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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Soil, Water & Air Resources Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #309980

Title: The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America

item TEAGUE, RICHARD - Texas A&M University
item APPELBAUM, STEVE - Applied Ecological Services, Inc
item LAL, RATTAN - Applied Maths
item KREUTER, URS - Texas A&M University
item ROWNTREE, JASON - Michigan State University
item DAVIES, CHRISTIAN - Shell International Exploration & Production, Inc
item CONSER, RUSS - Russ Conser
item RASMUSSEN, MARK - Iowa State University
item Hatfield, Jerry
item WANG, FUGUI - Desiderio Finamore Veterinary Research Institute (FEPAGRO)
item BYCK, PETER - Arizona State University

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/6/2015
Publication Date: 4/4/2016
Citation: Teague, R., Appelbaum, S., Lal, R., Kreuter, U., Rowntree, J., Davies, C.A., Conser, R., Rasmussen, M., Hatfield, J.L., Wang, F., Byck, P. 2016. The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 71:156-164.

Interpretive Summary: Global climate change discussion has prompted concerns about the role of agriculture in greenhouse gas emissions and sequestration. These discussions generally focus on cultivated agriculture and rarely on the rangeland or pasture ecosystems associated with cattle production. The assumption is often held that ruminant production is a net source of greenhouse gas emissions; however, these analyses have only considered a portion of the ecosystem. Agricultural systems have sources and sinks of greenhouse gases and development of a strategy to effectively manage the landscape will require an understanding of all of the components. Ruminant based agricultural systems offer the broader potential of providing ecosystem services which provide an overall benefit to the environment. Understanding these dynamics will lead to improved options for agricultural ecosystem management with positive environmental impacts. This information will be of value to policy makers, environmentalists, landscape ecologists, and agricultural scientists.

Technical Abstract: To ensure the long-term sustainability and ecological resilience of natural resources, agricultural production needs to be guided by policies and regenerative management protocols that support ecologically healthy and resilient arable and pastoral ecosystems and mitigate anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This requires an inclusive assessment of terrestrial and atmospheric impacts from ALL agricultural activities. Merely addressing one component of agriculture, such as methane emissions from ruminants, leads to flawed and misleading conclusions. We outline the magnitude of GHG emissions from key agricultural components and practices that exceed emissions from current domestic ruminant practices alone, and indicate how using conservation-based management in arable and pastoral agro-ecosystems has the potential for reducing GHG emissions through the sustainable use of natural resources. With appropriate regenerative management, ruminants facilitate provision of essential ecosystem services, increase soil carbon sequestration, reduce GHG emissions, and reduce environmental damage caused by many current agricultural practices.