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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

2013 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
Compare the environmental footprints of a current beef production system in the Midwestern U.S. to those of a typical production system used 30 years ago.

1b.Approach (from AD-416):
The beef production system of ARS’s Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, will be simulated using the Integrated Farm System Model. Model parameters will be determined through site visits and discussions with the managers of the operation. Available data from the center will be used to evaluate and support the simulation results. A typical production system of the 1970’s will also be modeled, and the simulation results of the two production systems will be compared to determine expected improvements made in reducing the environmental footprint and cost of beef production. This information will be provided to another organization that is developing a full life cycle assessment of beef production, processing, and use.

3.Progress Report:

A methodology was developed and used to determine environmental footprints of beef produced at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska with the goal of quantifying improvements achieved over the past 40 years. Information for MARC operations was gathered and used to establish parameters representing their production system with the Integrated Farm System Model. The MARC farm, cow calf and feedlot operations were each simulated over recent historical weather to evaluate performance, environmental impact and economics. For weather year 2011, simulated feed production and use, energy use, and production costs were within 1% of actual records. A 25-year simulation of their current production system gave an average annual carbon footprint of 10.9±0.6 kg of CO2 equivalent units per kg BW sold, and the energy required to produce that beef (energy footprint) was 26.5±4.5 MJ/kg body weight. The total water required (water footprint) was 21,300±5,600 liter/kg body weight sold, and the water footprint excluding precipitation was 2,790±910 liter/kg body weight. The simulated total cost of producing their beef was $2.11±0.05/kg body weight. Simulation of the production practices of 2005 indicated that the use of distiller’s grain in animal diets has had a relatively small effect on environmental footprints except that reactive nitrogen loss has increased 10%. Compared to 1970, the carbon footprint of the beef produced has decreased 6% with no change in the energy footprint, a 3% reduction in the reactive nitrogen footprint, and a 6% reduction in the real cost of production. The water footprint, excluding precipitation, has increased 42% due to greater use of irrigated corn production. This proven methodology provides a means for developing the production data needed to support regional and national full life cycle assessments of the sustainability of beef.

Last Modified: 1/29/2015
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