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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #352718

Title: Dairy and beef sustainability: nutrient loss and use efficiency

item HARRISON, JOE - Washington State University
item Rotz, Clarence - Al

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/25/2018
Publication Date: 10/25/2018
Citation: Harrison, J., Rotz, C.A. 2018. Dairy and beef sustainability: nutrient loss and use efficiency. Engle, J., Klingburg, D., Rollin, B. The Welfare of Cattle. Taylor & Francis Group. 21-26.

Interpretive Summary: No interpretive summary is required for this book/chapter. JLB.

Technical Abstract: Sustainability likely has as many definitions as individuals who wish to define it, and the definition is normally biased toward the perception or goal of the one defining. A general definition is often stated something like “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. Developing a more specific definition and quantifying sustainability becomes difficult. Life cycle assessment has become a common tool used to evaluate and quantify sustainability. This accounting tool is used to integrate all impacts over a full life cycle and express them per unit of product or service received. Nutrient cycling and losses to the environment are important components of the sustainability of cattle production. The discussion of dairy and beef sustainability often focuses on resource use where systems are defined as extensive or intensive. Common characteristics differentiating these approaches relate to access to pasture, amount of grain fed, and type of housing provided for the animals. The primary driving factor in the global movement toward more intensive livestock production is a declining profit margin, but consumers with ample dispensable income have also facilitated the growth of organic and non-GMO production of beef and dairy products which generally use more extensive systems. Genetic selection of animals for improved efficiency, along with the adoption of management technologies, has allowed the dairy and beef industries to produce more food with less adverse impact. To meet the challenge of feeding the world while reducing environmental impacts and improving economic viability, we must continue to improve sustainability. There are solutions to many of our environmental issues, but these solutions often come with some cost to the producer and this cost can be considerable. Tradeoffs between environmental, social and economic issues must be considered as we develop more sustainable systems.