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Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
RESEARCH ARTICLE

The concordance between greenhouse gas emissions, livestock production and profitability of extensive beef farming systems

Matthew T. Harrison A F , Brendan R. Cullen B , Nigel W. Tomkins C , Chris McSweeney D , Philip Cohn E and Richard J. Eckard B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, University of Tasmania, Tas. 7320, Australia.

B Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Vic. 3010, Australia.

C Meat and Livestock Australia, Gregory Terrace Spring Hill, Qld 4006, Australia.

D CSIRO Agriculture, Queensland BioScience Precinct, St Lucia, Brisbane, Qld 4067, Australia.

E RAMP Carbon, Level 1, 8–10 Shelly Street, Melbourne, Vic. 3121, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email: Matthew.Harrison@utas.edu.au

Animal Production Science 56(3) 370-384 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN15515
Submitted: 31 August 2015  Accepted: 24 November 2015   Published: 9 February 2016

Abstract

Here we examine the concordance among emissions, production and gross margins of extensive beef farming systems by modelling a range of scenarios for herd management, animal genotype and pasture nutritive quality. We based our simulations on a case-study farm in central Queensland, Australia, and studied the influence of interventions designed for emissions mitigation, increasing productivity, or increasing gross margin. Interventions included replacing urea supplementation with nitrate, finishing cattle on the perennial forage leucaena (L), herd structure optimisation (HO), higher female fecundity (HF), and a leucaena finishing enterprise that had net farm emissions equal to the baseline (leucaena equal emissions; LEE). The HO intervention reduced the ratio of breeding cows relative to steers and unmated heifers, and lowered the ratio of costs to net cattle sales. Gross margin of the baseline, nitrate, L, LEE, HO and HF scenarios were AU$146 000, AU$91 000, AU$153 000, AU$170 000, AU$204 000 and AU$216 000, respectively. Enterprises with early joining of maiden heifers as well as HO and HF further increased gross margin (AU$323 000), while systems incorporating all compatible interventions (HO, HF, early joining, LEE) had a gross margin of AU$315 000. We showed that interventions that increase liveweight turnoff while maintaining net farm emissions resulted in higher gross margins than did interventions that maintained liveweight production and reduced net emissions. A key insight of this work was that the relationship between emissions intensity (emissions per unit liveweight production) or liveweight turnoff with gross margin were negative and positive, respectively, but only when combinations of (compatible) interventions were included in the dataset. For example, herd optimisation by reducing the number of breeding cows and increasing the number of sale animals increased gross margin by 40%, but this intervention had little effect on liveweight turnoff and emissions intensity. However, when herd optimisation was combined with other interventions that increased production, gross margins increased and emissions intensity declined. This is a fortuitous outcome, since it implies that imposing more interventions with the potential to profitably enhance liveweight turnoff allows a greater reduction in emissions intensity, but only when each intervention works synergistically with those already in place.

Additional keywords: agroforestry, economics, enteric methane, fecundity, grazing, Leucaena leucocephala, perennial legumes, urea, weaning rates.


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