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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #361198

Research Project: Multifunctional Farms and Landscapes to Enhance Ecosystem Services (Bridge Project)

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Title: A national assessment of the environmental impacts of beef cattle production

item Rotz, Clarence - Al
item Asem-Hiablie, Senorpe
item PLACE, SARA - National Cattlemen'S Beef Association (NCBA)
item THOMA, GREG - University Of Arkansas

Submitted to: Waste to Worth Conference
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/14/2019
Publication Date: 4/22/2019
Citation: Rotz, C.A., Asem-Hiablie, S., Place, S., Thoma, G. 2019. A national assessment of the environmental impacts of beef cattle production. Waste to Worth Conference,April 22-26,2019,Minneapolis,Minnesota. p. 1.

Interpretive Summary: No Interpretive Summary is required for this Abstract Only. JLB.

Technical Abstract: Environmental effects of cattle production and the overall sustainability of beef have become national and international concerns. Our objective was to quantify important environmental impacts of beef cattle production throughout the United States. Surveys and visits of farms, ranches and feedlots were conducted throughout seven regions of the country to determine common practices and characteristics of cattle production. These data along with other information sources were used to create representative production systems throughout the country, which were simulated with the Integrated Farm System Model using local soil and climate data. A farm-gate life cycle assessment was used to determine resource use and emissions for all production systems including traditional beef breeds and cull animals from the dairy industry. Regional and national totals were determined as the sum of the production system outputs multiplied by the number of cattle represented by each simulated system. Average annual greenhouse gas emission related to beef cattle production was determined as 268 ± 29 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is approximately 3.3% of the reported total U.S. emission. Fossil energy use was 539 ± 50 trillion BTU, which is less than 1% of total U.S. consumption. Water use was 6.2 ± 0.9 trillion gallons, which is on the order of 5% of estimated total fresh water use for the country. Finally, reactive N loss was 1.9 ± 0.15 million ton, which indicates about 15% of the gaseous emissions of reactive N for the nation are related to beef cattle production. Expressed per pound of carcass weight produced, these impacts were 21.3 ± 2.3 lb CO2e, 21.6 ± 2.0 BTU, 0.155 ± 0.012 lb N and 244 ± 37 gal for carbon, energy, reactive N and water footprints, respectively. This study is the most detailed, yet comprehensive, study conducted to date that provides baseline measures for the sustainability of U.S. beef.