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Life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from beef production in western Canada: A case study

Beauchemin, K.A., Henry Janzen, H., Little, S.M., McAllister, T.A., McGinn, S.M. (2010). Life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from beef production in western Canada: A case study, 103(6), 371-379.


A life cycle assessment (LCA) was conducted to estimate whole-farm greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from beef production in western Canada. The aim was to determine the relative contributions of the cow-calf and feedlot components to these emissions, and to examine the proportion of whole-farm emissions attributable to enteric methane (CH4). The simulated farm consisted of a beef production operation comprised of 120 cows, four bulls, and their progeny, with the progeny fattened in a feedlot. The farm also included cropland and native prairie pasture for grazing to supply the feed for the animals. The LCA was conducted over 8years to fully account for the lifetime GHG emissions from the cows, bulls and progeny, as well as the beef marketed from cull cows, cull bulls, and progeny raised for market. The emissions were estimated using Holos, a whole-farm model developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Holos is an empirical model, with a yearly time-step, based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change methodology, modified for Canadian conditions and farm scale. The model considers all significant CH4, N2O, and CO2 emissions and removals on the farm, as well as emissions from manufacture of inputs (fertilizer, herbicides) and off-farm emissions of N2O derived from nitrogen applied on the farm. The LCA estimated the GHG intensity of beef production in this system at 22kg CO2 equivalent (kg carcass)-1. Enteric CH4 was the largest contributing source of GHG accounting for 63% of total emissions. Nitrous oxide from soil and manure accounted for a further 27% of the total emissions, while CH4 emissions from manure and CO2 energy emissions were minor contributors. Within the beef production cycle, the cow-calf system accounted for about 80% of total GHG emissions and the feedlot system for only 20%. About 84% of enteric CH4 was from the cow-calf herd, mostly from mature cows. It follows that mitigation practices to reduce GHG emissions from beef production should focus on reducing enteric CH4 production from mature beef cows. However, mitigation approaches must also recognize that the cow-calf production system also has many ancillary environmental benefits, allowing use of grazing and forage lands that can preserve soil carbon reserves and provide other ecosystems services. © 2010.

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