Prospects for climate neutral beef and dairy production in Canada

Dr. Karen Beauchemin, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Canada has committed to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40‑45% below 2005 levels by 2030 and has joined over 120 countries to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050. Likewise, numerous agribusinesses have set ambitious voluntary targets to achieve net-zero emissions. Net- zero is defined as a stage when anthropogenic GHG emissions are balanced by their removal. With over 70% of the GHGs from beef and milk occurring prior to the farm gate, livestock producers will need to aggressively adopt practices that decrease GHG emissions to continue to sell their products. The carbon footprints of beef and milk to the farm gate in Canada are both less than 50% of global averages and continue to decrease due to advances in nutrition, genetics, health, manure management, feed production and farm management. However, continued improvements in production efficiency to lower carbon footprints will not achieve the deep reductions in absolute GHGs emissions needed. This paper discusses opportunities for decreasing GHG emissions from Canadian beef and dairy farms, and in particular the innovation required to substantially decrease enteric methane emissions. While net-zero ruminant products may not be achievable in the near future, climate neutral beef and dairy may be a more realistic goal. This goal could be achieved by aggressively adopting best practices to lower on-farm emissions, accounting for soil carbon sequestered in grasslands, and using the new global warming potential star (GWP*) metric to recognize that methane from ruminants is short-lived in the atmosphere and part of a biological cycle unlike CO2 from fossil fuels, and therefore does not contribute to temperature warming when animal numbers remain constant as is the case in Canada. 

Key words: carbon footprint, greenhouse gases, methane, sustainability

Dr. Karen Beauchemin is a federal scientist in Canada who is recognized as an international authority on greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming. Dr. Beauchemin and her colleagues have established a broad-based research program to improve feed utilization of beef and dairy cattle while reducing methane production. The research is helping Canadian farmers improve the sustainability of meat and milk production, while adapting to climate change impacts. She is currently a senior research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, with more than 30 years of experience. She has been recognized with numerous prestigious awards including the Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation (2020) and Agriculture Canada’s Golden Harvest Award (2021). Karen served on the National Academy of Science’s Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle committee and has published more than 500 refereed scientific publications over her career.

JM Bell Lectureship in Animal Nutrition

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