This is not really an infographic that is truthful. It is 'anecdotal evidence' evidence for one farm, very probably not true for that very farm, and in any case a misleading oversimplification.
Pasture land can sequester some carbon, yes, but how meaningful is that? Carbon is just the element, and the element is not a greenhouse gas (GHG). Carbon dioxide is a GHG, and yes, green pastures do capture some CO2. But even if true that 112 tons of carbon gas is emitted and 500 tons sequestered annually, what does that translate to in practice if 500 tons of CO2 are captured but 112 tons of methane released?
For global warming climate change that would be a huge problem as methane is much more warming than CO2. Up to 34 times worse over a 100 year period. It also leaves out other gasses like N2O that are also a bigger problem than CO2. With that line of reasoning one could also argue that killing and eating a cow stops it from producing methane and thus the animal meat eaten by humans is saving the planet!
However, emissions from livestock respiration are part of a rapidly cycling biological system, where the plant matter consumed was itself created through the conversion of atmospheric CO2 into organic compounds.
Since the emitted and absorbed quantities are considered to be equivalent, livestock respiration is not considered to be a net source under the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, since part of the carbon consumed is stored in the live tissue of the growing animal, a growing global herd could even be considered a carbon sink. The standing stock livestock biomass increased significantly over the last decades (from about 428 million tonnes in 1961 to around 699 million tonnes in 2002). This continuing growth (see Chapter 1) could be considered as a carbon sequestration process (roughly estimated at 1 or 2 million tonnes carbon per year). However, this is more than offset by methane emissions which have increased correspondingly.
The equilibrium of the biological cycle is, however, disrupted in the case of overgrazing or bad management of feedcrops. The resulting land degradation is a sign of decreasing re-absorption of atmospheric CO2 by vegetation re-growth. In certain regions the related net CO2 loss may be significant.
Methane released from enteric fermentation may total 86 million tonnes per year. Globally, livestock are the most important source of anthropogenic methane emissions.
In the United States methane from enteric fermentation totalled 5.5 million tonnes in 2002, again overwhelmingly originating from beef and dairy cattle. This was 71 percent of all agricultural emissions and 19 percent of the country’s total emissions (US-EPA, 2004).
–– Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations: "Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues And Options", Rome, 2006.
Of course, the picture alludes to how coal and oil got into the ground in the first place. Plants and animals are carbon based, when they died and were buried deep enough without immediate decomposition/recycling by other lifeforms the were effectively sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere.
The reality looks a bit different for current farming practices. Only careful management in a less than now common in industrialised intensive farming has the potential to be less damaging for the atmosphere. The style and sheer amount of Western capitalist agroculture for cattle raising has to be reduced or changed significantly otherwise, as no farming practice that conforms to current market demands complies with reducing GHG emmissions.
The US Natural Resources Conservation Service currently advises a rule of thumb that 1 cow needs 2 acres to be fed with grass for a year.
The daily utilization rate for livestock. This is always the same number, .04, or 4%. This figure is used because livestock need to have 4% of their weight in forage each day (2.5- 3% intake, .5 trampling loss and .5-1% buffer). (PDF)
With 130 animals on the example from the claim, that farm is already quite crowded and it will damage the pasture if it is not extremely productive and resilient or other fodder than grass is provided into the mix. Since that's left out from the picture, the numbers are already skewed.
This effect isn't really news:
Overgrazing of pasturelands is one of the major problems facing the Oklahoma farmer today. Aside from soil erosion on cultivated land, excessive pasturing of prairie and woodland is perhaps our greatest agricultural menace. Greater runoff from grazing land as the vegetation is destroyed added to water lost from tilled soil has increased the flood problem not only in Oklahoma but throughout the country.
–– Charles Clinton Smith: "The Effect of Overgrazing and Erosion Upon the Biota of the Mixed-Grass Prairie of Oklahoma", Ecology, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Jul., 1940), pp. 381-397.
