Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

RANCH MUSINGS: Beef industry sustainability and the carbon footprint

Figures from 2009 show that 10 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gases came from agricultural sources

While I like to dwell on the positive things in life, sometimes dead serious topics make me pause.

Today it is the reality of the carbon footprint of agriculture. The latest figures from 2009 show that 10 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gases came from agricultural sources; that is 73 million tons.

Farmers were able to sequester in the soil 12 million tons of carbon. That is quite a deficit if we think there should be a balance.

The backdrop to this sustainability challenge of reducing the carbon footprint is that the world must cut agricultural emissions by two thirds while simultaneously producing 50 per cent more food.

This challenge was articulated by Tim Searchinger, a senior scholar at the Centre for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment at Princeton University. He recently spoke to an online seminar on sustainable intensification in agriculture.

He was the lead author of a 2019 report for the World Bank, the United Nations and the World Resources Institute.

He says that we can’t convert any more forest land to agriculture. That means 50 per cent more production on the existing farmland base.

This challenge won’t be met unless there is a lot of collaboration between farmers, government and researchers. Essentially, crop breeding, efficiencies in raising livestock through feed and genetics to increase yield while cutting emissions.

This is a tough task, but if we look back this is where the beef industry has come from: compared to 33 years ago, it requires 29 per cent fewer cattle to produce the same amount of meat. This while needing 24 per cent less land. From 1981 to 2011. During this period there was a 15 per cent reduction in the carbon footprint and a 17 per cent decrease in water use.

READ MORE: Trends and opportunities for agriculture land owners

This information comes from Tim McCallister from Agriculture Canada’s lead researcher in Lethbridge.

Growing food uses soil nutrients. Farmers and ranchers must find ways to work with the critters in the soil to keep and increase the land’s productivity.

It is inefficient to grow corn for biofuel since corn only converts 0.15 per cent of the energy of the sun to usable energy compared to about 20 per cent for photovoltaic cells.

I thank the Western Producer newspaper for reporting on this recent online conference.

Lessening demand for food by encouraging a more reasonable population less than 10 billion by the year 2050 would help. Apparently the evidence is that educating women in the third world can achieve a smaller population.

More food, less people, better distribution of food. Turning the world to this direction gets me excited.

I would much rather resources go towards this than interplanetary travel.

Maybe Mars is a good place to die if you are rich.

Forgive me my little bit of cynicism while I cheer on the culture change that needs to happen to get to a real sustainability in farming.

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 TRU.


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
editor@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

AgricultureCariboo

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Williams Lake RCMP are asking the public for assistance locating Marion Louise Billy. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake RCMP seek woman wanted for theft, weapon possession

RCMP released the information Thursday, May 6

Audrey McKinnon was officially named the NDP nominee for the federal riding of Cariboo-Prince George. (Twitter)
Audrey McKinnon confirmed as Cariboo Prince-George federal NDP nominee

The nomination comes during speculation the federal government

Gibraltar Mine general manager and community sports coach Ben Pierce moved to Williams Lake in 2008 for a career, and has fallen in love with the area while raising his family in the Cariboo. (Photo submitted)
OUR HOMETOWN: Mine manager on solid ground

Juggling academics, sports and a family was a challenge, but Pierce said he and Liselle made it work

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read