Environmental impacts of different beef production chains– combined biological models of beef and crop production and new emission models

Hannele Pulkkinen, MTT Agrifood Reasearch Finland
Juha-Matti Katajajuuri, MTT Agrifood Reasearch Finland
Perttu Virkajärvi, MTT Agrifood Reasearch Finland
Kirsi Järvenranta, MTT Agrifood Reasearch Finland
Jouni Nousiainen, MTT Agrifood Reasearch Finland

The livestock sector is responsible for the largest share of environmental impacts of agriculture. Improving beef and dairy production systems plays an important role in greenhouse gas emission mitigation and more detailed information is still needed for enabling best solutions.

The FootprintBeef-project (2012-2014) aims to describe in more detail the variations between different production systems via better combination of biological models of beef, crop and grass production and a set of new emission models. By studying all relevant beef production systems, total Finnish emissions from beef production can be published for the first time. In the project an assessment of environmental impacts of current different beef production (dairy and beef breed heifers and bulls, dairy and suckler cows) is made and tool for dynamic scenario modelling is developed for each of them to find out best ways to minimize environmental impacts of those systems and beef production at national level.

Combined dairy and beef production is expected to have lower climate impact than suckler cow production as emissions are shared between milk and meat. In Finland majority of consumed beef is still from dairy breeds: 25% of beef is coming from dairy cows, 53% from dairy heifer and bulls, 4% from suckler cows, 12% from beef breed heifers and bulls and 6% of mixed breeds.

In this project it is attempted to take the estimations of reduction potentials to the next level e.g., instead of studying a limited part of the production chain (enteric fermentation or grass production) to take those studies to whole system level and to study emissions at product level to see the importance and contradictions of different mitigation strategies.

New emission models are used for the two most important emission sources. Emissions from enteric fermentation will be assessed in three different ways: IPCC 2006 Tier 2 model, a model based on gross energy intake and feed characteristic model by Ramin and Huhtanen (2012). Direct nitrous oxide emissions from cultivated mineral soils will be assessed with IPCC 2006 Tier 2 model, and, in addition, the project uses for the first time different direct nitrous oxide emissions equations for annual and perennial crops and apply those for an animal production (Regina 2013). The new models were developed after 10 years of year-round N2O measurements in Finland at boreal mineral agricultural soils. In Finnish national estimations emissions from annual crops more than doubled with the new emission model and emissions from perennial crops decreased at more than one third (Pulkkinen 2012). Therefore, results show how the models affect comparisons of systems using different shares of grass and concentrates.


M. Ramin, P. Huhtanen 2013. Development of equations for predicting methane emissions from ruminants. Journal of Dairy Science. Volume 96, Issue 4. 2476-2493. http://dx.doi.org/10.3168/jds.2012-6095.

K. Regina, J. Kaseva, M. Esala 2013. Emissions of nitrous oxide from boreal agricultural mineral soils - Statistical models based on measurements. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. Volume 164. 131-136. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2012.09.013.

Pulkkinen, H., Regina, K., Katajajuuri, J.-M. 2012. Introduction of a national method to estimate direct nitrous oxide emissions from mineral soils for Finnish product carbon footprinting. In: 8th International conference on life cycle assessment in the agri-food sector, October 1-4, 2012 Saint-Malo, France: book of abstracts / Eds. Michael S. Corson, Hayo M.G. van der Werf.