Simple Summary: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ruminant livestock production (sheep, cattle and goats) have contributed to a common perception that a shift in the human diet from animal to plant-based products is environmentally responsible. In this study we found that the level of net emissions from livestock production systems is strongly influenced by the type of farming system that is used, and in fact GHG emission levels from some livestock production systems may be comparable with cropping systems. By introducing into farming systems ‘perennial’ pasture plants that are able to capture more atmospheric carbon, which is then stored in the soil, emission levels from livestock production can be substantially reduced.
Abstract: On-farm activities that reduce GHG emissions or sequester carbon from the atmosphere to compensate for anthropogenic emissions are currently being evaluated by the Australian Government as carbon offset opportunities. The aim of this study was to examine the implications of establishing and grazing Kikuyu pastures, integrated as part of a mixed Merino sheep and cropping system, as a carbon offset mechanism. For the assessment of changes in net greenhouse gas emissions, results from a combination of whole farm economic and livestock models were used (MIDAS and GrassGro). Net GHG emissions were determined by deducting increased emissions from introducing this practice change (increased methane and nitrous oxide emissions due to higher stocking rates) from the soil carbon sequestered from growing the Kikuyu pasture. Our results indicate that livestock systems using perennial pastures may have substantially lower net GHG emissions, and reduced GHG intensity of production, compared with annual plant-based production systems. Soil carbon accumulation by converting 45% of arable land within a farm enterprise to Kikuyu-based pasture was determined to be 0.80 t CO2-e farm ha−1 yr−1 and increased GHG emissions (leakage) was 0.19 t CO2-e farm ha−1 yr−1. The net benefit of this practice change was 0.61 t CO2-e farm ha−1 yr−1 while the rate of soil carbon accumulation remains constant. The use of perennial pastures improved the efficiency of animal production almost eight fold when expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per unit of animal product. The strategy of using perennial pasture to improve production levels and store additional carbon in the soil demonstrates how livestock should be considered in farming systems as both sources and sinks for GHG abatement.
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Thomas, D.T.; Sanderman, J.; Eady, S.J.; Masters, D.G.; Sanford, P. Whole Farm Net Greenhouse Gas Abatement from Establishing Kikuyu-Based Perennial Pastures in South-Western Australia. Animals 2012, 2, 316-330.
Thomas DT, Sanderman J, Eady SJ, Masters DG, Sanford P. Whole Farm Net Greenhouse Gas Abatement from Establishing Kikuyu-Based Perennial Pastures in South-Western Australia. Animals. 2012; 2(3):316-330.
Thomas, Dean T.; Sanderman, Jonathan; Eady, Sandra J.; Masters, David G.; Sanford, Paul. 2012. "Whole Farm Net Greenhouse Gas Abatement from Establishing Kikuyu-Based Perennial Pastures in South-Western Australia." Animals 2, no. 3: 316-330.