Beef industry to save half a million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions

A steer being measured for methane production..
A steer being measured for methane production.

The Australian beef herd is on track to produce about 3% or half a million tonnes less methane over the next 25 years, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).

DPI Livestock researcher Andrew Alford says the reduction achieved in individual herds in this period could be as high as 16%, if individual cattle producers make a concerted effort to breed cattle with improved feed efficiency.

“Previous research by the department has found that cattle with superior feed efficiency expel less methane.

“A commercial blood test for feed efficiency is available and a superior feed efficiency rating is now a valued trait in bulls used as sires in beef industry breeding programs.”

In an article in the June edition of the Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, Mr Alford and his team describe a gene flow model to simulate the spread of genes from improved feed efficiency through a single herd and the national beef herd over 25 years.

His estimate is that methane emissions from Australian beef cattle will be reduced by 568 100 tonnes over 25 years, even if not all producers breed from bulls with improved efficiency.

Mr Alford argues that breeding for improved efficiency “will lead to substantial and lasting methane abatement.”

“This is largely as a consequence of its implementation as a breeding objective for the grazing beef herd.

“One of the advantages of using more feed efficient bulls is that it is a profitable technology for Southern Australian beef producers, as a result of the herd’s improved feed efficiency.”

Livestock produce about 12.3% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions and because almost all beef cattle are grazed on pasture, manipulating feed intake or chemical additives cannot be used on most cattle.

Mr Alford added that an additional incentive to accelerate adoption would occur if breeding for feed efficiency was included in carbon trading programs.

He estimated that producers with a 100-cow herd in southern Australia would have an average $216 a year advantage from improved feed efficiency, if livestock emissions were included in carbon trading programs.

“The estimated 568 100 tonnes of methane abated over the 25 years could, on current values for carbon trading, imply an annual return of $5 million across the national beef industry.”

Mr Alford is presenting the results of his research to the Australian Society of Animal Production Biennial conference being held in Perth in mid-July.

Genetic selection for improved efficiency is also part of a larger initiative being undertaken by the new Cooperative Research Centre for Beef Genetic Technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by Australia beef cattle.

The research was funded by NSW DPI and the Australian Greenhouse Office.