Queen’s University Belfast: Rapid and widespread change needed to meet net zero targets for livestock

The greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced from the main livestock types by 23 per cent and ammonia emissions by 15 per cent.

Published this week, the report is believed to be the first of its kind to model and collate data at this scale. It covers a range of mitigating scenarios in real life case studies across dairy, beef, sheep, pig and poultry farms.

CIEL commissioned an independent consortium of expert scientists from Queen’s University Belfast, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Rothamsted Research to deliver the report.

Speaking at the report launch, Dr Mark Young, Head of Innovation at CIEL, said: “It’s a follow-on from CIEL’s report published in 2020, ‘Net Zero Carbon & UK Livestock’, which established benchmarks for a range of farming systems across the main livestock types in the UK. The 2020 report also assumed agriculture’s target of a 64 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 applies to livestock agriculture.

“This report, ‘Net Zero & Livestock: How Farmers Can Reduce Emissions’, goes a step further to look at a wide range of mitigation options that can help reduce emissions at farm level. The report aims to provide farmers, advisers, supply chain partners and policymakers with the information to support evidence-based decision making when it comes to farming in a net zero world.

“The need for improvement in herd or flock production efficiency should be the focus for most farmers in the drive to reduce their carbon footprint, and this report highlights that need. Increasing productivity per animal while reducing input costs, and maintaining overall productivity at the same level, is something we can do right now.”

Queen’s University lead of the consortium, Professor Ilias Kyriazakis from the School of Biological Sciences and Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s, said: “Livestock production contributes to the world’s most pressing environmental problems.

“This report provides real solutions to address the environmental impact of livestock systems, which is crucial if we are to achieve significant reductions in emissions and make a positive impact in addressing climate change.”

Leader of the science consortium, Professor Elizabeth Magowan of AFBI, highlights that the report calls out a range of mitigations which when used in combination can contribute to both reducing the carbon footprint of farms as well as reducing national emissions of greenhouse gases.

Professor Magowan notes: “However, the importance of land use change aligned with feed ingredients was highlighted as an area where carbon footprinting and national inventory accounting were difficult to reconcile – since emissions of feed ingredients for UK livestock feed often occur in other countries. Overall, home grown ingredients, with no land use change, should be optimum to contribute to climate change mitigation.”

Although the report delivers positive, practical solutions for the industry, Lyndsay Chapman, CEO of CIEL, says it also highlights that change on-farm requires collective effort.

“All those within the supply chains must work together to reduce emissions while still producing the nutritious, safe food the UK needs,” says Mrs Chapman.

“Farmers cannot, and should not, be expected to deliver this on their own. This report re-confirms that we could deliver a large reduction in greenhouse gases to significantly contribute to the goal of net zero carbon by 2050, but even that requires universal adoption of the various known mitigations across all livestock farms in the UK – something we are not currently achieving.

“This emphasises the critical need for new innovations and for change to be rapid and widespread, actively supporting adoption of both known and new mitigations,” Mrs Chapman concludes.

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