Livestock industry squares up to greenhouse gas emissions criticism

The livestock industry must be prepared to fight its corner when facing attack over greenhouse gas emissions, said Duncan Pullar, head of research and development for EBLEX.

Speaking at The British Cattle Breeders Conference, Telford, Mr Pullar said: “We are being targeted for our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and, as such, we must be prepared. We need to own this issue and be able to put a balanced proposition to the consumer.”

And unless consumer behaviour changes, reduced production at home will simply export the problem, he warned.

“There is no doubt there is a CO2 equivalent cost to producing meat and milk, but it is about making the most of the resources available to us – a lot of land used for livestock production would not be suitable for anything else and the rumen remains an excellent way of extracting energy from an otherwise undigestible material.”

However, for English farming to meet UK Carbon Reduction Plan targets, livestock farmers face the challenge of reducing annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 11% by 2020.

“This means a reduction in about 1kg CO2 equivalent for each 1kg of beef,” Dr Pullar explained.

In order to meet these targets, farmers can increase efficiencies in a number of ways, all of which convey significant economic gain.

“Reducing beef and sheep greenhouse gas emissions overlaps with improved economic efficiencies – emission reduction in beef production needs to be based firmly on improving production efficiency.”

In line with this, EBLEX has developed ‘The English Beef and Sheep Production Roadmap’ with the aim to develop a strategy for producers to reduce the negative and promote the positive environmental impacts of their business.

“Controlling feed conversion efficiency, longevity and fertility offers the potential to reduce emissions significantly.

“For example, increasing longevity by one year of production can save a global warming potential of about 0.07kg CO2 equivalent/kg of meat.” And producing 0.02 extra calves a cow a year can save about 0.26kg CO2 equivalent/kg of meat.

“And using diets more effectively is not only economically advantageous, but has the potential to reduce methane production,” he said.

Feed conversion efficiency has been shown to vary between individual animals, making it possible to select animals for these traits.

“Achieving an 11% savings in global warming potential by 2020 involves an increase in feeding efficiency of 0.32kg a day together with an increase of about 0.05 calves a cow a year.

“However, greater gains in fertility efficiency would decrease the level of feeding efficiency improvements necessary and vice versa,” he said.