A new white paper lays out some specific challenges for the North American beef industry to achieve climate neutrality – i.e. capturing as much carbon as is emitted.
Dr. Sara E. Place, chief sustainability officer for Elanco Animal Health, and Frank M. Mitloehner, professor and director of the CLEAR Center at University of California, Davis, note that cattle have an important place in climate conversion because they balance emissions with eating forages that otherwise could not be converted to food.
Dr. Place detailed her findings during the Goals and Partnerships for a Sustainable Food System panel at this week’s 2021 Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef Annual Meeting.
“Talking about measuring emissions from an animal is different from, say, a tailpipe, whose measurement and control is straightforward,” said Dr. Place.
“With livestock, we’re operating with a moving process that has daily variables. In that environment, measurement and benchmarking are key components to moving forward. We can see the path; we just have to get people to it.”
She said we need to know where global temperatures are now so we can know whether what we’re doing is making matters better or worse.
She said most greenhouse gas emissions from live cattle production are non-CO2 gases, including methane (CH4) which is a short-lived gas.
But controlling methane emissions will have a more immediate impact on temperature than gases that stay in the environment longer, such as CO2.
The white paper the authors produced, “Pathway to Climate Neutrality for U.S. Beef and Dairy Cattle Production” , notes that cattle on pasture release more methane than those in feedlots so “innovations related to grazing cattle should be targeted, including delivering feed additives, and developing low-methane emitting breeding strategies.”
For dairy production, enteric and manure methane emissions reductions will be critical and can be influenced greatly through manure management techniques, they said.
New manure management techniques, such as anaerobic biogas digesters, are one such strategy that is growing in importance in California. The dairy industry within the state has already achieved a 25 percent reduction in manure methane emissions since 2013.
“The best innovations work only with broad adoption and acceptance. Public and private partnerships as well as education and regulatory pathways will be critically important to support new innovation,” they said.