May 23, 2023
Flowing grass and rich soils: success in Aldama Mexico

In 2017, Javier Mesta bought a struggling 1228 hectare ranch in the municipality of Aldama in Chihuahua—a state in northern Mexico. The region is known for its diversity of microclimates, ranging from one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world to humid subtropical forests to grasslands. Javier’s ranch initially faced significant challenges: it was overrun with undesirable alkaligrass, tobosa grass, and saltgrass that were brittle, covered with lichen, and infested with moles that disrupt the grass’s root systems. The poor soils were desert-like, and, rather than storing soil organic carbon, it emitted it through processes like erosion and accelerated decomposition.

Undeterred, Javier bought one hundred cows and began implementing rotational grazing—a system of ranching that divides a large pasture into smaller paddocks allowing patches of land to lie fallow while livestock graze in designated areas. Grasses and other plants in these fallow paddocks are able to grow stronger and more quickly without the continuous grazing. When livestock graze a paddock, they stimulate additional plant growth, fertilize the soil, and break up the soil’s crust. Over time, this controlled disturbance benefits soil biology, water infiltration, and aeration. Plants grow taller, and their roots grow deeper, increasing soil biomass and sequestering carbon—all while mitigating processes that cause emissions, like erosion. Using this system, Javier was able to cultivate superior grasses like Lehman Lovegrass. But, still he made mistakes like not scheduling grazing correctly and running out of grass.

Then in 2018, he came across Manejo Renenerativo de Ranchos A.C. (MRR), a group of ranchers based in northern Mexico that share knowledge and strategies to make ranches more sustainable and profitable through regenerative ranching. With such a parallel mission as ours, Boomitra partnered with MRR to support the implementation of regenerative practices and measure soil carbon levels on participating ranches with remote sensing and machine learning technology. Boomitra returns carbon finance to ranchers that have increased their soil carbon with regenerative practices and also provides ranchers with insights on soil moisture and plant health. As part of the Northern Mexico Grassland Restoration Project, Javier started intensive grazing—concentrating a larger number of livestock in a smaller area for a short duration, followed by a longer rest period. This approach aims to mimic the natural grazing periods of large herds. The combination of intense grazing and rest periods can have a positive effect on forage production, root development, microbial activity, and nutrient cycling. When Javier can’t identify a certain type of grass, or is worried about the color of the soil, he relies on MRR to answer his questions and guide his ranching.

Through Javier’s passion, diligent efforts, and partnership with MRR and Boomitra, his ranch is healthier, supports more cattle, and turns a higher profit. “It’s impressive how you give something to the land,” Javier reflected, “and it gives you back something very beautiful.”

Today, Javier has two hundred and fifty cows—a 2.5 increase in stocking rate—and is working towards doubling his herd to five hundred. Insects, like beetles and termites, are flourishing, as are other fauna like birds. The ranch is sequestering carbon in its soil, and growing fourteen species of grass, including buffelgrass, black spear grass, and California cottontop. This kind of regenerative, sustainable, and climate-friendly ranching, to Javier, “means life–as there is more life beneath the earth’s surface, the ranches will be much better. It means an open-minded approach.”

Follow Javier on social media for updates on his grassland restoration: Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Grace Cajski
Editorial Intern
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