Apr 222010
Authors: Robyn Scherer

In lieu of Earth Day on Thursday, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about some environmentalists in this area and around the country: America’s cattle ranchers.

There has been some speculation out there that livestock production is producing a lot of greenhouse gases, particularly cattle production. A new study, “Clearing the Air” published in March by the University of California-Davis, found that the United Nations’ 2006 report titled, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” had many inaccuracies.

The main point is that the original report found that “ … livestock production accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas, GHG, emissions.” But during that same time, other organizations, such as the World Resources Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency found that this number was actually between 5 and 6 percent.

The study in March found that “In the United States, 2.8 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to livestock production, compared to 26 percent from transportation.

This is a large difference. Many people believe the cows they see on the land are contributing huge amounts of greenhouse gases, when in reality they are not.

Cattle and ranchers provide far more in environmental benefits than these harmful greenhouse gases.

www.explorebeef.com says that “Approximately 85 percent of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for producing crops. Grazing animals on this land more than doubles the area that can be used to produce food. Cattle serve a valuable role in the ecosystem by converting the forages humans cannot consume into a nutrient-dense food.”

Cattle are incredibly good at converting forage to usable feed, and have allowed more of the countryside to be used for agricultural purposes.

Some people think that this is a bad thing. But if managed properly, cattle can add significant value to the land.

When cattle move, they fertilize and turn up the soil, which is great for growing more vegetation. Obviously if cattle are left too long in one pasture it will be overgrazed, but if moved around, they can really help to till the land.

In some areas, cattle are grazed on National Forest land, and are required by law to have riders who move the cattle every couple of days to prevent overgrazing. The cattle in these areas have helped more vegetation to grow, which in turn feed more wildlife. Cattle can eat many noxious weeds that can destroy a habitat, and the riders who move the cattle make sure to pick up and clean areas they ride in.

One of the problems some people have with cattle is the methane they produce. There are studies being done right now that are finding out ways to capture methane, to be used to power facilities.

One industry that is currently doing this is the pork industry. There are many places that are now building covers for their lagoons (where manure is stored) and capturing the methane that is produced to heat and cool buildings, as well as run electricity.

The last environmentally friendly topic of relevance is the fairly new biofuel technology. There are some meat processing facilities that take the rendered carcasses of animals after they are processed and using that to create biofuel.

As of now, pretty much 100 percent of an animal is used in some way to create meat, byproducts such as makeup and footballs or biofuel. There are very few other industries that can claim such efficiency and environmentally friendly practices.

As you spend this weekend planting trees or doing whatever you do to try to help the environment, I want to you thank your local cattle rancher for helping to do the same.

Robyn Scherer is a senior animal science, agricultural business and journalism and technical communication major. Her column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:28 pm

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