A recent study shows that the global beef industry has the potential to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by up to 50 percent. The United States and Brazil appear to show the most promise for impacting GHG emission within the beef industry. A research team at Colorado State University, led by Assistant Professor Daniela Cusack, recently published its findings in Global Change Biology. As part of the project, the researchers found that implementing various ranch management practices can have a substantial impact on emission levels.
The study shows that cattle are responsible for about 78 percent of all livestock emissions. While nearly impossible to achieve complete carbon neutrality, the global beef industry does have the ability to significantly reduce its carbon footprint. The researchers found that a 46 percent reduction in GHG emissions per unit of beef is possible when applying certain production practices. The use of carbon sequestration management strategies that include organic soil amendments and vegetation restoration on grazed lands proved to be successful in achieving emission reductions.
Nearly 300 beef production systems were studied, including those in Brazil, the U.S., Canada, Asia, Latin America, and Australia. Twelve different strategies for addressing emission levels in the global beef industry were assessed as part of the study. Brazil appeared the have the most capacity for reducing GHG emissions within the global industry through the adoption of certain management strategies.
According to the analysis, a 57 percent reduction in Brazilian beef emissions levels can be achieved through making improvements to management practices. Making better breed selections, improving feed quality, and enhancing fertilizer management were all found to be beneficial strategies. Better carbon sequestration can also be achieved through intensive rotational grazing, selective planting of forage plants, and reforestation. Data from U.S. production shows that efficiency strategies were not as successful at impacting global emission levels. The number of beef producers in the U.S. already implementing efficiency strategies could be the cause for a lack of impact.