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Beef Carbon

The development and application of farm level tools to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of beef cattle production system

The Project - Overview

The LIFE BEEF CARBON project is aiming to reduce the beef carbon footprint by 15% over 10 years in four major and contrasting European countries - France, Ireland, Italy and Spain. The project promotes innovative livestock farming systems and associated practices to ensure the technical, economic, environmental and social sustainability of beef farms thus improving interactions between climate change and livestock production. This involves the development of evaluation tools and decision support systems, to carry out an assessment of GHG emissions on a large number of farms, to inform farmers and advisors and to develop action plans for the production of a low beef carbon footprint.

The initiative is led by the Institut de l’Élevage (IDELE) and the Interprofession du Bétail et de la Viande (INTERBEV). The project includes Teagasc and Bord Bia from Ireland, 6 Chambers of agriculture, 5 cooperatives, 4 beef recording organizations from France, CRA and 2 producer associations from Italy, ASOPROVAC and 2 producer associations from Spain.

The partners plan to establish a common beef carbon framework composed of innovative practices aimed at reducing GHG emissions and increasing carbon sequestration through:

  1. Developing an inventory of existing methodologies and practices to build a common GHG assessment methodology, this will update current advisory tools on carbon emissions from beef farms.
  2. Training 150 national and regional advisors and innovative farmers involved in the project to build a common knowledge base on carbon emissions and greenhouse gas (GHG).
  3. Creating a demonstrative observatory composed of 2000 beef farms (including a 100 Irish farms) that will take part in the first carbon assessment actions operated at such a scale covering several beef farming systems.
  4. Building a network of 170 innovative farms that will test, apply and promote innovative techniques to reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon storage. This will include 20 innovative Irish Beef farms representing weanling, store and finishing systems.
  5. Establishing national and EU carbon awareness and mobilization building on an EU beef carbon farmers’ network, allowing exchanges between farmers and advisers in the 4 countries. This will include feedback from participating farmers on the acceptability and feasibility of innovative carbon reduction practices tested on their farms.
  6. Developing Irish, French, Italian and Spanish national BEEF CARBON ACTION PLANS, and a relevant partnership strategy for other nations. These action plans will demonstrate to the beef value chains the interest and feasibility of this approach aiming at reducing the beef carbon footprint by 15% in 10 years." The goal of the partners is to launch a national and European platform that will allow a reduction in the carbon impact of beef meat.

Current Status

A comparative analysis of the existing carbon tools on various systems of beef production is being carried out. This involves construction of 5 case studies per country representing the diversity of the existing farms. Each tool will be tested on the pool of the 20 study cases. The tools tested are:

  • Carbon Audit for Ireland
  • CAP’2ER for France and Italy
  • NAIA for Spain.

A LIFE BEEF CARBON website with resources for farmers and technicians is set up.

Additionally, CAP’2ER has been adapted and tested on a consistent sample of existing French farms. This test on commercial farms with farmers is mandatory in order to have a tool that suits perfectly the diversity of systems existing in France and the information available from most of the French farms.

Several farmers have received training on carbon, global warming and GHG emission mitigation. A number of media groups have interviewed these farmers. Mary-Jo Beauchamp, breeder of cattle and sheep in Saône et Loire (France), having already tested the GHG and environmental diagnosis CAP’2ER on his farm says:

"This diagnosis first requires to collect a great number of data on the herd, manure management, feed and food surfaces dedicated to the flock ... In the end, it is very interesting to understand where each greenhouse gas are emitted, to identify our levers for action. In our example, we can progress by producing our own plant proteins such as alfalfa or by saving on fuel consumption by direct seeding. This tool can also calculate some of our positive contributions to the environment. So in my case, my 100 ha of permanent grassland and 17 km of hedgerows store 90 000 kg of carbon per year and help offset 40% of emissions of greenhouse of my breeding. I am also maintaining the equivalent of 290 ha of biodiversity."

