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Efficient Cattle Operations Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

February 18, 2014
water cattle
  
 
 

By: Kay Ledbetter, Texas A&M AgriLife

Direct linkages can be found between farm efficiency and carbon emissions and sequestration, according to "Factors Affecting Cow-Calf Herd Performance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions," a Texas A&M AgriLife Research paper recently published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Conducting the study were economist Dr. Seong Park, postdoctoral research associate Dr. Tong Wang and rangeland ecologist Dr. Richard Teague, all with AgriLife Research at Vernon; Stan Bevers, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist, Vernon; and Jaesung Cho, research fellow at the Korea Rural Economic Institute.

Funding for this study was provided by a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant.

This paper provides the first study on the relationship between cow-calf farm efficiency and environmental consequences as indicated by net greenhouse gas emission, Park said. Results suggest that for the cow-calf industry, pursuing farm efficiency aligns with environmental protection goals.

"We found that carbon emissions per unit of output decrease as farm efficiency increases," Wang said. "Higher carbon sequestration occurs on farms that are more technically efficient as a result of more acres allocated to each breeding cow."

The greatest net carbon sequestration was found for the two most technically efficient groups – those that managed the age of weaning, cost of pasture improvement and purchased feed, etc. the best. This indicates that pursuing technical efficiency will not compromise environmental quality, she said.

Park said the Rolling Plains’ beef cattle industry is inherently risky due to frequent drought conditions, volatile cattle prices and rising input costs.

In the face of these challenges, the Beef Cow-Calf Standardized Performance Analysis data have been developed. This analytical tool helps farmers and ranchers identify their strengths and weaknesses in production and financial performance, Bevers said.

Based on the Standardized Performance Analysis data, the study found the factors promoting higher herd productivity included machinery investment, pasture-quality improvement and protein supplements. In contrast, herd productivity is compromised by a longer breeding season, percentage of hired labor and deviation from the average annual rainfall.

"Interestingly, the more technically efficient farms tend to emit fewer greenhouse gas units per unit of output," Park said. "For example, net greenhouse gas emissions are 6.12 and -8.7 pounds of carbon equivalent, respectively, for farms with technical efficiency below 0.8 and above 0.96."

The focus of this paper is on output, or pounds weaned per breeding female, rather than profitability, he said.

"Future research could investigate whether the incentive to pursue financial profitability conflicts with environmental protection objectives," Park said. "Future efforts could also extend the method to model the link between pursuing efficiency and environmental protection in other industries, such as cropping, or in different regions."

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