Jorge Esquivel, silvopastoral producer, private consultant in Mercosur and CREA advisor.
“We have pines and eucalyptus, I always had to find a balance between the two activities because it could not harm the livestock part, at the beginning we made mistakes because we were shaded a lot because we had a lot of trees density, and we did not do the thinning well and on time, Those are two of the most common mistakes in which they are starting, the shade is a threat for the growth of the pastures under the trees ”, pointed Esquivel.
Asked if planting trees affects the animal load, Esquivel said: “Only at the beginning is the load affected, until the trees already have a growth to allow grazing, which in pines is two or three years and in pines around a year and a half, but almost does not affect the load that in this area it is between 0.5 and 0.7 eq / cow per hectare”.
And when is wood produced with animals? Is it much less than if you choose wood alone? “With silvopastoral systems the load is hardly reduced because we have protection against frost with the trees and in terms of obtaining wood we obtain 60-70% of what would be obtained if there were only trees, we produce almost the same as wood “, He said.
The conjunction of activities, which in some cases is already beginning its third cycle, generates two types of products: wood over the years as a result of thinning and wood at the end of the cycle, as well as fodder and meat. “But we were also generating a third product, which we had not realized initially, which is the environmental service provided by these production models”, Said Esquivel, who recently participated in a seminar organized by the Argentine Forestry Association (AFOA). And he declared: “Livestock is the petty cash, forestry is the savings fund.”
As a key to starting any rancher who wants to start, or, why not, a forester who wants to have animals, Esquivel pointed out two essential issues: “You have to have a serious financial planning for investmentThis is, in addition to the money to plant, you have to have money for non-commercial thinning, pruning, weed and ant control ”, warned Esquivel. And he added: “The configuration, the design of the plantation is also fundamental, because those errors are then very difficult to correct.”
Misiones and Corrientes are the two provinces where silvopastoral production is most practiced.
In 2006, people began to talk about the great impact of CO2 emissions from livestock, all the effects of global warming were attributed to livestock emissions.
“From then on, we set out to start quantifying the bonanzas of silvopastoral systems, and how to achieve a carbon neutral meat production certification,” said the advisor and consultant.
“Livestock is part of the carbon cycle in which emissions are only part of the film, the other is that that methane that comes out into the atmosphere through the belching of animals is transformed into carbon dioxide and is part of the photosynthesis process, then, the cow does not add carbon to the atmosphere, it does not mobilize carbon reserves as happens with fossil fuels ”, Esquivel reviewed.
In this sense, silvopastoral systems, but there are many others, seek to reduce the impact generated by livestock production. “The first thing to do is not to dismount, use the least amount of fossil energy possible, transform degraded pastures into silvopastoral systems, with good biomass forage cover, and tend to the growth of trees that allow us to capture carbon”, Esquivel listed .
Silvopastoral system integrated by Eucalyptus Grandis with Brachiaria Brizantha. Here, he rears Brangus heifers.
Impact on agro SMEs
The possibility of making silvopastoral systems also changed the business of small family businesses. “They changed their productive scale, which allowed them to go from a small company to a larger one thanks to the level of income and diversification,” said Esquivel.
There are different combinations, hybrid pines are used, eucalyptus (with very good results), Paraná pine, and in the south you can see beautiful silvopastoral trees with poplars.
On the other hand, Esquivel showed a case in which over 30,000 productive hectares have almost 11,000 forested hectares, within which there are almost 5,000 in silvopastoral system in a breeding and rearing system that serves to feed 9,000 bellies and 15,000 heads in total.
“When analyzing emissions and captures, we see that they are systems that are carbon-positive meat systems, we capture more than we emit, in this example, the capture made by trees is equivalent to 10 times the emissions generated by animals that are grazing in this system ”, analyzed Esquivel.
Regarding the challenges facing silvopastoral production in Argentina, Esquivel said that, “from an economic point of view, the wood business, with the quality that can be targeted in quality, has a future.” And he highlighted a characteristic that does not occur in other forest producing countries: “There are many small producers who together are the main forest producers in the country, there is not a large forest company that has the vast majority of forest hectares, as in Chile or Brazil and this is unique in the world ”.
Thinking about this atomization from production, for Esquivel, it would be interesting that the conditions exist so that more sawmills also arise that can process quality wood.
For all this, for Esquivel, the changes will continue to occur. “There are many of us looking for a way to show that livestock is an activity that in addition to generating food, work and occupying lands that would not be occupied otherwise, can be sustainable,” Esquivel pointed out. And he closed: “We have to be prepared because we do not know what the demands of consumers will be in the future, we must be prepared.”