Why Look at the Environmental Footprint of Livestock?
Both producers and consumers of animal products have concern for the environmental sustainability of production systems. Added to these concerns is the need to increase production to meet the demand of a growing population worldwide with an increasing desire for high quality protein. A procedure has been developed (Rotz et al., 2013) that is now being implemented by the U.S. beef industry in a comprehensive national assessment of the sustainability of beef. The first of seven regions to be analyzed consisted of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
What did we do?
A survey and visits of ranch and feedyard operations throughout the three state region provided data on common production practices. From these data, representative ranch and feedyard operations were defined and simulated for the climate and soil conditions throughout the region using the Integrated Farm System Model (USDA-ARS, 2014). These simulations predicted environmental impacts of each operation including farm-gate carbon, energy, water and reactive nitrogen footprints. Individual ranch and feedyard operations were linked to form 28 representative cattle production systems. A weighted average of the production systems was used to determine the environmental footprints for the region where weighting factors were determined based upon animal numbers obtained from national agricultural statistics and survey data. Along with the traditional beef production systems, Holstein steers and cull animals from the dairy industry in the region were a lso included.
What have we learned?
The carbon footprint of beef produced was 18.4 ± 1.7 kg CO2e/kg carcass weight (CW) with the range in individual production systems being 13.0 to 25.4 kg CO2e/kg CW. Footprints for fossil energy use, non precipitation water use, and reactive nitrogen loss were 51 ± 4.8 MJ/kg CW, 2450 ± 450 liters/kg CW and 138 ± 12 g N/kg CW, respectively. The major portion of the carbon, energy and reactive nitrogen footprints was associated with the cow-calf phase of production (Figure 1).
Further analyses are planned for the remaining six regions of the U.S. which will be combined to provide a national assessment. Cattle production data will be combined with processing, marketing and consumer data to complete a comprehensive life cycle assessment of beef production and use.
C. Alan Rotz, Agricultural Engineer, USDA-ARS email@example.com
Senorpe Asem-Hiablie and Kim Stackhouse-Lawson
Rotz, C. A., B. J. Isenberg, K. R. Stackhouse-Lawson, and J. Pollak. 2013. A simulation-based approach for evaluating and comparing the environmental footprints of beef production systems. J. Anim. Sci. 91:5427-5437.
USDA-ARS. 2014. Integrated Farm System Model. Pasture Systems and Watershed Mgt. Res. Unit, University Park, PA. Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=8519. Accessed 5 January, 2015.
This work was partially supported by the Beef Checkoff.
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