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Innovation For Climate-Smart Livestock Production
For more on how agriculture can serve as a climate change mitigation powerhouse, see the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®), “A Blueprint for Climate Action in Agriculture”, pages 16-23.
Demand for animal protein foods, especially cattle, sheep, poultry and dairy products is increasing around the world, with the largest growth coming from low and middle income countries. From 2013-2022, demand for meat in developing countries will increase by 24 percent. The demand for poultry will increase by 28 percent and the demand for dairy products by 12 percent.
At the same time, methane from animal agriculture, particularly from ruminants (cattle and sheep) is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. As demand for meat and dairy products grows worldwide, every effort must be made to reduce the amount of methane emitted by livestock production.
To reduce methane emissions from cattle and sheep, ranchers can use dietary additives to maximize feed protein uptake, reducing the amount of feed required, and use methane inhibitors that can decrease methane emissions by up to 30 percent. With genetic improvements and better animal care and health practices it is possible to improve the productivity of each animal, reducing the overall numbers of animals needed to meet demand and delivering profound benefits for the environment.
Technologies and practices such as these have helped improve the productivity of beef and dairy cattle in the U.S. In 2015, the US produced as much beef as in 1975, but with 42 million fewer head of cattle. Milk productivity per cow has also increased dramatically. The number of dairy cows in the U.S. fell by nearly 9 million animals from 1961 to 2009 while overall milk output rose significantly.
Global increases in dairy cattle productivity are needed to achieve significant reductions in livestock methane emissions. North America and Europe are leading the way with only 19 percent of the dairy cattle producing more than 50 percent of the global milk supply. Asia and Africa, by contrast, have more than 60 percent of the global dairy cow population, but produce just over 30 percent of the global milk supply.
In addition to improving the productivity of the animals themselves, the environmental footprint of livestock production can be further reduced through better grazing land management practices: both over-grazed and under-grazed pastures store less carbon than optimally grazed lands. Manure management practices can also be improved. Animal manure produces nitrous oxide and methane, but emissions of these gases can be reduced by storing it in covered tanks and using methane digesters. This methane can also be captured and used as an energy source.
The demand for animal sources foods and products will continue to climb, but there are technologies and practices, some currently in use and others in development, that can help make livestock production sustainable for farmers of all scales, while improving their profitability and meeting global demand in a climate-smart way.