Promoting Climatefriendly Livestock Production

Domestic livestock—cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, poultry, donkeys, and so on—account for most of the total living animal biomass worldwide. A revolution in livestock product consumption is under way as developing countries adopt western diets. Meat consumption in China, for example, more than doubled in the past 20 years and is projected to double again by 2030. This trend has triggered the rise of huge feedlots and confined dairies around most cities and the clearing of huge areas of land for low-intensity grazing. Livestock also produce prodigious quantities of greenhouse gases: methane (from fermentation of food in the largest part of an animal's stomach and from manure storage), nitrous oxide (from denitrification of soil and the crust on manure storage), and carbon (from crop, animal, and microbial respiration as well as fuel combustion and land clearing).30

Livestock now account for 50 percent of the emissions from agriculture and land use change. Remarkably, annual emissions from livestock total some 7.1 billion tons (including 2.5 billion tons from clearing land for the animals), accounting for about 14.5 per

Farming and Land Use to Cool the Planet cent of emissions from human activities. Indeed, a cow/calf pair on a beef farm are responsible for more GHG emissions in a year than someone driving 8,000 miles in a mid-size car.31

Serious action on climate will almost certainly have to involve reducing consumption of meat and dairy by today's major consumers and slowing the growth of demand in developing countries. No such shift seems likely, however, without putting a price on the cost of emissions. Meanwhile, some solutions are at hand to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by existing herds.

Intensive rotational grazing. Innovative grazing systems offer alternatives to both extensive grazing systems and confined feedlots and dairies, greatly reducing net GHG emissions while increasing productivity. Conventional thinking says that the current number of livestock far exceeds the carrying capacity of a typical grazing system. But in many circumstances, this reflects poor grazing management practices rather than numbers.

Research shows that grasslands can sus-tainably support larger livestock herds through intensive management of herd rotations to allow proper regeneration of plants after grazing. By letting the plants recover, the soil organic matter and carbon are protected from erosion, while livestock productivity is maintained or increased. For example, a 4,800-hectare U.S. ranch using intensive rotational grazing tripled the perennial species in the rangelands while almost tripling beef production from 66 kilograms to 171 kilograms per hectare. Various types of rotational grazing are being successfully practiced in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, parts of Europe, and southern and eastern Africa. Large areas of degraded rangeland and pastures around the world could be brought under rotational grazing to enable sustainable livestock production.32

Rotational grazing also offers a viable alternative to confined animal operations. A major study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture compared four temperate dairy production systems: full-year confinement dairy, confinement with supplemental grazing, outdoor all-year and all-perennial grassland dairy, and an outdoor cow-calf operation on perennial grassland. The overall carbon footprint was much higher for confined dairy than for grazing systems, mainly because carbon sequestration in the latter is much higher even though carbon emissions are also higher. The researchers concluded that some of the best ways to improve the GHG footprint of intensive dairy and meat operations are to improve carbon storage in grass systems, use higher-quality forage, eliminate manure storage, cover manure storage, increase meat or milk production per animal, and use well-managed rotational grazing.33

Feed supplements to reduce methane emissions. Methane produced in the rumen (the first stomach of cattle, sheep, and goats and other species that chew the cud) account for about 1.8 billion tons of CO2-equivalent emissions. Nutrient supplements and innovative feed mixes have been developed that can reduce methane production by 20 percent, though these are not yet commercially viable for most farmers. Some feed additives can make diets easier for animals to digest and reduce methane emissions. These require fairly sophisticated management, so they are mainly useful in larger-scale livestock operations (which are, in any case, the main sources of methane emissions).34

Advanced techniques being developed for methane reduction also include removing specific microbial organisms from the animal's rumen or adding other bacteria that actually reduce gas production there. Research

Farming and Land Use to Cool the Planet is also under way to develop vaccines against the organisms in the stomach that produce methane.35

Biogas digesters for energy. Manure is a major source of methane, responsible for some 400 million tons of CO2-equivalent. And poor manure management is a leading source of water pollution. But it is also an opportunity for an alternative fuel that reduces a farm's reliance on fossil fuels. By using appropriate technologies like an anaerobic biogas digester, farmers can profit from their farm waste while helping the climate. A biogas digester is basically a temperature-controlled air-tight vessel. Manure (or food waste) is fed into this vessel, where microbial action breaks it down into methane or biogas and a low-odor, nutrient-rich sludge. The biogas can be burned for heat or electricity, while the sludge can be used as fertilizer.36

Some communities in developing countries are already using manure to produce cooking fuel. By installing anaerobic digesters, a large pile of manure can be used to produce biogas as well as fertilizer for farms. Even collecting the methane and burning it to convert it to carbon dioxide will be an improvement, as methane has 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, molecule for molecule, over a 100-year period. And the heat this generates can be used to produce electricity. By thinking creatively, previously undervalued and dangerous wastes can be converted into new sources of energy, cost savings, and even income. Biogas digesters involve an initial cash investment that often needs to be advanced for low-income producers, but lifetime benefits far outweigh costs. This technology could be extended to millions of farmers with benefits for the climate as well as for human well-being through expanded access to energy.37

Biogas can even contribute to commercial energy. In 2005, for instance, the Penn England dairy farm in Pennsylvania invested $141,370 in a digester to process manure and $135,000 in a combined heat and power unit, with a total project cost of $1.14 million to process the manure from 800 cows. Now the farm makes a profit by using the biogas to generate 120 kilowatt-hours of electricity to sell back to the local utility, at 3.9^ per kilowatt-hour. The system also produces sufficient heat to power the digester itself, make hot water, and heat the barns and farm buildings.38

Negotiating Essentials

Negotiating Essentials

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