The USDA has calculated the effect of reconversion from crop fields to grasslands in the most optimal conditions on highly productive land in the North-Eastern US. These calculations should indicate that the numbers used in the claim are most probable what on Skeptics constitutes original research' that unfortunately erred along the way:
Decades of plowing have depleted organic C stocks in many agricultural soils. Conversion of plowed fields to pasture has the potential to reverse this process, recapturing organic matter that was lost under more intensive cropping systems. Temperate pastures in the northeast USA are highly productive and could act as significant C sinks. However, such pastures have relatively high biomass removal as hay or through consumption by grazing animals. In addition, the ability to sequester C decreases over time as previously depleted stocks are replenished and the soil returns to equilibrium conditions. The objective of this research was to use eddy covariance systems to quantify CO2 fluxes over two fields in central Pennsylvania that had been managed as pastures for at least 35 yr. Net ecosystem exchange measurements averaged over 8 site-years suggested that the pastures were acting as small net C sinks of 19 g C m−2 yr−1 (positive values indicate uptake). However, when biomass removal and manure deposition were included to calculate net biome productivity, the pastures were a net source of −81 g C m−2 yr−1 (negative values indicate loss to the atmosphere). Manure generated from the hay that was consumed off site averaged 18 g C m−2 yr−1. Returning that manure to the pastures would have only partially replenished the lost C, and the pastures would have remained net C sources. Heavy use of the biomass produced on these mature pastures prevented them from acting as C sinks.
–– R. Howard Skinner (USDA-ARS): "High Biomass Removal Limits Carbon Sequestration Potential of Mature Temperate Pastures", Journal of Environmental Quality, July 2008.
And even in scientific studies arguing for re-calculating the CO2-sink effect of grasslands has to admit:
Grazing pressure is a factor that affects C sequestration although it was not included in this study. …
This question does not have a simple answer if we consider that our study was focused on a regional scale. It is clear that C losses may be high in grazing areas of high cattle density. Intensive and frequent grazing imposes an increased C removal from roots to allow subsequent vegetation regrowth. For example, a meta-analysis investigation (Zhou et al., 2017) that comprised 115 cases suggests an additional carbon loss due to intensive grazing of about 21%. Very high stocking rates (N4–5 heads/ha) explain such losses. …
Although animal densities were heterogeneously distributed […] in this study we assumed that those densities were low enough to prevent any significant loss of belowground C. So, we desisted from applying any uncertain coefficient to account for carbon losses due to grazing intensity. …
Change of C stock due to land conversion was not specifically consid- ered in this research methods, but some aspects deserve a comment. There is meaningful question that has not still been completely an- swered. Do forests always sequester more C than grasslands as IPCC guidelines assumed? In a global meta-analysis that involved 385 studies on land-use change in the tropics Don et al. (2010) tend to confirm this assumption.
They showed that the highest SOC losses were caused by conversion of primary forest into cropland (−25%) and perennial crops (−30%), and forest conversion into grassland also reduced SOC stocks by 12%. …
Although management practices were not analyzed in this study, in line with scientific evidence (Conant et al., 2017) we also believe that management is a factor that can significantly improve carbon sequestra- tion. But provided that our knowledge about how grazing lands are managed in different sites of world is limited, we have to accept that figures on C sequestration due to management interventions remain uncertain (Smith et al., 2007).
–– E.F. Viglizzo et al.: "Reassessing the role of grazing lands in carbon-balance estimations: Meta-analysis and review", Science of the Total Environment, 661 (2019) 531–542.
Cattle raising currently and globally emits much more than it captures in the long run. Only grass fed beef can be sustainable in the sense of 'less damaging'; and only on suitable land that is not forested now. As soon as you feed grains to cattle in mass the calculation fails. And the optimistic calculation from the claim only could work if the pasture would be growing topsoil with carbon incorporated into it in more stable forms. When organic matter recycling, or erosion and other forms of topsoil loss enter the picture, again, the calculation fails.
Cattle dominate livestock related emissions, contributing around 65% of the total, buffaloes and small ruminants add a further 9% and 7% respectively, so in all ruminants account for over 80% of total livestock related climate impacts, most significantly via enteric methane (Figure 3) – which are highest, per unit of milk or meat, in grazing systems. Other studies give broadly comparable estimates. This 80% share of GHG emissions is worth setting against the 50% that ruminants contribute to overall terrestrial animal product protein supply (Figure 3). Grazing systems specifically emit an estimated 1.32 Gt CO2-eq (a figure that includes land use change-related impacts), which is about 20% of all emissions from livestock.
