Title: Assessing the sustainability of beef production Authors
Submitted to: ASABE Annual International Meeting
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: June 6, 2014
Publication Date: N/A
Technical Abstract: As a major food source, beef production provides an important service to our economy. Production of cattle and the associated feed crops also impact our environment, and this impact is not well understood. Although several studies have assessed the carbon footprint of beef, there are other environmental impacts that must be considered. A methodology has been developed and used for life cycle assessment of the environmental footprints beef cattle production at the Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a USDA research facility. The cradle to farm gate carbon footprint of the beef produced was found to be 10.9 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent units per kg of body weight sold, and the energy required to produce that beef (energy footprint) was 26.5 MJ/kg of body weight. The total water required (water footprint) was 21,300 liter/kg of body weight, and the water footprint excluding that obtained through precipitation was 2,790 liter/kg. Over the past 6 years, the carbon, energy and water footprints of the beef produced have changed by less than 1%. The reactive nitrogen footprint has increased about 10% due to the feeding of distillers grain where the over feeding of protein has increased ammonia, nitrous oxide, and other nitrogen emissions. The environmental impacts and economics of beef production were combined with primary data from the packer, case ready, retail, and consumer segments of the beef value chain to provide a full life cycle analysis of beef using SEEBALANCE®, a software tool developed by BASF Corporation. This approach quantified U.S. beef sustainability considering economic, social and ecological impacts along all segments of the beef value chain. Individual measures of environmental, social and economic impact were weighted by society’s perceived view of their relative impact to provide values representing overall sustainability. Given the present assumptions, the sustainability of beef production, processing, marketing and consumption has improved by 7% in the past six years. This methodology is now being used to assess the sustainability of beef produced in the region of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Representative cow calf, stocker and feedyard operations are being modeled with the Integrated Farm System Model to determine the emissions and footprints of each phase of production. A total, weighted by the number of animals of each type produced in the region, provides the footprint for the region. With the use of SEEBALANCE®, these cattle production values are combined with the impacts of processing, marketing and consumption to obtain the overall index of sustainability. The goal is to apply this procedure to various regions of the U.S. to determine a national analysis of the sustainability of beef production and use.