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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Environmental Assessment of U.S. Beef Production Systems

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Project Number: 1902-11130-002-11
Project Type: Trust

Start Date: Jan 01, 2013
End Date: May 30, 2015

To determine farm gate environmental footprints of beef production systems in the U.S. and the changes that have occurred over the past 40 years. Specific objectives are to: • Compare conventional, grass-fed and natural beef production strategies at a given location using the same weather, soil and related production constraints. • Simulate two large feedlot systems in Kansas and Texas with production capacities of up to 100,000 head to evaluate the influence of feedlot size on environmental impact. • Simulate, evaluate, and compare the environmental footprints and production costs of beef produced in a given region of the U.S. using industry typical production practices of the early 1970’s, 2005, and 2012.

Grass-fed and natural beef producing farms will be visited to gather information on production practices and animal performance. This information, along with similar data from conventional production systems, will be used to establish model parameters and verify simulation results for each production strategy. These production systems will be simulated with the Integrated Farm System Model (IFSM) using the same weather, soil, and other common production constraints to determine the cradle to farm gate life cycle carbon, energy, water and reactive nitrogen footprints of the beef produced. To evaluate the effect of the scale of operation, feed yards in Kansas and Texas will be represented and simulated with IFSM using parameters established through site visits and follow up correspondence. By simulating these feed yards, gate-to-gate life cycle carbon, energy, water and reactive nitrogen footprints will be determined. These footprints represent the important environmental impacts associated with the beef produced between the entrance and exit of the feed yards. The environmental footprints of these rather large feed yards (capacities of 30,000 and 100,000 cattle) will be compared to those previously determined for the feedlot operation of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (3,500 cattle) to determine any differences due to size of operation. The same weather, soil and feed production practices will be used in a simulation of each operation to assure that differences found are due to the production practices used at each feedlot finishing operation. For a more complete assessment of U.S. beef production, a comprehensive analysis will be done for a major beef producing region. In collaboration with a university and/or beef producer organization, a survey of the industry in this region will be conducted to determine the characteristics of common production practices. This information will be used to set parameters in IFSM for simulating representative cow-calf, stocker and finish operations of the region. Simulation of the representative operations will provide the cradle to farm gate partial life cycle carbon, energy, water and reactive nitrogen footprints for the beef produced. This analysis will also include an economic assessment of the beef production costs. Historical simulations will be done that represent each beef producing operation for the region in 1970 and 2005 to determine the environmental and economic changes that have occurred through time. This information will be provided to collaborators at BASF Corporation for their use in developing a full life cycle assessment of beef production, processing, and use for the region.

Last Modified: 4/20/2014
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