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Reducing climate impacts of beef production

Study led by Colorado State University indicates that beef cattle production can cut GHG emissions up to 50% by changing practices.

Agriculture as many other activities, has in hands the great challenge of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG).

The agricultural sector promotes carbon sequestration but is also responsible for GHG emissions mainly through methane and nitrous oxide. It is the animal sector which is responsible for the most relevant emission sources in agriculture and for example in the Portuguese territory, it represents 83% of the around 10% of total emissions.

There are several measures to mitigate GHG emissions in livestock activity. The most decisive, due to the weight they represent, are related to the reduction of gases released by natural enteric fermentation through the efficient management of the feeding regime or, in counterpoint, with the promotion of carbon sequestration by soil and pasture.

Recently, a beef cattle production research by a group led by Colorado State University looked at 12 strategies to mitigate global emissions from cattle production. The research comprised an analysis of comparative studies of greenhouse gas emission data from different forms of beef production (conventional vs "improved") from life cycle assessments (LCA). Among the several conclusions it indicates that:

- It is possible to reduce up to 50% GHG emissions from cattle production in certain production regions being the United States and Brazil among Asia, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Latin America and the United States, the places with the highest reduction potential;

- Generalised use of improved practices in farm management can lead to a substantial reduction in emissions through promoting greater production efficiency - more kg of meat produced per GHG emitted, i.e. herd management for larger cows at a higher rate and also soil and pasture management with a view to increasing sequestration by the soil;

- The strategies that allow better results are integrated field management schemes, including intensive rotational grazing schemes, the addition of soil composts, the reforestation of degraded areas and the selective planting of forage plants bred to sequester carbon in soils.

You can see here the publication resulting from the study published on April 5th in Global Change Biology as well as the news on the University website

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