Improving emissions performance – it pays to be green

13 May 2016

Doing good for the environment can also be good for your hip pocket, according to recent research into strategies to reduce methane emissions in northern Australian beef herds.

Led by Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Sustainable Grazing Scientist Dr Steven Bray, the research team found management decisions that improve beef productivity, in most cases, also improve on-farm greenhouse gas emissions performance. The research was carried out under the Climate Clever Beef project, which was supported by MLA in its first phase.

“This is a win-win for most northern producers, with the potential to improve their business’ productivity and profitability, their environmental sustainability and to position themselves to take advantage of any carbon trading opportunities,” he said.

The research points to three key areas producers can focus on to improve environmental outcomes while lifting profitability. They are:

1. Assess your business

Steven and the team found that although broad farm management principles apply for improving productivity and improving emissions performance, each property is different.

Each farm business should be individually assessed for what works best and to ensure that any management changes are cost-effective.

“This is particularly so when talking about how animal genetics best suits certain types of country and also what turn-off strategies work best,” Steven said.

“It pays for grazing businesses to work with the strengths and limitations of their environment.”

Steven said for most grazing businesses the benefits of reducing their emissions intensities will be in improved productivity and profitability and being able to demonstrate to the community they are improving their environment.

“Emissions Reduction Fund methodologies are available to generate carbon income from changing that emissions performance, however, participation needs to be carefully considered to ensure the additional income – taking into account carbon price fluctuations – will cover the costs of being involved, which presently is unlikely without very large herds.”

2. Improve reproductive efficiency

Research outcomes revealed it is crucial to make every cow count.

By increasing weaning rates, breeders are more productive over their lifetime, producing more calves or kilograms of beef for their total methane emissions.

One of the most powerful tools for identifying low-performing breeders is pregnancy testing.

By identifying and culling empty cows and/or out-of-season calvers, the producer will grow more kilograms of beef per hectare as well as conserve valuable pasture and water for those more productive animals.

Culling unreliable breeders also improves the herd’s maternal genetics, leading to better reproductive performance in the future.

3. Go for growth

Steven said improving growth rates through targeted supplementation or by providing better quality feed leads to a higher proportion of feed intake contributing to growth.

“In practical terms this can mean running a lower stocking rate, enabling livestock to select a better quality diet and/or being able to better match stocking rates to feed on offer and a property’s long-term carrying capacity,” he said.

“Both of these strategies will help reduce turn-off times for heifers and steers and reduce overall emissions.”

Steven said the use of improved forages (such as legumes or oats) and supplements can also improve livestock growth rates and reduce their turn-off time, thereby reducing the number of days cattle are emitting methane.

Another useful strategy is dividing the herd into stock classes such as weaners/lactating cows/dry cows, and prioritising their feed management.

This will not only improve growth but also help breeder cows to get back in calf within a 12-month cycle.

Where pasture improvement is an option, the establishment of legumes, such as leucaena or stylos, can deliver significant productivity gains while lowering a herd’s emissions intensity.

Steven said previous MLA-funded research has shown leucaena improves liveweight gain, reduces turn-off times and increases a property’s average annual livestock turn-off.

“Leucaena has also been shown to have anti-methanogenic properties potentially reducing methane emissions per head per day,” he said.

The research was funded by Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Northern Territory Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries and the Australian Government.

More information

Steven Bray T: 07 4923 6209 E:

Resources to help you become more profitable while introducing environmentally friendly practices:

Case studies and fact sheets outlining the best practice recommendations

The Beef Cattle Herd Management methodology

Growing leucaena

Improving reproduction (CashCow findings: technical synopsis report)

NutritionEDGE workshops

BreedingEDGE workshops

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