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Climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and water scarcity

Jim Walker for Progressive Cattle Published on 05 March 2020

They say you can’t control the weather, but can we? A better question would be, “Have we been influencing the weather and our climate for decades?” or “Have cattle producer actions been contributing to global warming?”

Whether you agree or disagree that the warming of the planet over the last 50 to 60 years is “man-made” or not, the fact is the worldwide climate is changing, with more extremes (hotter summers, colder winters and more extreme storms). Now, rampant deforestation, especially in the Amazon rainforest (the geographic area in South America, not the online company), is a major cause of increasing average temperatures, but how much does methane gas from animals, especially cattle, contribute? And, if this amount is not insignificant, we owe it to ourselves and our grandchildren to figure out ways to reduce and/or offset our impact, including increasing carbon-dioxide-eating plants and trees to clean our environment.

The cautionary tale of the dairy industry, milk processors and dairy cattlemen should be a giant wake-up call to the beef cattle industry and its participants. The consumption of natural milk has been falling for decades, compounded by the rise of alternative milk sources. And, within the last couple of years, alternative (or “fake”) meat has hit the marketplace. But, the natural milk industry isn’t dying, it’s simply evolving – as must the beef industry, as well. Some old business models may no longer be sustainable. As with any commodity, producers must provide end-users with what they demand. Consumers are not clamoring for fake meat; they just want a meat product that they deem is healthier and has less impact on their environment.

Agricultural researchers around the world, including at Texas A&M, are looking into breeding cattle that produce less methane, but this will take years. As such, researchers are also looking into the use of natural probiotics that might reduce the amount of methane each cow produces, which could be implemented much quicker by inclusion in various supplemental feeds. One thing is clear, we cattle producers must be proactive and receptive in addressing the issue unless we want to continue appearing as uncaring offenders, which just supplies more ammunition for our industry detractors.

Wherever you land on the issues of global warming and methane released from cattle operations, one fact is inescapable. With a changing climate comes extreme weather patterns for parts of North America, with increasing water shortages, even as other parts are flooding. You might consider implementing not just water conservation techniques but also increasing your land’s water holdings by adding or enlarging tanks, ponds and lakes and keeping as much rainfall runoff on-property as possible. And, plant a tree or two to provide the herd some more shade and clean up the air quality – it also looks nice and increases the property value.

As always, my advice is to grow your herd and keep them healthy, for land’s sake!  end mark

Jim Walker is a farmer, rancher and all-around thorn-in-the-side with Land's Feed Warehouse in Grand Saline, Texas, who opines on current events affecting the cattle industry. Email Jim Walker.

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