The project was presented at two major French farming events in 2016 : the “SPACE” in Rennes (September 2016) and the “Sommet de l’Elevage” in Clermont Ferrand (October 2016). Given the high level of interest, it is planned to present at these events regularly in order to show the annual evolution of the project. The project will also be presented at important beef events in Ireland, Spain and Italy, before concluding in 2020. Further information will be made available at local Teagasc offices and on our website.

Industry impact

In Ireland the beef carbon sustainability programme has been developed by Teagasc and Bord Bia. This program includes a carbon audit component whereby farmers participating in national quality assurance scheme also complete an audit of activities leading to GHG emissions from their farms. Teagasc and Bord Bia have also developed a tool, called the Carbon Navigator, to provide farmers with information about how GHG emissions are produced on their farms.

It is proposed to further develop the carbon audit by capturing more detailed information at farm level. Regarding the Carbon Navigator, although its use has already been exemplified, the level of uptake at farm level is low. This indicates that currently, the understanding, awareness and interest in this issue is low. It is proposed to further develop the Carbon Navigator to improve the applicability and learning focus for beef farmers.

Work Programme

Development of a common framework to model GHG emissions from beef cattle production systems

The environmental assessment (GHG emissions, energy consumption, eutrophication impact, etc.) needs suitable methodologies and tools. This task consists of compiling an inventory of the existing methodologies/tools used by the different partners in this project, and in knowledge sharing of the different approaches.

The partners will build a common methodology on carbon footprint and other environmental impacts assessment, and propose specific tools adapted to each production contexts in France, Ireland, Italy, and Spain. A further objective is to outline the mitigation techniques of GHG emissions, adapted to different beef systems.

Analysis of GHG emissions on demonstration farms

One hundred farms will be categorized according to system type so that all the main production systems that are in operation in Ireland are accounted for. The participants will be members of a beef quality assurance scheme that is managed by Bord Bia.

Data to describe the production system will be captured including: herd population, feed, grassland management, forage production, energy consumption, etc. During data collection, each farmer will be presented with the details of the LIFE BEEF CARBON project. The GHG emissions in kg CO2 and the beef carbon footprint in kg CO2/kg live weight will be calculated. Technical data and GHG emissions will feed the LIFE BEEF CARBON farm observatory by country.

Implementation of low carbon farming methods on a group of Innovative farms

In Ireland, 20 farms will be selected for this task. The carbon audit/mitigation tool will be used to estimate carbon footprint and to chart a pathway towards lower carbon footprint production systems. Several possible scenarios discussed with the farmer to reduce beef carbon footprint by 15% will be proposed.

Action plans, consistent with agronomic conditions, livestock farming practices, production system, forage and grassland management will be developed. To ensure ownership of the mitigation techniques by farmers, the linkage between agricultural practices and GHG emissions will be exemplified. Mitigation action plans will also incorporate the direct and indirect effects of changes in practices or system.

Transnational beef carbon farmer’s network

Meetings will be arranged to allow an exchange of ideas between farmers from different countries with regards to GHG emissions, to share and inform the network and to promote to stakeholders the principle of the national/transnational LIFE BEEF CARBON ACTION PLAN. These meetings will include

  • Visits of innovative farms
  • Training session to share about the project and lessons learnt.
  • Expert exchanges managed by specialist in different areas

French, Irish and Italian beef carbon roadmaps

Beef carbon plans describing low carbon action plans, corresponding to the main production systems existing in France, Ireland, Spain and Italy will be developed. The optimum combination between different innovative techniques tested in innovative farms will be assessed.

The national proposals will be benchmarked at European level. National leading partners will compare the practices evaluated in the project to the practices existing in other EU countries and in different production systems to build an EU beef carbon roadmap proposal.

Quantifying the mitigation of GHG emissions and sequestration of carbon related to the project

The reduction of GHG emissions and increase in carbon sequestration by grassland and hedgerows allowed by the project will be assessed by two means:

  1. Mitigation of GHG emissions and enhanced sequestration of carbon on demonstrative farms and innovative farms involved in the project
  2. Potential GHG emissions gain and carbon sequestration at national scale