Managing climate change risk

Definition: Greenhouse gases are emitted along the entire beef value chain, including methane through cattle digestion, fertiliser application, effluent management and fossil fuel use (both on-farm and in processing). The beef industry also has a role to play in sequestering carbon in healthy soils and vegetation.

Indicators

6.1a kg CO2e emitted per kg liveweight when raising beef
13.1 kg CO2-e / kg LW*
6.1b kg CO2e emitted per tonne Hot Standard Carcass Weight(HSCW) when processing beef
432 kg per tonne HSCW**
6.1c Carbon captured and re-used in processing
6.6% of energy use**
6.1d Carbon sequestration
No data

*Wiedemann S.G., Henry B.K., McGahan E.J., Grant T., Murphy C.M., Niethe G., ‘Resource use and greenhouse gas intensity of Australian beef production: 1981-2010’, ScienceDirect, vol. 133, pp. 109–118, 2017.
**AMPC, Environmental Performance Review: Red Meat Processing Sector, 2015.


The context

The digestion process of ruminant animals, including cattle, produces a waste by-product: methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG).

Livestock emissions account for about 10% of Australia’s total GHG emissions and about two-thirds of these emissions come from cattle. As well as being a potent GHG, energy lost through methane production is a waste of energy, which has the potential to be redirected to animal growth, presenting a productivity opportunity.


In addition to methane, beef production also produces emissions through:

  • Meat processing
  • Loss of soil carbon if pastures are overgrazed
  • Savannah burning conducted to manage woody weeds and promote pasture quality
  • Clearing of primary forests
  • Nitrous oxide from manure in feedlots
  • Upstream inputs such as chemicals and diesel
  • Application of nitrogen fertilisers to pastures and to grow grain.

The Australian beef industry has achieved a 14% emissions intensity reduction since 1981, as reported in Agricultural Systems Journal. The Life Cycle Assessment study (LCA) quantified the environmental
impacts of Australian beef production, using Life Cycle Assessment methodology.

The processing sector generates 9% of the industry’s emissions. Considerable focus has been placed on
reducing emissions by the sector, which is reflected in a 22% reduction in GHG emissions intensity since
2008/09.

Agriculture has contributed more to reducing GHG emissions than any other sector in the Australian economy since 1990. The beef and lamb supply chains has played a major role in this through their involvement in the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund. Further opportunities
exist to substantively reduce the industry’s GHG footprint, including through carbon sequestration
in vegetation and soils with suitable methodologies already approved and further ones under development.

What is the data telling us?

Australian red meat already has a proud history of reducing emissions. Since the baseline year of 2005 we have reduced emissions from 20% to 13% of the national total. This has been done by a relentless focus on improving productivity.

The red meat sector's GHG emissions contribution to the national total, based on the National Inventory Accounts.

There is no available data set for the fourth indicator of carbon sequestration. It is expected that a reliable measure will be developed for carbon sequestration in both vegetation and soils that the industry manages through MLA’s Carbon Neutral 2030 initiative.

The data for the on-farm measure is taken from a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). An LCA is used, rather than the national greenhouse inventory, as it includes all emissions related to the production of beef. The contribution of the industry as reported in the national inventory has also significantly reduced.

The data for the processing indicator of emissions and capture are from an environmental performance study undertaken by the AMPC.


Snapshot of activity

Since 2009 the federal government and livestock industries have invested significantly in two major programs of work.

The Australian Government’s Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (RELRP) was a three-year national collaborative program coordinated by MLA. The program ran in 2009-12 and developed knowledge and technologies on methane emissions to enable producers to reduce livestock emissions while maintaining or improving livestock productivity.

A second body of work, the National Livestock Methane Program (NLMP), was undertaken in 2012-16. This program had $14.4m of federal government funding and $3.5m from MLA. Outcomes from this program are featured in the publication More meat, milk and wool: less methane (published in July 2015).

In 2017 a CSIRO paper initiated by MLA reported that the Australian red meat industry could be carbon neutral by 2030.

This study involved:

  • Collaboration with the Federal Department of Environment
  • Establishing contributions from the beef, sheep grazing, feedlot and processing sectors to overall industry GHG emissions
  • Exploring options for sequestration and mitigation of GHG emissions presented by over 50 experts and then quantifying the impact on GHG emissions from these options
  • Constructing a number of pathways based on various combinations of these options to gain carbon neutrality by 2030 (CN30).


All reductions to date in emissions have been due to improved productivity, a win-win for industry and environment. Productivity gains that resulted in emissions reductions:

  • Heavier slaughter weights (474kg-574kg liveweight) 13.5% on average
  • Increased growth rates of grass-fed cattle
  • Improved survival rates (mortality rates declines from 4-2.7%)
  • More cattle being finished on grain.

MLA is developing a CN30 implementation plan for industry consideration that will ensure improved productivity at the same time as continuing to reduce the industry’s emissions.

This follows a report by CSIRO that modelled that it is possible for the industry to become carbon neutral by 2030.

There will be some novel technologies developed, but the focus will remain on improving productivity which has a direct influence on reducing emissions.

The report does highlight the importance of vegetation management in achieving carbon neutrality. This requires an evidence-based approach. The expert group developing indicators for the balance of tree and grass cover key priority area will inform the vegetation management component of the industry’s CN30 plan.

To achieve the target of carbon neutrality, the industry will work with government to ensure the right policy settings are in place to incentivise industry and enable reductions, including sequestration in soils to be accurately recorded in the national greenhouse inventory.

The benefits for industry to pursue this ambitious goal include increased productivity in the red meat industry, additional farm income from carbon mitigation projects, a major contribution to government targets on emissions reduction, and another strong assurance for consumers of the quality and integrity of our naturally produced, great tasting Australian red meat.


Definition: Greenhouse gases are emitted along the entire beef value chain, including methane through cattle digestion, fertiliser application, effluent management and fossil fuel use (both on-farm and in processing). The beef industry also has a role to play in sequestering carbon in healthy soils and vegetation.

Indicators

6.1a kg CO2e emitted per kg liveweight when raising beef
13.1 kg CO2-e / kg LW*
6.1b kg CO2e emitted per tonne Hot Standard Carcass Weight(HSCW) when processing beef
432 kg per tonne HSCW**
6.1c Carbon captured and re-used in processing
6.6% of energy use**
6.1d Carbon sequestration
No data

*Wiedemann S.G., Henry B.K., McGahan E.J., Grant T., Murphy C.M., Niethe G., ‘Resource use and greenhouse gas intensity of Australian beef production: 1981-2010’, ScienceDirect, vol. 133, pp. 109–118, 2017.
**AMPC, Environmental Performance Review: Red Meat Processing Sector, 2015.


The context

The digestion process of ruminant animals, including cattle, produces a waste by-product: methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG).

Livestock emissions account for about 10% of Australia’s total GHG emissions and about two-thirds of these emissions come from cattle. As well as being a potent GHG, energy lost through methane production is a waste of energy, which has the potential to be redirected to animal growth, presenting a productivity opportunity.


In addition to methane, beef production also produces emissions through:

  • Meat processing
  • Loss of soil carbon if pastures are overgrazed
  • Savannah burning conducted to manage woody weeds and promote pasture quality
  • Clearing of primary forests
  • Nitrous oxide from manure in feedlots
  • Upstream inputs such as chemicals and diesel
  • Application of nitrogen fertilisers to pastures and to grow grain.

The Australian beef industry has achieved a 14% emissions intensity reduction since 1981, as reported in Agricultural Systems Journal. The Life Cycle Assessment study (LCA) quantified the environmental
impacts of Australian beef production, using Life Cycle Assessment methodology.

The processing sector generates 9% of the industry’s emissions. Considerable focus has been placed on
reducing emissions by the sector, which is reflected in a 22% reduction in GHG emissions intensity since
2008/09.

Agriculture has contributed more to reducing GHG emissions than any other sector in the Australian economy since 1990. The beef and lamb supply chains has played a major role in this through their involvement in the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund. Further opportunities
exist to substantively reduce the industry’s GHG footprint, including through carbon sequestration
in vegetation and soils with suitable methodologies already approved and further ones under development.

What is the data telling us?

Australian red meat already has a proud history of reducing emissions. Since the baseline year of 2005 we have reduced emissions from 20% to 13% of the national total. This has been done by a relentless focus on improving productivity.

The red meat sector's GHG emissions contribution to the national total, based on the National Inventory Accounts.

There is no available data set for the fourth indicator of carbon sequestration. It is expected that a reliable measure will be developed for carbon sequestration in both vegetation and soils that the industry manages through MLA’s Carbon Neutral 2030 initiative.

The data for the on-farm measure is taken from a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). An LCA is used, rather than the national greenhouse inventory, as it includes all emissions related to the production of beef. The contribution of the industry as reported in the national inventory has also significantly reduced.

The data for the processing indicator of emissions and capture are from an environmental performance study undertaken by the AMPC.


Snapshot of activity

Since 2009 the federal government and livestock industries have invested significantly in two major programs of work.

The Australian Government’s Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (RELRP) was a three-year national collaborative program coordinated by MLA. The program ran in 2009-12 and developed knowledge and technologies on methane emissions to enable producers to reduce livestock emissions while maintaining or improving livestock productivity.

A second body of work, the National Livestock Methane Program (NLMP), was undertaken in 2012-16. This program had $14.4m of federal government funding and $3.5m from MLA. Outcomes from this program are featured in the publication More meat, milk and wool: less methane (published in July 2015).

In 2017 a CSIRO paper initiated by MLA reported that the Australian red meat industry could be carbon neutral by 2030.

This study involved:

  • Collaboration with the Federal Department of Environment
  • Establishing contributions from the beef, sheep grazing, feedlot and processing sectors to overall industry GHG emissions
  • Exploring options for sequestration and mitigation of GHG emissions presented by over 50 experts and then quantifying the impact on GHG emissions from these options
  • Constructing a number of pathways based on various combinations of these options to gain carbon neutrality by 2030 (CN30).


All reductions to date in emissions have been due to improved productivity, a win-win for industry and environment. Productivity gains that resulted in emissions reductions:

  • Heavier slaughter weights (474kg-574kg liveweight) 13.5% on average
  • Increased growth rates of grass-fed cattle
  • Improved survival rates (mortality rates declines from 4-2.7%)
  • More cattle being finished on grain.

MLA is developing a CN30 implementation plan for industry consideration that will ensure improved productivity at the same time as continuing to reduce the industry’s emissions.

This follows a report by CSIRO that modelled that it is possible for the industry to become carbon neutral by 2030.

There will be some novel technologies developed, but the focus will remain on improving productivity which has a direct influence on reducing emissions.

The report does highlight the importance of vegetation management in achieving carbon neutrality. This requires an evidence-based approach. The expert group developing indicators for the balance of tree and grass cover key priority area will inform the vegetation management component of the industry’s CN30 plan.

To achieve the target of carbon neutrality, the industry will work with government to ensure the right policy settings are in place to incentivise industry and enable reductions, including sequestration in soils to be accurately recorded in the national greenhouse inventory.

The benefits for industry to pursue this ambitious goal include increased productivity in the red meat industry, additional farm income from carbon mitigation projects, a major contribution to government targets on emissions reduction, and another strong assurance for consumers of the quality and integrity of our naturally produced, great tasting Australian red meat.