Performance improvements in the beef and sheep production sector in England have resulted in lower GHG emissions in almost every decade for the past 40 years, a new modelling project has estimated.
The work, commissioned by EBLEX working with The E-CO2 Project, using historic performance and production data for beef cattle
between 1970 and 2010, backed by estimated values based on E-CO2 models, shows the beef carbon footprint fell from 23.05kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (kg CO2-e) per kilogram of liveweight, to 14.41kg CO2-e. For sheep, the figure fell from 13.8kg CO2-e to 11.78kg CO2-e over that period.
The beef sector has reduced its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) output by an equivalent of 9.4% every decade while the figures for sheep, though hindered by a lack of consistent quality data, still showed a reduction over the period and in the last ten years alone this delivered a credible reduction of 9.3% through greater output per ewe and reduced reliance on artificial fertiliser.
However, with the UK Climate Change Act 2008 requiring an overall reduction of 80% in GHGs from 1990 levels by 2050 across the UK economy, the scale of challenge for beef and sheep meat producers should not be underestimated.
“While we realise there are limitations to the modelling, what this does show is an overall downward trend in greenhouse gas emissions from performance improvements and greater efficiency within enterprises and this is a positive story for the industry,” said Chris Lloyd, EBLEX industry development manager, who revealed the figures at the EBLEX Annual Conference today.
“Rather than becoming a scapegoat for emissions, we can demonstrate continued and progressive reductions in our carbon footprint without the need to rely on decreased livestock numbers. Our ongoing work to improve efficiency, delivered through the Better Returns Programme, can only help this further.
“When you add into the debate the value grazing livestock bring in terms of managing the countryside and the potential positive credits from grazed grassland working as an effective carbon sink, it starts to paint a very different environmental picture of the industry from the unbalanced one so often painted.
“The fact remains though that there is more we can do and we continue to work hard to improve on-farm efficiency, working towards some very tough targets. As an industry which relies heavily on extensive production systems, it highlights the challenge faced by sheep farmers in particular looking to produce food from some of the poorest land the country has to offer. The climate and terrain play such a large part in production output, and technological and management improvements are hard won.”
Defra has set the agriculture sector an interim target to reduce its contribution to GHGs by 11% by 2020 based on 2008 figures.
To make the comparisons, the top eight factors which influence GHG emissions were modelled using a scaled down carbon calculator. The key data looked at performance indicators such as cow and ewe weight, culling rates, liveweight of finished animals, daily liveweight gain, fertiliser use and feed use.