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A New Report Shows An Increase in Global Agricultural Emissions That Are Mainly Due to Soil Management

The first phase of four pillars of the Pork Checkoff’s environmental sustainability program, the Carbon Footprint Live Swine Calculator, is being rolled out at World Pork Expo.

The computer-based calculator will be part of presentations during Pork Academy on June 8 and 9 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, IA.

According to Allan Stokes, director of Environmental Programs at the National Pork Board, producers can also try out the calculator at the Pork Checkoff booth in the Varied Industries Building and take home a free CD.

“The program is designed to be run by pork producers on their own computers, using a CD that has all of the software needed to run the model, and it allows them to keep the data strictly confidential,” he stresses.

The carbon footprint program walks the producer through a series of questions about their operation that should be readily available in farm records and, thus, easy for producers to answer, Stokes assures. Common questions include number of animals in a herd, ages, weights and sizes; building sizes and types; feeding programs; and manure management systems.

“Once the producer has run through a series of screens, and answered all of the questions and input data that the calculator will need, the producer hits the ‘run’ button, and the program provides information that is specific to their operation,” Stokes says. A bar graph displays the data.

The calculator provides a benchmark of the current carbon footprint for the farm. “If they are interested, and know how their operation was run, say 10 years ago, they can use the calculator to understand what their footprint would have looked like back then. That will help them see how far they have come with some of the changes they have already employed,” he explains.

In addition, producers can input potential changes they are considering to determine how the changes would impact the future footprint — emissions and energy use — of their operation.

At Expo, producers will be asked for their name and address, so that when enhancements and improvements are made to the carbon footprint tool, Pork Board staff can notify them of the changes and provide an updated version, Stokes points out.

One shortcoming of the current Version 1.0 tool is that it does not automatically calculate the costs of making environmental changes. “That is something a producer would have to do separately,” he notes. Plans are to develop an enhancement in Version 2.0 that would include an economic component in order to automatically calculate the cost of proposed changes. Version 2.0 is expected sometime next year.

Figuring Footprints

Carbon footprints refer to emission of certain gases known as greenhouse gases (GHG). The source for those emissions is found in energy used on the farm in the form of feed for animals to grow; electricity to drive heating, lighting and ventilating systems; and fuel to drive pumps, haul feed to animals and pump out and apply manure.

The carbon footprint calculator gives producers a readout chart to show where their footprint comes from and its size based on all of those components, Stokes says.

The three most prevalent greenhouse gases in agriculture are nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and methane. “Those gases are called greenhouse gases because they can become trapped in the environment, so they kind of act like a greenhouse, and if they become too far out of balance, those heat changes can cause climate changes around the globe,” Stokes warns.

Footprint Fallacies

A report done for the United Nations (U.N.) in 2001 (“Livestock’s Long Shadow”) suggested agriculture was responsible for 18% of GHG on a global basis, more than the entire transportation sector. Since then, one of the authors has admitted this is probably an erroneous comparison.

A second study, done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N.-sponsored group, came to a different finding, suggesting that all of agriculture, not just livestock, was responsible for about 12% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, Stokes adds.

Anti-agriculture detractors try to suggest that the global figures, whether using 18% or 12%, are the contributions for U.S. GHG livestock emissions, when in fact, they represent all of agriculture around the world. (See the sidebar for emissions calculations just released by Iowa State University).

To its credit, the IPCC report reveals that the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from developing and third-world countries tearing up virgin terrain or knocking down forests to convert to cropland.

The report indicates that the answer to feeding the world’s burgeoning population may rest in getting increased production out of lands already efficiently being used for crop and livestock production, rather than by clearing land for new production.

In feeding two billion more people on the earth by 2050, it’s probably not realistic to expect agriculture’s total carbon emissions to be reduced from today’s levels, the IPCC report said. The key will be to improve efficiency to produce more food per unit of agricultural production and reduce the carbon footprint per unit of food produced, Stokes relates.

Pork’s Sterling Record

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) GHG report says that all of livestock agriculture accounts for only about 2.7% of total GHG emissions in the United States. Pork’s share is less than 1∕3 of 1%, Stokes says.

“To the pork industry’s credit, it has a very low number and is certainly not the culprit when it comes to GHG emissions. But even though pork producers have very low numbers, they have a long tradition of being good stewards of the environment, and they are always looking for ways they can further their legacy of being good stewards of the environment,” he observes.

Over the next 12-18 months, plans will coalesce on the overall environmental sustainability program. Next on the list will be evaluation of the industry’s water footprint and land footprint to optimize use of those valuable resources.

Iowa State’s Greenhouse Gas Report

The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at Iowa State University has developed new modeling capabilities that show a 13.6% increase in global emissions from agricultural production.

But FAPRI co-director Jacinto Fabiosa says those increases are mainly due to an increase in crop area and related agricultural soil management.

The report says an increase in per capita meat demand, at 1.2% per year, leads to an increase in emissions from livestock products, but at levels that are still lower than emissions from cropland.

New estimates of greenhouse gas emission efficiency, or GHGee, summarize data for countries’ market outcomes, productivity improvements and greenhouse gas emissions in a single metric. Higher values, calculated on a dollar basis, suggest more efficient emission performance. For 2010, the European Union and the United States stood at the higher end of efficiency, at $579 and $571, respectively, followed by Argentina at $349, India at $329, China at $324 and Brazil at $212.

Increases in world fertilizer use and more intensive use of fertilizers across the globe are expected in 2011-2012, which reflects increases in cropland, including a rise of 2.96% in fertilizer use in the United States, the report states.

The full report can be viewed at