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Comparative life cycle environmental impacts of three beef production strategies in the Upper Midwestern United States

Listed author(s):
  • Pelletier, Nathan
  • Pirog, Rich
  • Rasmussen, Rebecca
Registered author(s):

    We used ISO-compliant life cycle assessment (LCA) to compare the cumulative energy use, ecological footprint, greenhouse gas emissions and eutrophying emissions associated with models of three beef production strategies as currently practiced in the Upper Midwestern United States. Specifically we examined systems where calves were either: weaned directly to feedlots; weaned to out-of-state wheat pastures (backgrounded) then finished in feedlots; or finished wholly on managed pasture and hay. Impacts per live-weight kg of beef produced were highest for pasture-finished beef for all impact categories and lowest for feedlot-finished beef, assuming equilibrium conditions in soil organic carbon fluxes across systems. A sensitivity analysis indicated the possibility of substantial reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions for pasture systems under conditions of positive soil organic carbon sequestration potential. Forage utilization rates were also found to have a modest influence on impact levels in pasture-based beef production. Three measures of resource use efficiency were applied and indicated that beef production, whether feedlot or pasture-based, generates lower edible resource returns on material/energy investment relative to other food production strategies.

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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308-521X(10)00039-9
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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Agricultural Systems.

    Volume (Year): 103 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 6 (July)
    Pages: 380-389

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:103:y:2010:i:6:p:380-389
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/agsy

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    1. Ryan, Barry M. & Tiffany, Douglas G., 1998. "Minnesota Agricultural Economist 693," Minnesota Applied Economist/Minnesota Agricultural Economist 13200, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics.
    2. Gerbens-Leenes, P. W. & Nonhebel, S., 2002. "Consumption patterns and their effects on land required for food," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1-2), pages 185-199, August.
    3. Goodland, Robert, 1997. "Environmental sustainability in agriculture: diet matters," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 189-200, December.
    4. Thomassen, M.A. & van Calker, K.J. & Smits, M.C.J. & Iepema, G.L. & de Boer, I.J.M., 2008. "Life cycle assessment of conventional and organic milk production in the Netherlands," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 96(1-3), pages 95-107, March.
    5. Carlsson-Kanyama, Annika & Ekstrom, Marianne Pipping & Shanahan, Helena, 2003. "Food and life cycle energy inputs: consequences of diet and ways to increase efficiency," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(2-3), pages 293-307, March.
    6. Pelletier, N., 2008. "Environmental performance in the US broiler poultry sector: Life cycle energy use and greenhouse gas, ozone depleting, acidifying and eutrophying emissions," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 98(2), pages 67-73, September.
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