Scott Anderson, TCFA Chairman
As Earth Day approaches, those of us involved in production agriculture would like to share our appreciation for taking care of the environment. Since our livelihood and future relies upon making sure we leave this earth better than we found it, we believe it is critical to share how serious we take our responsibility as stewards of the land and animals we care for.
There is a common misconception that U.S. agriculture, especially animal agriculture, is a major greenhouse gas contributor. However, from a holistic perspective, the U.S. agriculture and timber system is a net carbon sink. This means that, collectively, the system removes more carbon than it emits.
In many countries’ forestland is viewed as reserve farmland to be cleared and used for food production when additional food resources are needed to feed a nation’s growing population. Because of the productivity of U.S. farmers and beef producers who utilize 800 million acres of range and pastureland, we as a country can preserve our forestland. Over the last 100 years we have added about 40 million acres of forestland in the United States. This was accomplished while also building 200 million more homes, feeding a population that is three times larger than it was in 1920, and exporting 15 to 20% of production. Yet, we are still a net carbon sink.
A primary contributor to this productivity is the unique digestive system of a beef animal. Cattle consume grasses, forages and other food by-products and “up-cycle” them into a delicious, nutrient dense wholesome protein source for humans. In total, about 90% of what a beef animal eats is inedible by humans. Even a grain-finished beef animal in the U.S. generates 19% more protein for the human supply than it consumes.
There is also talk about “cow burps” and their contribution to global warming. As the beef animal digests grasses and forages they eat, they expel methane. However, this biogenic methane is part of a carbon cycle that has been happening as long as ruminants have walked the earth. This cycle does not create any “new” carbon. The same carbon cycles from plant to animal to air and then through photosynthesis in the plant, CO2 is pulled out of the air back into the plant to be consumed by another beef animal next year. This cycle has been repeating for centuries.
Beef producers in the United States are continuously looking for ways to manage their resources better and to improve the efficiency of their production practices. We produce 18% of the world’s beef with only 6% of the world’s cattle. That is producing more beef with less resources. The U.S. production model is the envy of the world. And we still work hard to make it better every day. As we celebrate Earth Day, please remember that every day is Earth Day for beef producers. Beef production is sustainable and part of the climate solution.