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Life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from beef production in western Canada: A case study


  • Beauchemin, Karen A.
  • Henry Janzen, H.
  • Little, Shannan M.
  • McAllister, Tim A.
  • McGinn, Sean M.


A life cycle assessment (LCA) was conducted to estimate whole-farm greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from beef production in western Canada. The aim was to determine the relative contributions of the cow-calf and feedlot components to these emissions, and to examine the proportion of whole-farm emissions attributable to enteric methane (CH4). The simulated farm consisted of a beef production operation comprised of 120 cows, four bulls, and their progeny, with the progeny fattened in a feedlot. The farm also included cropland and native prairie pasture for grazing to supply the feed for the animals. The LCA was conducted over 8Â years to fully account for the lifetime GHG emissions from the cows, bulls and progeny, as well as the beef marketed from cull cows, cull bulls, and progeny raised for market. The emissions were estimated using Holos, a whole-farm model developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Holos is an empirical model, with a yearly time-step, based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change methodology, modified for Canadian conditions and farm scale. The model considers all significant CH4, N2O, and CO2 emissions and removals on the farm, as well as emissions from manufacture of inputs (fertilizer, herbicides) and off-farm emissions of N2O derived from nitrogen applied on the farm. The LCA estimated the GHG intensity of beef production in this system at 22Â kg CO2 equivalent (kg carcass)-1. Enteric CH4 was the largest contributing source of GHG accounting for 63% of total emissions. Nitrous oxide from soil and manure accounted for a further 27% of the total emissions, while CH4 emissions from manure and CO2 energy emissions were minor contributors. Within the beef production cycle, the cow-calf system accounted for about 80% of total GHG emissions and the feedlot system for only 20%. About 84% of enteric CH4 was from the cow-calf herd, mostly from mature cows. It follows that mitigation practices to reduce GHG emissions from beef production should focus on reducing enteric CH4 production from mature beef cows. However, mitigation approaches must also recognize that the cow-calf production system also has many ancillary environmental benefits, allowing use of grazing and forage lands that can preserve soil carbon reserves and provide other ecosystems services.

Suggested Citation

  • Beauchemin, Karen A. & Henry Janzen, H. & Little, Shannan M. & McAllister, Tim A. & McGinn, Sean M., 2010. "Life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from beef production in western Canada: A case study," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 103(6), pages 371-379, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:103:y:2010:i:6:p:371-379

