Ranch Musings: Researchers conclude livestock have no detectable effect on climate

Regular columnist David Zirnhelt looks at methane emissions from livestock, climate and soil

This conclusion in my headline should say “Methane Emissions from Livestock Have No Detectable Effect on The Climate.”

When I see a headline in a news article, I try to check out the original research that spawns the headline. In this case, the article is in Climate Change Dispatch, back in 2018, quoting the abstract from a research paper by Dr. Albrecht Glatzle.

He concludes, “there is no scientific evidence, whatsoever, that domestic livestock could represent a risk for the Earth’s climate” and, “the warming potential of anthropogenic (people-caused) GHG emissions has been exaggerated.”

The evidence he provides is that his team “could not find a clear domestic livestock fingerprint, neither in the geographical methane distribution nor in the historical evolution of mean atmospheric methane concentration.”

To offer some evidence of proof of this argument, Glatzle states that from 1990 to 2005, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) say that there was a complete stabilization of atmospheric methane, despite the world cattle population increasing by one million head.

On the other hand, the argument goes that livestock are important in keeping two-thirds of the world’s agricultural land (grazing and grasslands) producing food.

Yes, adding another billion people is not good, and it is the demand by humans for resource consumption that is, in my view, the biggest climate challenge.

That said, our collective challenge is to convert degraded farmland on a “regenerative” path, not just a “sustainable” path.

Cattle eat much of the byproduct of human food, like grain and pulses (peas and other legumes), straw from these foods, which humans can’t consume.

This information comes from a paper by Taro Takahashi presented at the international Alltech conference in Lexington, Kentucky, this spring. He hails from an English institute which has been studying pasture soil since 1856.

He argues that manure is an important part of any sustainable arable farming system.

Further, he says that if you have a higher stocking rate and uniform distribution of animals, the soil health and structure is vastly improved.

I guess one of my conclusions is that we shouldn’t be plowing up any more of the marginal soils to try to raise human or animal food that way.

Ruminants evolved to digest coarse plant-based food.

This is a case of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Advocates for plant-based protein for human food need to be careful in assuming that stopping eating meat is good for the planet.

Maybe the science they are using to back their claims is faulty.

But then too, livestock producers need to up their game and focus on soil health because more soil organic matter will increase the water-holding capacity and therefore grow more and better feed, more efficiently.

High fossil fuel users are still the big emitters, while beef producers as fossil fuel users consume only about 0.7 per cent.

The study from Britain “suggest(s) that each individual beef sector and the entire value chain can produce more high-quality protein than is consumed in production.”

I have not read the whole thing myself, rather relying on a columnist for the Western Producer.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake.

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