Major study to help beef farmers meet carbon targets

The findings of one of the largest ever independent studies of its kind can help farmers beat targets to reduce their carbon footprint, saving them money in the process, researchers claim.

There are steps for beef farmers to take to cut their carbon footprint. Picture: Tony Johnson

A report launched by fast food chain McDonald’s at this week’s NFU conference, sets out six measures to guide beef farmers towards achieving the 11 per cent voluntary carbon reduction target set by the Government for 2020.

Farmers who took part in the study reduced their carbon footprint by almost a quarter - 23 per cent - over a six-year period and saved up to £23,000 annually.

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Funded by McDonald’s UK as part of its Farm Forward programme, the study was conducted by environmental consultants Alltech E-CO2 and was based on more than 1,300 carbon assessments of UK and Irish beef farms.

Their report outlines six recommendations to help beef farmers make savings:

Measure and monitor farm operations to track performance. From feed use per animal to fertiliser usage and sales weight, data trends can help to track progress and identify areas for improvement.

Benchmark performance against others in the same sector to inform where efficiency can be improved and to set targets.

Focus on daily live weight gain to reduce emissions. The shorter the time cattle are on the farm the less carbon is produced.

Closely monitor animal health to reduce calf mortality and boost farm productivity.

Maximise homegrown forage to increase feed conversion efficiency.

Breed for fertility in suckler herds, ensure close heat management and look to achieve the optimum age at first calving to reduce total methane emissions during the heifer rearing phase.

By following these actions, beef farmers involved in the study found they had, on average, reduced their carbon footprint by 4.6 per cent a year – more than four times the current industry benchmark of 0.94 per cent.

Connor McVeigh, supply chain director at McDonald’s UK, said: “Carbon reduction targets have been in place for some time and we know farmers are under growing pressure to meet them.

“As one of the biggest customers of British and Irish farming, we want to help the sector meet these challenges and thrive in the future.”

Dr John Kazer, certification manager at The Carbon Trust, added: “One of the greatest challenges in addressing the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture is access to data and information on farm that can help make these improvements. “Investment like this from McDonald’s is helping the industry define what best practice looks like, developing a practical, credible programme that helps farmers to see how making emission reductions can align with better enterprise management and financial results.”

McDonald’s said it had spent more than £1m since 2008 to help UK beef farmers operate more efficiently and environmentally-friendly.