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ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Livestock Nutrient Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #339807

Research Project: Improved Practices to Conserve Air Quality, Maintain Animal Productivity, and Enhance Use of Manure and Soil Nutrients of Cattle Production Systems for the Southern Great Plains

Location: Livestock Nutrient Management Research

Title: Greenhouse-gas emissions of beef finishing systems in the Southern High Plains

item HEFLIN, KEVIN - Texas Agrilife Research
item Parker, David
item Marek, Gary
item AUVERMANN, BRENT - Texas A&M Agrilife
item MAREK, THOMAS - Texas A&M Agrilife

Submitted to: Agricultural Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/9/2019
Publication Date: 8/21/2019
Citation: Heflin, K.R., Parker, D.B., Marek, G.W., Auvermann, B.W., Marek, T.H. 2019. Greenhouse-gas emissions of beef finishing systems in the Southern High Plains. Agricultural Systems. 176(2019):102674.

Interpretive Summary: Feedyards produce lowest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of beef. Life-cycle assessment is a tool for evaluating how a product impacts the environment. Results of a life-cycle assessment are used by companies, regulators, and the public to assist with decision-making and product selection choices. However, a thorough life-cycle assessment has not been conducted for Southern High Plains beef systems. Scientists from USDA-ARS (Bushland, Texas) and Texas A and M AgriLife Research (Amarillo, Texas) conducted a life-cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions. Five management systems were compared, including native grass pasture; native grass pasture with feedyard finishing; modified wheat pasture with feedyard finishing; feedyard-only; and a combination of native grass pasture, modified wheat pasture, and feedyard of the five systems. The lowest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of beef produced were for feedyards and highest for feeding on native grass pasture.

Technical Abstract: Greenhouse gases (GHG) have been implicated in global warming and climate change. While life cycle assessments (LCA) and GHG studies have been conducted for numerous agricultural commodities, there has been little effort to estimate GHG (CO2, N2O, and CH4) from beef finishing systems of the Southern High Plains (SHP) region, which produces approximately 30% of the United States beef. The objective of this research was to quantify the carbon footprint of five beef-finishing systems using a dynamic, systems-based model that calculated CO2e emissions attributable to both animal gain and manure management. The systems consisted of native grass pasture (NGP, System 1); native grass pasture with feedyard finishing (NGP-FY, System 2); wheat pasture with feedyard finishing (WP-FY, System 3); feedyard-only (FY, System 4); and native grass pasture, wheat pasture, and feedyard finishing (NGP-WP-FY, System 5). Although rarely used, the NGP was included as a baseline. Variables in the model and associated management decisions were based on feed type, nutritional content, feed source, and hauling distance. The starting point of the model was a weaned steer (250 kg) and the endpoint was a steer which would grade “choice” (28% body fat) or 30 months in age, whichever came first. Overall CO2e kg-1 gain decreased when cattle were fed high-quality diets and were intensively managed for production in the shortest time possible. The FY produced the desired carcass in the shortest time with the lowest cumulative emissions. The FY also had the highest average daily gain, lowest dry matter and water intake, as well as manure production. Net GHG emissions from FY were 4.84 kg CO2e kg-1 gain (1799 kg CO2e animal-1). Net GHG emissions from NGP-FY, WP-FY, NGP-WP-FY, and NGP were 1.62, 1.81, 2.08, and 3.69 times that of FY, respectively. These results suggest that intensive feeding and management of beef cattle in the FY system result in the lowest overall CO2e emissions to produce a mature steer. Consequently, feeding systems that include native grass and wheat pasture have proportionately larger amounts of CO2e emissions.