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Environmental performance review of Australian feedlots (2012)

​MLA conducted environmental surveys of the red-meat processing sector in 1998, 2003 and 2010. As part of these surveys, key performance indicators (KPIs) were developed to benchmark resource usage and environmental impact. Unlike, the red-meat processing sector, the feedlot sector has not undertaken regular surveys. The only detailed survey of the Australian lot feeding sector was carried out by Tucker et al. in 1991 – “Lot feeding in Australia - a survey of the Australian feeding industry”.  The data presented in that survey is now out-of-date, as feedlot practices have improved and changed markedly over the past twenty years, but it can act as a benchmark against which to assess changes in the sector.


The objective of this study was to undertake a detailed survey and review of the environmental performance of the Australian feedlot industry, which documented current practices and identified, quantified and reported KPIs. These KPIs were to include water usage, nutrient production, energy usage, GHG emissions, solid waste management, liquid waste management, feed management, nuisances such as odour and noise, and overall site management.
It was recognised early in the project that there was a small likelihood that these data would be available. However, an attempt was made to collect this information where possible. While useful data and information was collected and recorded, it was not possible to calculate any KPIs.


Although quantitative data has not been collected since the 1991 report, there are several changes that have occurred in the lot feeding industry that have clearly led to improvements in environmental performance. These include:
1. Environmental research – MLA has funded numerous projects investigating various aspects of feedlot environmental performance.
2. Feedlot odour guidelines – In the past, odour was probably the most significant issue surrounding the licensing and operation of feedlots. In conjunction with environmental research, guidelines have been developed that ensure with the correct siting, design and management, few odour nuisance issues occur.
3. National feedlot guidelines and code of practice – At the instigation of industry, as represented by the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association, national feedlot guidelines have been developed and revised three times. This, in conjunction with a code of practice, has led to nation-wide improvements in feedlot licensing, siting, design and management.
4. National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS) – NFAS is an industry-driven, self-regulatory quality assurance scheme that has led to overall improvement in all aspects of feedlot management.
5. Improvements to nutrition – In the past 20 years, nutritionists and researchers have greatly improved the feed conversion ratio of lot fed cattle from about 9:1 to less than 5:1. This means that the same amount of output (beef) can be produced with far less inputs (feed) and much less waste (manure) is produced in the process.


A clear short-coming of this study has been the inability to calculate KPIs of environmental performance and to compare them with past studies. A list of KPIs has been proposed and these would be regarded as aspirational targets for future work. A list of recommendations on measures that need to be implemented so future environmental surveys can calculate meaningful industry KPIs has also been made.
MLA conducted environmental surveys of the red-meat processing sector in 1998, 2003 and 2010. As part of these surveys, key performance indicators (KPIs) were developed to benchmark resource usage and environmental impact. Unlike, the red-meat processing sector, the feedlot sector has not undertaken regular surveys. The only detailed survey of the Australian lot feeding sector was carried out by Tucker et al. in 1991 – “Lot feeding in Australia - a survey of the Australian feeding industry”.  The data presented in that survey is now out-of-date, as feedlot practices have improved and changed markedly over the past twenty years, but it can act as a benchmark against which to assess changes in the sector.
The objective of this study was to undertake a detailed survey and review of the environmental performance of the Australian feedlot industry, which documented current practices and identified, quantified and reported KPIs. These KPIs were to include water usage, nutrient production, energy usage, GHG emissions, solid waste management, liquid waste management, feed management, nuisances such as odour and noise, and overall site management.


It was recognised early in the project that there was a small likelihood that these data would be available. However, an attempt was made to collect this information where possible. While useful data and information was collected and recorded, it was not possible to calculate any KPIs.
Although quantitative data has not been collected since the 1991 report, there are several changes that have occurred in the lot feeding industry that have clearly led to improvements in environmental performance. These include:
1. Environmental research – MLA has funded numerous projects investigating various aspects of feedlot environmental performance.
2. Feedlot odour guidelines – In the past, odour was probably the most significant issue surrounding the licensing and operation of feedlots. In conjunction with environmental research, guidelines have been developed that ensure with the correct siting, design and management, few odour nuisance issues occur.
3. National feedlot guidelines and code of practice – At the instigation of industry, as represented by the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association, national feedlot guidelines have been developed and revised three times. This, in conjunction with a code of practice, has led to nation-wide improvements in feedlot licensing, siting, design and management.
4. National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS) – NFAS is an industry-driven, self-regulatory quality assurance scheme that has led to overall improvement in all aspects of feedlot management.
5. Improvements to nutrition – In the past 20 years, nutritionists and researchers have greatly improved the feed conversion ratio of lot fed cattle from about 9:1 to less than 5:1. This means that the same amount of output (beef) can be produced with far less inputs (feed) and much less waste (manure) is produced in the process.
A clear short-coming of this study has been the inability to calculate KPIs of environmental performance and to compare them with past studies. A list of KPIs has been proposed and these would be regarded as aspirational targets for future work. A list of recommendations on measures that need to be implemented so future environmental surveys can calculate meaningful industry KPIs has also been made.

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14.6MB 01/12/2014

This page was last updated on 24/07/2017

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