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


  • Pelletier, Nathan
  • Pirog, Rich
  • Rasmussen, Rebecca


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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  • Pelletier, Nathan & Pirog, Rich & Rasmussen, Rebecca, 2010. "Comparative life cycle environmental impacts of three beef production strategies in the Upper Midwestern United States," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 103(6), pages 380-389, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:103:y:2010:i:6:p:380-389

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Julius McGee, 2015. "Does certified organic farming reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production?," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 32(2), pages 255-263, June.
    2. Wiedemann, S.G. & Henry, B.K. & McGahan, E.J. & Grant, T. & Murphy, C.M. & Niethe, G., 2015. "Resource use and greenhouse gas intensity of Australian beef production: 1981–2010," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 133(C), pages 109-118.
    3. 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.
    4. Nijdam, Durk & Rood, Trudy & Westhoek, Henk, 2012. "The price of protein: Review of land use and carbon footprints from life cycle assessments of animal food products and their substitutes," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 760-770.
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    6. White, Robin R. & Brady, Michael, 2014. "Can consumers’ willingness to pay incentivize adoption of environmental impact reducing technologies in meat animal production?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(P1), pages 41-49.
    7. Siqueira, Tiago T.S. & Duru, Michel, 2015. "Assessing economics and environmental issues at farm level: Including specifities on land use change and forest soil carbon storage of an Amazonian typical beef farm," 2015 Conference, August 9-14, 2015, Milan, Italy 211936, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    8. 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).
    9. Bhandari, Basu Deb & Gillespie, Jeffrey & Scaglia, Guillermo, 2014. "Analysis of Three Pasture Systems for Grass-fed Beef Production: Labor Use and Profitability," 2014 Annual Meeting, February 1-4, 2014, Dallas, Texas 162480, Southern Agricultural Economics Association.
    10. Morel, Kevin & Farrié, Jean-Pierre & Renon, Julien & Manneville, Vincent & Agabriel, Jacques & Devun, Jean, 2016. "Environmental impacts of cow-calf beef systems with contrasted grassland management and animal production strategies in the Massif Central, France," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 144(C), pages 133-143.
    11. 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.
    12. repec:eee:agisys:v:162:y:2018:i:c:p:249-258 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Li, Xiaogu & Jensen, Kimberly L. & Clark, Christopher D. & Lambert, Dayton M., 2016. "Consumer willingness to pay for beef grown using climate friendly production practices," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 93-106.
    14. 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.
    15. 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.
    16. 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.
    17. repec:eee:agisys:v:156:y:2017:i:c:p:34-42 is not listed on IDEAS
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    19. Venkat, Kumar, 2011. "The Climate Change and Economic Impacts of Food Waste in the United States," International Journal on Food System Dynamics, International Center for Management, Communication, and Research, vol. 2(4).
    20. 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.
    21. Pelletier, N. & Lammers, P. & Stender, D. & Pirog, R., 2010. "Life cycle assessment of high- and low-profitability commodity and deep-bedded niche swine production systems in the Upper Midwestern United States," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 103(9), pages 599-608, November.
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    24. Linnea Laestadius & Roni Neff & Colleen Barry & Shannon Frattaroli, 2013. "Meat consumption and climate change: the role of non-governmental organizations," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 120(1), pages 25-38, September.
    25. repec:spr:climat:v:143:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s10584-017-1969-1 is not listed on IDEAS


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