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Alemu, Aklilu W. & Amiro, Brian D. & Bittman, Shabtai & MacDonald, Douglas & Ominski, Kim H., 2017. "Greenhouse gas emission of Canadian cow-calf operations: A whole-farm assessment of 295 farms," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 151(C), pages 73-83.
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    3. Guyader, Jessie & Little, Shannan & Kröbel, Roland & Benchaar, Chaouki & Beauchemin, Karen A., 2017. "Comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from corn- and barley-based dairy production systems in Eastern Canada," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 152(C), pages 38-46.
    4. Pashaei Kamali, Farahnaz & Meuwissen, Miranda P.M. & Oude Lansink, Alfons G.J.M., 2012. "Conceptual Framework for Extended Life Cycle Assessment of Soy and Beef Chains," 2012 International European Forum, February 13-17, 2012, Innsbruck-Igls, Austria 144984, International European Forum on Innovation and System Dynamics in Food Networks.
    5. Briner, Simon & Hartmann, Michael & Lehmann, Bernard, 2011. "Economic Assessment of Agroforestry Systems Compared to Other Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Options for Suckler Cow Farming," 2011 International Congress, August 30-September 2, 2011, Zurich, Switzerland 114271, European Association of Agricultural Economists.
    6. Becona, Gonzalo & Astigarraga, Laura & Picasso, Valentin D., 2014. "Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Beef Cow-Calf Grazing Systems in Uruguay," Sustainable Agriculture Research, Canadian Center of Science and Education, vol. 3(2).
    7. Alemu, A.W. & Doce, R.R. & Dick, A.C. & Basarab, J.A. & Kröbel, R. & Haugen-Kozyra, K. & Baron, V.S., 2016. "Effect of winter feeding systems on farm greenhouse gas emissions," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 148(C), pages 28-37.
    8. Simon Briner & Michael Hartmann & Robert Finger & Bernard Lehmann, 2012. "Greenhouse gas mitigation and offset options for suckler cow farms: an economic comparison for the Swiss case," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 17(4), pages 337-355, April.
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    10. White, Robin R. & Brady, Michael & Capper, Judith L. & Johnson, Kristen A., 2014. "Optimizing diet and pasture management to improve sustainability of U.S. beef production," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 1-12.
    11. Bonesmo, Helge & Skjelvåg, Arne Oddvar & Henry Janzen, H. & Klakegg, Ove & Tveito, Ole Einar, 2012. "Greenhouse gas emission intensities and economic efficiency in crop production: A systems analysis of 95 farms," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 142-151.
    12. Torres, Carlos M.M. Eleto & Kohmann, Marta M. & Fraisse, Clyde W., 2015. "Quantification of greenhouse gas emissions for carbon neutral farming in the Southeastern USA," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 137(C), pages 64-75.
    13. van der Linden, Aart & Oosting, Simon J. & van de Ven, Gerrie W.J. & de Boer, Imke J.M. & van Ittersum, Martin K., 2015. "A framework for quantitative analysis of livestock systems using theoretical concepts of production ecology," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 100-109.
    14. Forte, Annachiara & Zucaro, Amalia & De Vico, Gionata & Fierro, Angelo, 2016. "Carbon footprint of heliciculture: A case study from an Italian experimental farm," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 99-111.
    15. Oishi, Kazato & Kato, Yohei & Ogino, Akifumi & Hirooka, Hiroyuki, 2013. "Economic and environmental impacts of changes in culling parity of cows and diet composition in Japanese beef cow–calf production systems," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 95-103.
    16. Dyer, James A & Verge, Xavier P. C. & Desjardins, Raymond L. & Worth, Devon E., 2014. "A Comparison of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions From the Sheep Industry With Beef Production in Canada," Sustainable Agriculture Research, Canadian Center of Science and Education, vol. 3(3).
    17. Kröbel, R. & Bolinder, M.A. & Janzen, H.H. & Little, S.M. & Vandenbygaart, A.J. & Kätterer, T., 2016. "Canadian farm-level soil carbon change assessment by merging the greenhouse gas model Holos with the Introductory Carbon Balance Model (ICBM)," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 143(C), pages 76-85.
    18. Jones, Curtis D. & Fraisse, Clyde W. & Ozores-Hampton, Monica, 2012. "Quantification of greenhouse gas emissions from open field-grown Florida tomato production," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 113(C), pages 64-72.
    19. Hünerberg, Martin & Little, Shannan M. & Beauchemin, Karen A. & McGinn, Sean M. & O’Connor, Don & Okine, Erasmus K. & Harstad, Odd M. & Kröbel, Roland & McAllister, Tim A., 2014. "Feeding high concentrations of corn dried distillers’ grains decreases methane, but increases nitrous oxide emissions from beef cattle production," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 19-27.
    20. Tanure, Soraya & Nabinger, Carlos & Becker, João Luiz, 2013. "Bioeconomic model of decision support system for farm management. Part I: Systemic conceptual modeling," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 104-116.
    21. Pashaei Kamali, Farahnaz & van der Linden, Aart & Meuwissen, Miranda P.M. & Malafaia, Guilherme Cunha & Oude Lansink, Alfons G.J.M. & de Boer, Imke J.M., 2016. "Environmental and economic performance of beef farming systems with different feeding strategies in southern Brazil," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 146(C), pages 70-79.
    22. Natalie Doran-Browne & Richard Eckard & Ralph Behrendt & Ross Kingwell, 2015. "Nutrient density as a metric for comparing greenhouse gas emissions from food production," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 129(1), pages 73-87, March.


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