Livestock only half way there on emissions

UK’s livestock production can only get half way to its target for emissions reduction with the technology currently available to it.

According to independent research by the Center for Innovation in Livestock, even if all the viable options to reduce greenhouse gases from cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry were taken up by every business, there could only be a 23% reduction – well short of the 64% target for the sector.

Read more: Farming for a Better Climate Group’s mission to reduce emissions

CIEL chief executive Lyndsay Chapman said: “The important thing is we are independent, and we don’t sugar coat the facts for farmers or the public. There’s certainly a lot farmers can do now to reduce emissions, but widespread adoption of current best practice and technology is not sufficient for the livestock sector to hit the target set for 2050 – to get to where the Government wants, we urgently need new innovative technologies and processes.”

One of the key recommendations in CIEL’s 82-page report is that the sector should ensure that bought in soyabean meal is produced sustainably, and farmers must avoid using soyabean meal which is produced on farms which destroy carbon sequestering ecosystems like rainforests. Soyabean meal should be bought from sources which involve no change of land use such as farms in North America.

This is the most important measure to reduce emissions on pigs and poultry farms as much of their diet comes from imported soyabean meal. In the study, emissions per kilo of pig meat produced were reduced from 5.4kg CO2 equivalent to 3.2kg co2eq by switching feed to sources.

Other key measures for pigs were the application of anaerobic digesters for all pig slurry, which would reduce GHG emissions by 15%. These would prove expensive to implement but covering slurry stores and nitrification inhibitors were also included as ways to reduce emissions. Over all the report stated that GHG emissions could be reduced by 20.3% and ammonia emissions by 12.8% within the UK pig sector if all measures were implemented.

The main hope for reducing GHS in ruminants was methane inhibitors in the feed which could reduce emissions by 14% on the case study farms. However the authors admitted that for dietary supplements to be fully effective they would need to be available to grazing cattle and sheep, not just house animals.

CIEL stressed that tree planting on farms would be important too. In its modeling, production was capped so any increase in productivity would see the required livestock numbers fall. According to the report any land no longer needed for animal production would then go into trees which would offset the emissions.

On dairy farms, the combined effect of all the proposed measures, including dietary inhibitors, selling surplus heifers, increased grassland productivity along with forestry sequestration, resulted in a 31.5% reduction in associated carbon footprint.

In beef cattle the modeling looked at a 5% increase in calves reared; first calving at two years; reduced cow weight by 10%; reduced age at slaughter from 21 to 18 months; improved grassland management; methane inhibitors such as 3-NOP; improved nutrient management and using nitrification inhibitors in artificial fertiliser. If all this was done on all beef farms, then emissions would fall by 37.2%.

Read more: Smaller cows cost less to keep and reduce emissions

The plans for sheep were similar to beef cattle, with methane inhibitors playing a big part again. In the case study farms, they could reduce emissions by 22% in sheep. Specific sheep measures were growing legumes for pasture which caused emissions to drop 14% based on the case study hill farm. Again in the report, the assumption was any gain in productivity would release land which would be put to trees – not more sheep.

The report concluded that if there was 100% uptake of all the measures on all livestock farms then CIEL would expect a 23% reduction in GHG and a 15% reduction in ammonia emissions. This is well short of the Government targets for the middle of the century, so new technology and innovations will be needed.

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