Ahead of the herd in cutting cattle carbon

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A new study led by an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research scientist has revealed that Canada's beef sector has reduced its environmental footprint over the past 30 years.

Dr. Tim McAllister and his research partners from Environment Canada and the University of Manitoba studied the Canadian beef sector's environmental footprint between 1981-2011 and found that over this 30-year period, production of one kilogram of beef creates 15% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

"This improvement really represents the combined efforts of scientists across the country to develop technologies in genetics, nutrition, reproductive physiology, and herd management along with the willingness of the Canadian beef producers to adopt them. With continued investment in this area, we fully expect gains in efficiency to continue into the future."

- Dr. Tim McAllister, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Holos

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were estimated using a life-cycle assessment (birth to farm gate) based on Holos, a Canadian whole-farm emissions model.

Holos, a software program available to producers, was designed by AAFC researchers at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre. The software estimates on-farm GHG emissions based on information entered into the program and explores ways to reduce these emissions.

What's next?

The inaugural results of the study were published in the journal Animal Production Science on December 23, 2015. The remaining phases of the environmental footprint study, including water use, air quality, biodiversity and provision of ecosystems services, are expected in 2018.

Funding for the study was provided by the Beef Cattle Industry Science Cluster, a partnership between AAFC and the Beef Cattle Research Council.

Key discoveries (benefits)

  • Canadian cattle emissions have decreased 15% over a 30-year study period.
  • Significant reduction is credited to improvements in production and feed efficiencies, crop yields and herd management strategies.
  • Future studies are necessary to monitor the impact of beef production on other sustainability metrics, such as water use, air quality, biodiversity and delivery of ecosystems services.

Photo gallery

beef cattle
Canadian cattle emissions decreased 15% between 1981 and 2011
Holos software
Holos is a whole-farm emissions model that producers can download at no cost

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