A Greenhouse Gas and Soil Carbon Model for Estimating the Carbon Footprint of Livestock Production in Canada

Animals (Basel). 2012 Sep 4;2(3):437-54. doi: 10.3390/ani2030437.


To assess tradeoffs between environmental sustainability and changes in food production on agricultural land in Canada the Unified Livestock Industry and Crop Emissions Estimation System (ULICEES) was developed. It incorporates four livestock specific GHG assessments in a single model. To demonstrate the application of ULICEES, 10% of beef cattle protein production was assumed to be displaced with an equivalent amount of pork protein. Without accounting for the loss of soil carbon, this 10% shift reduced GHG emissions by 2.5 TgCO₂e y(-1). The payback period was defined as the number of years required for a GHG reduction to equal soil carbon lost from the associated land use shift. A payback period that is shorter than 40 years represents a net long term decrease in GHG emissions. Displacing beef cattle with hogs resulted in a surplus area of forage. When this residual land was left in ungrazed perennial forage, the payback periods were less than 4 years and when it was reseeded to annual crops, they were equal to or less than 40 years. They were generally greater than 40 years when this land was used to raise cattle. Agricultural GHG mitigation policies will inevitably involve a trade-off between production, land use and GHG emission reduction. ULICEES is a model that can objectively assess these trade-offs for Canadian agriculture.

Keywords: beef; carbon footprint; greenhouse gas; payback period; pork; soil carbon.