Practical steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from beef

Reducing age of slaughter from 20 to 16 months can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from beef by 14% according to Lynne Dawson, AFBI Hillsborough.

Speaking at the Beef Expo Northern Ireland, Dungannon, she said by managing livestock, soils and fertiliser application effectively, beef producers could cut GHG emissions significantly.

And by finishing cattle quicker at 16 months, methane production can be reduced by 31% and nitrous oxide by 37%.

“Research has shown, bulls finished on an intensive system at 16 months have a 43% lower carbon footprint than steers finished at 25 months with a proportion of time spent at grass.” This equated to a 52% reduction in methane production.

“Reducing the total amount of greenhouse gases produced for every kilo of meat and falling in-line with EU targets for GHG emissions is a big challenge for Northern Ireland,” said Dr Dawson.

But paying close attention to weather conditions and volumes of fertiliser applied to land also play a key role in reducing emissions, she said.

“Applying inorganic fertiliser under wet conditions can increase your carbon footprint by 16%.

“Also, applying inorganic fertiliser straight after slurry will increase nitrous oxide losses to the surroundings – ideally farmers should leave a 3-4 day interval between applications to minimise these emissions.”

Moving from a grass sward receiving 150kg N/ha of artificial fertiliser to a grass and clover ley receiving no fertiliser also has the potential to reduce a farm’s carbon footprint by 19%.