Measuring feedlot sector’s greenhouse gas footprint

13 October 2016

A world-first study commissioned by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) will address a critical international knowledge gap by undertaking long-term measurements of all greenhouse gas emissions from beef feedlots.

The three-year study commenced at a feedlot in northern Victoria in September last year, and will move to a feedlot on the Darling Downs in Queensland later this year for comparative studies.

The project, ‘Long-term Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Beef Feedlots’ follows previous research supported by MLA that has been carried out by Professor Deli Chen from the University of Melbourne.

The three prior projects have led to a greater understanding of greenhouse gas emissions - particularly ammonia loss, which accounts for more than 50 per cent of dietary nitrogen in beef feedlot systems.

Professor Chen said state-of-the-art measurement technologies will be used to measure comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions from different sources within the feedlots, including penned animals, manure, manure stockpiles and effluent holding ponds.

“A CW-Quantum Cascade Laser Trace Gas Analyser and open and close path Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometers, worth $1.2 million, funded by the Australian Research Council and University of Melbourne, will be used in this project,” Professor Chen said.

“This long-term, large scale and continuous flux data will not only provide more accurate information about the whole feedlot system emissions, but also provide critical data to calculate nitrogen losses from the animal which indicates efficiency of protein use.

“The feedlot industry is small but intensive, and options to mitigate the methane gas emissions from the sector are small due to the physiology of the animals.”

Professor Chen said there is also a significant focus on how to integrate emissions within the economic framework of the feedlot system.

“We will also conduct critical control point analysis (CCA) to identify key control points in the production system that reduce gaseous emissions,” he said.

“We are aware that all recommendations to lot feeders that will come from this project must offer economic benefit.”

The data will also be compared to the outcomes of a similar project in Alberta, Canada, which will allow for thorough validation of the results.

MLA Feedlot Project Manager, Dr Joe McMeniman, said it was exciting to be part of a project that will deliver the first long-term datasets on greenhouse gas emissions from feedlots.

“The outcome of the long-term study will go some way in resolving the current lack of robust southern hemisphere data as well as provide an accurate appraisal of the greenhouse gas footprint of the Australian feedlot sector,” Dr McMeniman said.

“This will provide knowledge that can assist in evaluation of the current methodologies for calculating greenhouse gas emissions from feedlots published by the Australian Government’s Department of the Environment and Energy.”

Professor Chen said the research project is a brilliant opportunity for the feedlot sector in Australia as well as the broader scientific community.

“I am incredibly pleased to see Meat & Livestock Australia has such foresight, and is proactively supporting work such as this that will have a long lasting impact on the way industry can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an acceptable way,” Professor Chen said.

This article appeared in the first edition of MLA’s new feedlot research and development (R&D) e-newsletter, The Quarterly Feed.

To subscribe to the e-newsletter, contact MLA’s Feedlot Project Manager, Dr Joe McMeniman at

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