A research team led by Colorado State University found that widespread use of improved ranching management practices in two distinct areas of beef production would lead to substantial emissions reductions. This includes increased efficiency to produce more beef per unit of GHG emitted – growing bigger cows at a faster rate – and enhanced land management strategies to increase soil and plant carbon sequestration on grazed lands.
Globally, cattle produce about 78% of total livestock GHG emissions. Yet, there are many known management solutions that, if adopted broadly, can reduce, but not totally eliminate, the beef industry’s climate change footprint, according to lead author Daniela Cusack, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at CSU.
Overall, the research team found a 46% reduction in net GHG emissions per unit of beef was achieved at sites using carbon sequestration management strategies on grazed lands, including using organic soil amendments and restoring trees and perennial vegetation to areas of degraded forests, woodlands and riverbanks. Additionally, researchers found an overall 8% reduction in net GHGs was achieved at sites using growth efficiency strategies. Net-zero emissions, however, were only achieved in 2% of studies.
“Our analysis shows that we can improve the efficiency and sustainability of beef production, which would significantly reduce the industry’s climate impact,” said Cusack, also a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. “But at the same time, we will never reach net-zero emissions without further innovation and strategies beyond land management and increased growth efficiency. There’s a lot of room, globally, for improvement.”