The Wall Street Journal featured a front page article last Thursday titled "Reducing Gas in Livestock Could Help World Breathe Sigh of Relief Over Global Warming."
Now I have always considered the WSJ a very credible newspaper, but as in most cases when I read a story about agriculture in the non-agricultural press, it usually comes off as uninformed or missing the point. This is probably because most of the 98% of the population who are not involved in agriculture don't have a clue about how their food is produced. But it's also our fault for not making them better informed.
According to the article, the United Nations states that methane production from the livestock industry contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than cars. The article goes on to say that governments, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are considering taxing "bovine belches." They wrap the story around an interview with New Zealand sheep researchers who are trying to reduce methane emissions in grazing sheep and are having a difficult time with it.
Besides the statistics on greenhouse gasses, I take issue with the story's model; grass-fed sheep. A much better model would be the modern dairy cow. The point should be that we've been reducing methane production per unit of milk produced for years. The increase in efficiency of production has been incredible. We need fewer animals to produce more milk for a continually increasing population. That's been our charge in agriculture, and we've met the challenge.
Each time we balance a ration, we are optimizing the utilization of the nutrients in the feed by directing these nutrients toward productive purposes rather than wasting them on methane production or manure excretion. On top of that, we are utilizing the byproducts of other industries (ethanol, brewing, cotton, citrus, etc.) that may otherwise end up in a landfill producing more methane.
It's ironic that many of the people proposing that we abandon the technological advances that we've made in feeding ruminants and go back to inefficient grazing systems do so in the name of global warming. They are misinformed, and we need to educate them.
--Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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