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Study Says Savvy Farmers Could Raise Carbon-Neutral Beef

An estimated 97 percent of cattle are fattened with grain on feedlots during the last few months before slaughter, when the amount of carbon lost from production is at its highest. Petras Gagilas (flickr)

Raising cattle has long been a top concern for climate and environment watchers.
The United Nations launched a project in 2015 to find more sustainable practices for raising beef in four European countries.

Under conventional methods, livestock production overall contributes about 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and beef along accounts for 41 percent of that amount.  Cattle churn out planet-warming methane gas, and over grazing can release carbon from soil.

But a five-year study suggests that carbon losses can be reduced by strategically moving cattle around sections of pasture in the last few months before slaughter. The researchers combined this method, called “adaptive multi-paddock grazing” or AMP grazing, while adding manure to pastures and refraining from using pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

The group measured…let’s call it methane output…from the cattle’s digestive system and compared the overall carbon loss with conventional feedlot methods.

Feedlot production requires farmers to use carbon-burning vehicles to transport animals from one site to another. They found a big drop in overall greenhouse gas emissions with AMP grazing compared to feedlot “finishing,” because soil absorbed carbon that canceled out the methane.

The AMP method also avoids soil erosion from growing conventionally raised feed crops like corn and soy. Soil captures more carbon when root systems are left intact, and manure that’s left on the ground doesn’t release as much nitrogen, another greenhouse gas.

The study, a joint project of Michigan State University and the Union of Concerned Scientists, is slated for publication in the May issue of the journal Agricultural Systems.

Read More:
Can Responsible Grazing Make Beef Climate-Neutral? (Civil Eats)

Impacts Of Soil Carbon Sequestration On Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions In Midwestern USA Beef Finishing Systems (Science Direct)

Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

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