ENGLAND'S livestock industry has reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in almost every decade since the 1970s.
A report by Eblex and the E-CO2 Project used historic performance and production data for beef cattle between 1970 and 2010, backed by estimated values based on E-CO2 models, to work out how much carbon dioxide the beef and sheep sectors produced.
To make the comparisons, the top eight factors which influence GHG emissions were modelled using a scaled down carbon calculator. The key data looked at performance indicators such as cow and ewe weight, culling rates, liveweight of finished animals, daily liveweight gain, fertiliser use and feed use.
It found the beef sector reduced its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) output by an equivalent of 9.4% every decade. Sheep farms, although hindered by a lack of consistent quality data, also showed a reduction over the period, with a 9.3% drop in the last decade alone thanks to greater output per ewe and reduced reliance on artificial fertiliser.
However, Eblex said the industry could not rest on its laurels because the Climate Change Act 2008 requiring an overall reduction of 80% in GHGs from 1990 levels by 2050 across the UK economy.
Eblex industry development manager, Chris Lloyd, said: “While we realise there are limitations to the modelling, what this does show is an overall downward trend in greenhouse gas emissions from performance improvements and greater efficiency within enterprises and this is a positive story for the industry.
“Rather than becoming a scapegoat for emissions, we can demonstrate continued and progressive reductions in our carbon footprint without the need to rely on decreased livestock numbers. Our ongoing work to improve efficiency, delivered through the Better Returns Programme, can only help this further.
“When you add into the debate the value grazing livestock bring in terms of managing the countryside and the potential positive credits from grazed grassland working as an effective carbon sink, it starts to paint a very different environmental picture of the industry from the unbalanced one so often painted.”
He said more needed to be done and the industry has been set some very tough targets. Defra has ordered the agriculture sector to reduce its contribution to GHGs by 11% by 2020 based on 2008 figures.
Mr Lloyd said: “As an industry which relies heavily on extensive production systems, it highlights the challenge faced by sheep farmers in particular looking to produce food from some of the poorest land the country has to offer.
“The climate and terrain play such a large part in production output, and technological and management improvements are hard won.”