Beef production is an environmentally destructive process unless producers are conscious and aware of best practices to reduce high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land degradation, and feed-food competition. Estimates by various sources (IPCC, FAO, EPA and others) place the contribution of livestock as a whole to global anthropogenic GHG emissions at 7–18% and beef consumption is growing each year as more people move toward beef as a high-protein staple*.
It is crucial that the environmental impacts of beef production are analyzed and improved to advance soil carbon sequestration and reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.
A study** completed in the Midwest showed a 4-year carbon sequestration rate of 3.59 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 in adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazed pastures. After including soil carbon sequestration in the GHG footprint estimates, finishing emissions from the AMP system were reduced from 9.62 to −6.65 kg CO2-e kg carcass weight (CW)−1, whereas feedlot-finished emissions increased slightly from 6.09 to 6.12 kg CO2-e kg CW−1 due to soil erosion. This indicates that AMP grazing has the potential to offset GHG emissions through soil carbon sequestration, and therefore the finishing phase could be a net carbon sink. This research indicates that AMP grazing has the potential to offset GHG emissions, and thus mitigate climate change through soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration, and therefore the finishing phase could be a net carbon sink. The research also challenges the current existing conclusions that only feedlot-intensification reduces the overall beef GHG footprint through greater productivity.
One of our partners, Kunoa Cattle in Honolulu, HI is pioneering eco-aware beef production in the islands. The predominant species of grass on their ranch is known as guinea grass, a rapidly growing invasive species, which needs to be kept at a height of around 6-8 inches. This is acheived by managing the herd movement through the paddocks. By doing this, Kunoa Cattle is increasing carbon sequestration and decreasing soil erosion through rotational and regenerative grazing practices. Furthermore, the company is also managing an invasive species, which left unattended would take over the pastures in dense clumps, growing to almost 3m tall. This would ruin future pastures for livestock, as well as weed out healthy native plants that are compulsory for the environment.
** Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems
Authors: Paige L. Stanleya,1 , Jason E. Rowntreea,⁎ , David K. Beedea , Marcia S. DeLongeb , Michael W. Hammc
a. Department of Animal Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
b. Food and Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, D.C. 20006, USA c. Department of Community Sustainability, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA