Beef's push for new methane measuring gains momentum

Beef's push for new methane measuring gains momentum

Beef
NEW WAYS: Cattle producers are urging scientists to keep up with methods on measuring methane. Photo: Lucy Kinbacher

NEW WAYS: Cattle producers are urging scientists to keep up with methods on measuring methane. Photo: Lucy Kinbacher

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Scientists say current metric never intended to be used as it is.

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THE beef industry's push for a fairer way of measuring the global warming contribution of methane is gaining traction, with livestock scientists saying the current metric was never intended to be applied to methane.

Many producers believe beef has been unfairly singled out for its impact on the environment as a result of scientific modelling that has not kept pace.

That has affected government policy, research and consumer perceptions, they say.

Cattle Council of Australia has led the charge to draw scientists into a discussion about how accurate the current Global Warming Potential 100 model is at calculating the impact of beef on climate change.

The internationally-recognised model pegs the impact of greenhouse gases against carbon dioxide and averages it out over 100 years. Most emissions stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years but methane is depleted within 12 years.

So an alternative model, known as GWP Star, has emerged which takes into account the impact of methane that has broken down.

The beef industry's research and development body Meat & Livestock Australia says it is about to undertake research to understand the impact of the new GHG accounting measure on the Australian red meat industry's GHG inventory, and it's contribution to global temperature rise.

Professor Richard Eckard, who heads up the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre at the University of Melbourne, said it had been recognised for around 15 years that methane from agriculture was not fairly represented by 100-year global warming models.

"We knew another measure was warranted. The current method was never intended to be used the way it is but there's been nothing better," he said.

"We (livestock scientists) have been recommending more investment money go into assessing GWP metrics," he said.

Prof Eckard says GWP Star had been developed by scientists who don't work with livestock industries.

"It doesn't change the fact that methane warms the atmosphere and we need strategies to cost effectively reduce methane emissions from livestock," he said.

"It did warm the atmosphere for the time it was there and there is a legacy effect.

"But we are in a new world where reducing methane emissions isn't a threat to the industry and so this is a fairer way forward."

He said the fact the alternative equation says the Australian beef industry has actually had a cooling rather than warming effect relative to what it was doing 20 years ago was "not something to get excited about."

That was the case because the national herd has declined in size and the aim was for that to be reversed, he said.

Ultimately the beef industry needed to focus on ways to reduce emissions, and there were very optimistic technologies in the pipeline, he said.

Cattle Council's Tony Hegarty said the grassfed beef industry was committed to doing its fair share when it comes to addressing climate change.

"But if we are using unsubstantiated science it will distort what is a very important subject," he said.

"It's the cyclical nature of methane that needs to be talked about. It's not like other emissions, such as CO2, that keep building up.

"It's only fair for our sector to ask if our carbon bill has been added up correctly."

Victorian beef producers Olivia and Tom Lawson, "Paringa Livestock" at Yae and Ballarat, say reducing emissions and improving efficiency can happen at the same time.

The Lawsons, who have been practicing biological farming for more than 10 years, have focused on increasing weaning rates and weights while maintaining or decreasing cow numbers to achieve a reduction in emissions intensity.

The aim is to maximise kilograms produced per hectare, Mrs Lawson said.

According to the industry's beef sustainability framework, livestock industries contribute around 10 per cent of Australia's total GHG emissions and about two-thirds of these emissions come from cattle.

Agriculture has contributed more to reducing GHG emissions than any other sector in the Australian economy since 1990, the framework says.

The CSIRO calculates that since the baseline year of 2005, beef has reduced absolute emissions by 55.7pc, largely through a focus on improving productivity and vegetation management practices.

The beef industry also plays a significant part in offsetting national emissions by sequestering carbon in soils and vegetation.

But the industry considers the job far from done.

Three years ago, it set an ambitious target to be carbon neutral by 2030.

MLA's manager of supply chain sustainability innovation Doug McNicholl says Australian red meat producers are among the most innovative and resilient in the world.

Coupled with the fact that graziers are custodians of around 355 million hectares of Australia's land, an enormous and unique opportunity exists for the beef industry to be a large part of Australia's climate change solution, he said.

"MLA's view on achieving CN30 is focussed on creating opportunities to promote the care of natural resources, people and community, the health and welfare of animals, and the drive for continuous improvement," he said.

"For example, research and development of new feed additives offers the potential to reduce methane emissions from livestock and can also improve animal weight gain. This is good for the environment, good for industry productivity, and enables industry to continue to meet the growing demand for Australian red meat," Mr McNicholl said.

The story Beef's push for new methane measuring gains momentum first appeared on Farm Online.

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