Software For Evaluating the Environmental Impact of Dairy and Beef Production Systems

Waste to Worth: Spreading science and solutions logoWaste to Worth home | More proceedings….

Why Model Environmental Impacts of Livestock?

Quantifying the long term environmental impacts of dairy and beef production is complex due to the many interactions among the physical and biological components of farms that affect the amount and type of emissions that occur. Emissions are influenced by climate and soil characteristics as well as internal management practices. Software models are needed to perform an integrated and comprehensive assessment of all important environmental and economic effects of farm management and mitigation strategies. Related: Manure value & economics

What Did We Do?

Figure 1. The Integrated Farm System Model simulates the performance, determines the economics, and predicts the air and water emissions of farm production systems.

Software tools were created that perform whole-farm analyses of the performance, economics and environmental impact of dairy and beef production systems. The Integrated Farm System Model (IFSM) is a comprehensive research tool that simulates production systems over many years of weather to quantify losses to the environment and the economics of production. From the simulated performance and losses, environmental footprints are determined for carbon, energy use, water use and reactive nitrogen loss. Crop, dairy and beef producing farms can be simulated under different management scenarios to evaluate and compare potential environmental and economic benefits. The Dairy Gas Emissions Model (DairyGEM) provides a simpler educational tool for studying management effects on greenhouse gas, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions and the carbon, energy and water footprints of dairy production systems.

What Have We Learned?

Analyses with either the IFSM or DairyGEM tools illustrate the complexity of farming systems and the resultant effect of management choices. Although IFSM was primarily developed and used as a research tool, it is also used in classroom teaching and other education applications. DairyGEM provides an easier and more graphical tool that is best suited to educational use.

Future Plans

Figure 2. DairyGEM is an educational tool for evaluating management effects on air emissions and environmental footprints of dairy production systems.

Development of these software tools continues. Work is currently underway to add the simulation of VOC emissions to both models. Routines are also being implemented to better represent the performance and emissions of beef feed yards.


C. Alan Rotz, Agricultural Engineer, USDA/ARS;

Additional Information

The IFSM and DairyGEM software tools are available through Internet download [] for use in individual, workshop and classroom education. Reference manuals and other detailed information on the models is also available at this website.


Many people have contributed to the development of these models and software tools. Although they can not all be listed here, they are acknowledged in each software program.

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2013. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Denver, CO. April 1-5, 2013. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.