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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Influence of climate variability and stocking strategies on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), production and profit of a northern Queensland beef cattle herd

Brendan R. Cullen A D , Neil D. MacLeod B , Joe C. Scanlan C and Natalie Doran-Browne A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

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

B CSIRO Agriculture Flagship, St Lucia, Qld 4067, Australia.

C Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: bcullen@unimelb.edu.au

Animal Production Science - https://doi.org/10.1071/AN15608
Submitted: 15 September 2015  Accepted: 16 April 2016   Published online: 8 June 2016

Abstract

Previous studies of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) from beef production systems in northern Australia have been based on models of ‘steady-state’ herd structures that do not take into account the considerable inter-annual variation in liveweight gain, reproduction and mortality rates that occurs due to seasonal conditions. Nor do they consider the implications of flexible stocking strategies designed to adapt these production systems to the highly variable climate. The aim of the present study was to quantify the variation in total GHGE (t CO2e) and GHGE intensity (t CO2e/t liveweight sold) for the beef industry in northern Australia when variability in these factors was considered. A combined GRASP–Enterprise modelling platform was used to simulate a breeding–finishing beef cattle property in the Burdekin River region of northern Queensland, using historical climate data from 1982–2011. GHGE was calculated using the method of Australian National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Five different stocking-rate strategies were simulated with fixed stocking strategies at moderate and high rates, and three flexible stocking strategies where the stocking rate was adjusted annually by up to 5%, 10% or 20%, according to pasture available at the end of the growing season. Variation in total annual GHGE was lowest in the ‘fixed moderate’ (~9.5 ha/adult equivalent (AE)) stocking strategy, ranging from 3799 to 4471 t CO2e, and highest in the ‘fixed high’ strategy (~5.9 ha/AE), which ranged from 3771 to 7636 t CO2e. The ‘fixed moderate’ strategy had the least variation in GHGE intensity (15.7–19.4 t CO2e/t liveweight sold), while the ‘flexible 20’ strategy (up to 20% annual change in AE) had the largest range (10.5–40.8 t CO2e/t liveweight sold). Across the five stocking strategies, the ‘fixed moderate’ stocking-rate strategy had the highest simulated perennial grass percentage and pasture growth, highest average rate of liveweight gain (121 kg/steer), highest average branding percentage (74%) and lowest average breeding-cow mortality rate (3.9%), resulting in the lowest average GHGE intensity (16.9 t CO2e/t liveweight sold). The ‘fixed high’ stocking rate strategy (~5.9 ha/AE) performed the poorest in each of these measures, while the three flexible stocking strategies were intermediate. The ‘fixed moderate’ stocking strategy also yielded the highest average gross margin per AE carried and per hectare. These results highlight the importance of considering the influence of climate variability on stocking-rate management strategies and herd performance when estimating GHGE. The results also support a body of previous work that has recommended the adoption of moderate stocking strategies to enhance the profitability and ecological stability of beef production systems in northern Australia.

Additional keywords: reproduction; mortality rate; mitigation.


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