Feeding People while Preserving the Planet

Agriculture is at the heart of many important conversations in 2023. Whether the issue at hand is environmental concerns, the production of enough nutritious food for the global population, or one of many other contentious topics, agricultural producers are often seen as anti-heroes – when, in reality, the agriculture industry has the greatest potential to make a positive impact on the world.

Proof of this positive impact was on display during the opening keynote addresses at Alltech ONE Dublin, the second stop on the Alltech ONE World Tour. Dr. Mark Lyons, president and CEO of Alltech, opened the conference with an assertion that the widespread image of agriculture as a villain makes it more important than ever to tell the story of how animal and food production benefits our planet.

“Bad news is out there, and it does get the eyeballs,” said Lyons. “That’s why I think it’s critical for every business to be dedicating resources to communicating. And to me, that’s the headline: ‘We need our animals. We capture more carbon with them than we would without them.’”

Lyons was joined onstage by Dr. Vaughn Holder, ruminant research director at Alltech, who illustrated how agriculture plays a vital role in both protecting the environment and ensuring the health of all people.

“We have two of the most important jobs in the world: We have to nourish our population and we have to preserve our planet for future generations,” Lyons said. “The challenge to all of us is to come up with the solutions that are going to help us.”

“This is about ideas,” he continued. “It’s about inspiration – and, I think, taking some risks, because we all know what the challenges are. And we need to think about them in a different way.”

Cattle: The Secret Weapon to Sequestering Carbon

Climate change is widespread and will only continue to intensify, placing a great strain on the world’s resources. Agricultural production is often cited as a significant factor in climate change – but in reality, as Holder outlined in his address at Alltech ONE Dublin, agriculture is one of the only industries with the ability to not only reduce its own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but to capture and sequester emissions released by other industries.

“We exist at the interface between the world’s biggest carbon-capture and machinery industry, and that’s agriculture,” he said.

Alltech has been studying the agriculture industry’s ability to sequester carbon through a research alliance based on the 10,000-acre Buck Island Ranch in Lake Placid, Florida. During their research at Buck Island, the Alltech team has seen first-hand that cattle can help sequester carbon through grazing – which counters the popular argument that eliminating cattle production will also reduce emissions.

“We have more than enough capacity to put this carbon away,” Holder said. “So, this is what we’re focusing on as a research group, is trying to understand this entire carbon cycle so that we can design interventions and identify levers that can allow us to use this cycle to ameliorate not only the methane side of carbon cycle but the big elephant in the room, which is CO2.”

As Holder referenced, much of the general conversation about agricultural – and, specifically, livestock – production focuses on the issue of methane, but the data has borne out that carbon dioxide is a much more dangerous foe.

“Carbon dioxide is the problem,” Holder said. “And if we don’t figure out a way to suck carbon dioxide out of the environment, no matter what we do to methane, it’s not going to make a difference.”