By JIM ALGIE
Feeding and breeding efficiencies among Canadian cattle farmers over the past 30 years have cut greenhouse gas emissions from cattle production by 15 per cent for a kilogram of beef, new Canadian government research has found.
A Jan. 11 report released by the Beef Cattle Research Council and Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef identifies the first results of a comprehensive five-year study of the beef industry’s environmental footprint. Researchers at the University of Manitoba and federal environment and agriculture agencies found a 15 per cent decrease in methane, 16 per cent less nitrous dioxide and 13 per cent less carbon dioxide from beef production during a 30-year period that ended in 2011.
The decline in greenhouse gases resulted mainly from improved efficiencies in cattle production, the statement said. Researchers compared cattle population data and meat production over time to find it took 29 per cent fewer, breeding cattle and 24 per cent less land to produce the same volume of beef.
Beef Farmers of Ontario vice-president Matt Bowman, who farms in the Temiskaming area of northern Ontario, said in an interview the research is important to growers as they prepare for future carbon regulations. In any new realm of environmental regulations it will be important to have accurate contemporary information about the consequences of raising cattle, he said.
“Everybody can see the writing on the wall,” Bowman said. “We want to be able to defend our industry.”
Cattle nutritionist Tim McAllister is a research scientist at the Agriculture Canada research and development centre in Lethbridge, Alberta and a principal investigator with the current study. The research council report asserts the importance of achieving an accurate assessment of the environmental footprint for Canadian beef.
Decreased emissions and reduced resource requirements for beef “wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for investments in research and development and the industry’s ability to adopt those technologies,” McAllister is quoted to say. A widely-published expert on ruminant nutrition judging by his Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada profile, McAllister was also a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and lead author of the panel’s work on Global Greenhouse Gas Inventories.
Canada’s beef industry currently accounts for 3.6 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas production and 0.072 per cent of global greenhouse gas production, the research council statement says. The study, which began in 2013, is expected to wrap up in 2018 and to yield further details about the cattle industry’s water use, biodiversity and provision of ecosystems services, the statement says.
BFO’s Bowman, who is also the Ontario group’s delegate to the national Beef Cattle Research Council, said environmental assessments of the impact of cattle production often overlook its environmental benefits.
“On the cow side, there are definitely some advantages as far as sequestering carbon through grazing and the utilization of grassland,” Bowman said of environmental benefits from growing cattle on pasture. “Those are the kinds of things nobody seems to talk about,” he said.
“We’re getting cattle to market faster and they’re eating and drinking less so they’ve going to have less of a footprint,” Bowman said. “A lot of it is not real earth shattering, it’s just putting numbers to what we were pretty sure was happening anyway,” he said. BF