But Asda is already encouraging its farmers to trial the grasses in their grazing operations, and is offering a free acre bag of seed for every 10 acres purchased. Asda anticipates that bringing its farmers into the program will help reduce the company’s GHG emissions by 186,000 tons – the equivalent of 78,000 cars off the road.

“This is a first step, the first time anyone has tried to do this, and it will be about how to capture this data as well,” says Chris Brown, Asda’s head of sustainable sourcing. “If farmers are going to be paid for ecosystem services, including carbon, how do we audit that in the field compared to burning oil in a factory? It’s important that agriculture has access to those markets.”

And, that’s how Asda figures farmers in its supply chain will increase profits by $15.4 million/year – basically payment for those ecosystem services through increased production efficiency since they can’t be paid for their animals producing fewer GHG emissions. Animals that gain better on grasses don’t need to be fed as much purchased feed, which can lead to significant savings, Asda reasons.

Slow to move in U.S.

Back on this side of the pond, however, pastures aren’t a high priority for most cow-calf operations. And that’s a waste of resources, says Jerry Hall, general manager and research director of Grassland Oregon in Salem. As the US-based marketer of IBERS’ HSG (SucraSEED™), sold under the  BeefBank™ High Sugar Grass Beef Mix brand, he’s found that American producers don’t view their pastures as an input as much as a place to store their animals.

In Europe, where pastureland is scarcer, the average age of pasture is between seven and 10 years because they need to be productive. In the U.S., however, where pasture tends to be more abundant, the average is closer to 30 years. Hall says producers tell him, “I raise cattle, I don’t raise grass,” and they’re looking for grass they can seed once in a lifetime.

“Whether you’re a hay guy or a cattle guy, you’re first and foremost a grass grower. You need to get better at it to maximize your productivity,” he says.

Feed prices continue to soar, and perhaps will even more so now. After all, NutriQuest, a nutritional products and services company in Mason City, IA, expects distillers grain prices to increase nearly $13/ton as ethanol producers begin to extract corn oil to make biodiesel.

Hall says he has about 115,000 acres in the U.S. seeded with HSG, and the productivity results, according to producers and Cornell University researchers, match those of IBERS. It may finally be time to go back and look at the state of those pastures.

Meghan Sapp is a U.S. freelancer based in San Sebastian, Spain.