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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Burlington, Vermont » Food Systems Research Unit » Research » Research Project #442927

Research Project: Economic and Environmental Analysis of Expanding New York and New England Beef Cattle Production

Location: Food Systems Research Unit

Project Number: 8090-44530-001-001-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 1, 2022
End Date: Aug 31, 2024

Consumer interest in grass-finished and locally produced meat has grown over the past decade. Previous research has demonstrated the potential to expand grass-finished beef cattle production supply in New York and New England given the inherent biological capacity of the region’s natural resource base. However, imports from countries in the Southern Hemisphere currently supply most of the grass-finished beef in the United States. The economic viability and environmental consequences of expanding Northeastern grass-finished beef production are not well understood. To fill this gap, the Cooperator and the Agency will build computational models to identify and quantify economic and environmental inputs and outputs of grass-finished beef in the region. The project has four objectives: • The first objective is to build a robust model of the grass-finished beef supply chain. This model will be capable of estimating economic costs and greenhouse gas emissions across production, processing, and distribution. The model will provide a platform that can undergo continued refinement as better data become available, meaning it will be valuable for future research. • The second objective is to assess the economic viability of grass-finished beef in the New York and New England region. Specifically, this will determine whether grass-finished beef in the region can be produced at a lower cost, allowing producers to compete with domestic conventional beef, grass-finished beef in other regions and grass-finished imports. In addition, the project will estimate consumer willingness to pay for regionally produced grass-finished beef, to understand if consumers will pay premiums high enough to absorb the current higher production and supply chain costs and how the consumer willingness to pay influences the economic viability of grass-finished beef. • The third objective is to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions of regional grass-finished beef production, processing, and distribution. Life cycle assessments exist for conventional beef systems, but there are fewer studies of grass-finished beef systems and most consider only effects to the farm gate. • The fourth objective is to understand the optimal scale and spatial configuration of a regional grass-finished beef system given costs of production and greenhouse gas emissions.

Mathematical models will be constructed to estimate costs and greenhouse gas emissions across grass-finished beef supply chains in New York and New England. The models will consider the production, processing, and retail sectors of the system as well as the distribution of products through the supply chain. In addition, the models will account for how location influences variation in the costs and emissions from farm to fork. A supply chain model will be constructed to estimate costs of grass-finished beef production accounting for all phases through the grass-finished supply chain: cow-calf, stocker, finishing, slaughter, processing, to retail marketing. This model will include three components: (1) a mathematical model of grass-finished cattle production cost within the farm gate, (2) an optimization model of cattle slaughter, processing, and transportation, and (3) a spatial model (county-level) of grass-finished beef prices after integrating costs for all phases through the supply chain and profit margins distributed throughout the supply chain. The model will be used to assess the economic viability of grass-finished beef in the region. A life cycle assessment model will be created to estimate net greenhouse gas emissions from the grass-finished beef supply chain in the region. This model will account for emissions from the cow-calf system; feed production; manure and enteric emissions; slaughter, processing, and transportation; and carbon sequestration of pasture. Different scenarios of production practices will be considered. Optimization modeling will be used to minimize emissions from slaughter, processing, and transportation. Building on the models described above, a third optimization model will be developed to evaluate scenarios of regional expansion of grass-finished beef. The model will determine the production locations that minimize production costs within the farm gate, and post-farmgate handling and transportation costs. The model will be used to refine understanding of effective and sustainable strategies to increase local food utilization in the region with the lowest possible system-wide cost.