It is impossible to deny the impact of cattle production on the emission of greenhouse gases. According to the most recent data available, worldwide, cattle production is responsible for about 78% of total GHG emissions generated by livestock.
However, there are good news!
According to a study led by a team of researchers from Colorado State University, by widespread use of more efficient livestock management practices in beef production, there will be a substantial reduction in these values.
Within the livestock management practices addressed in the study, the two areas that would have the greatest impact would be increasing efficiency to produce more meat per unit of GHG emitted - raising bigger cows at a faster rate - and enhanced land management strategies to increase soil and plant carbon sequestration on grazed lands.
12 different strategies to reduce GHG emissions in beef production worldwide were evaluated and it was concluded that it is possible to reduce these emissions by up to 50% in certain regions of the world, with the most potential in the United States and Brazil. In the case of Brazil, with 57% GHG emission reduction, the specific strategies include improved feed quality, better breed selections and enhanced fertilizer management.
“My home country of Brazil has more than 52 million hectares of degraded pastureland – larger than the state of California,” said Amanda Cordeiro, co-author and a graduate student at CSU. “If we can aim for a large-scale regeneration of degraded pastures, implementation of silvo-agro-forestry systems and adoption of other diversified local management strategies to cattle production, Brazil can drastically decrease carbon emissions.”
According to this team of researchers, by using carbon sequestration management strategies on grazed lands, including using organic soil amendments and restoring trees and perennial vegetation to areas of degraded forests, woodlands and riverbanks, a 46% reduction in net GHG emissions per unit of beef would be achieved. The strategies with biggest impact were using an integrated field management, including intensive rotational grazing schemes (holistic management), adding soil compost, reforestation of degraded areas and selectively planting forage plants bred for sequestering carbon in soils.
In the U.S., researchers found that carbon sequestration strategies, such as integrated land management and intensive rotational grazing (holistic management), reduced GHG emissions from cattle by more than 100% - or net-zero emissions - in a few grazing systems. But production efficiency strategies were not as successful in the US studies, possibly due to a high use of these same strategies in the region.
“Our research shows the important role that ranchers can play in combatting the global climate crisis, while ensuring their livelihoods and way of life,” said Clare Kazanski, co-author and North America region scientist with The Nature Conservancy. “By analyzing management strategies in the U.S. and around the world, our research reinforces that ranchers are in a key position to reduce emissions in beef production through various management strategies tailored to their local conditions.”
Additionally, Daniela Cusack, lead author and assistant professor in CSU's Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama said, "Our analysis shows that we can improve the efficiency and sustainability of beef production, which would significantly reduce the industry’s climate impact,”
"But at the same time, we will never reach net-zero emissions without further innovation and strategies beyond land management and increased growth efficiency. There’s a lot of room, globally, for improvement."
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