- Soils are very significant carbon stores. All soils contain carbon although different soil types differ in how much they contain. Above ground biomass also stores carbon – especially trees.
- As plants grow they draw down carbon from the atmosphere, apportioning some into their roots. Much of this is released back to the atmosphere when plants die and decompose. But, if left undisturbed, some of the carbon in their roots and in plant litter – depending on climate, rainfall, the soil microbial community, management and many other variables – may eventually be incorporated into more stable compounds in the soil, constituting a net removal of carbon from the atmosphere. This is soil carbon sequestration.
- If favourable conditions continue, soils sequester carbon until equilibrium is reached, after which emissions and removals are balanced and no more is sequestered. Further increases in sequestration may be possible if there is a change in how the land is used or managed.
- Sufficient nitrogen needs to be available for plants to grow and therefore for soils to sequester carbon. This can be provided in the form of bacterial nitrogen fixation, such as that associated with the roots of legumes, application of mineral fertilisers or organic amendments containing nitrogen, but higher nitrous oxide emissions may outweigh sequestration gains.
- Since sequestration is time-limited, so too is its role in mitigation efforts. There are additional problems of reversibility (what can be done can be undone) and leakage (organic amendments applied on one area of land may be at the cost of its previous application elsewhere). Legacy effects of past management practices also need recognising to avoid drawing false conclusions about the effects of the current management regime.
- Grazing animals potentially aid the process of sequestration as their consumption of herbage stimulates plant growth and leads to the partitioning of and increase in organic matter below ground.
- Factors including soil type and quality, climate and seasonal variability, precipition levels, nutrient availability, composition of soil fauna and microbial communities, and vegetation type will influence whether organic matter is converted into stable below ground carbon which determines if sequestration actually occurs.
- In many parts of the world the potential for grazing management to achieve sequestration is limited or absent.
- Heavy grazing is a problem on many grazing lands: by reducing plant growth, it causes carbon losses from the system.
- Evidence as to the sequestration benefits of holistic, adaptive and other variants of rotational grazing is patchy and highly contradictory. Where there are benefits, these are small.
- The highly ambitious claims made about the potential for holistic grazing to mitigate climate change are wrong.
- The sequestration potential from grazing management is between 295–800 Mt CO2-eq/year: this offsets only 20-60% of annual average emissions from the grazing ruminant sector, and makes a negligible dent on overall livestock emissions.
- Expansion or intensification in the grazing sector as an approach to sequestering more carbon would lead to substantial increases in methane, nitrous oxide and land use change-induced CO2 emissions…
- Practices that are optimal for achieving soil carbon sequestration may not be so for other environmental goals, such as biodiversity conservation.
- Leaving aside any scope for sequestration it is imperative that we ‘keep carbon in the ground’: by acting to halt degradation or conversion to croplands to avoid losing the huge carbon stocks already stored in grasslands.
–– Tara Garnett, Cécile Godde et al.: "Grazed and confused? – Ruminating on cattle, grazing systems, methane, nitrous oxide, the soil carbon sequestration question – and what it all means for greenhouse gas emissions", Food Climate Research Network, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, 2017. (PDF)
As the above might read 'a bit too anti-beef':
It might be noteworthy to emphasise the last point from the last quote: cattle production as such is not the devil, and that for ensuring human nutrition converting grassland to intensive agriculture annual crops with tilled bare soil and ample fertiliser and pesticide usage is actually worse, carbon-wise, as it contributes a massive carbon loss in the soil organic matter under ideal conditions and facilitates erosion and thus total top-soil loss and huge carbon emissions. Just planting maize monocultures instead of raising cattle doesn't solve anything.
The conversion of grasslands to arable use has led to a 25–43% decline in soil carbon stocks in the uppermost 120 cm in the USA, as compared to native grassland (Potter et al. 2000). A well documented chronosequence in France has yielded similar results (Boiffin & Fleury 1974). The mean carbon change induced each year by converting a permanent grassland to an annual crop can reach -0.95 T ± 0.3 t C ha-1 yr -1 over a 20-year period.
–– J.-F. Soussana et al: "Carbon cycling and sequestration opportunities in temperate grasslands", Soil Use and Management (2004) 20, 219–230. DOI: 10.1079/SUM2003234 (PDF)