Part of a Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor's job is keeping up with the scientific literature. Recently, I've been reading the Environmental Impact Assessment (Volume III) of Livestock Production in Grassland and Mixed Rainfed Systems in Temperate Zones and Grassland and Mixed-Rainfed Systems in Humid and Subhumid Tropic and Subtropic Zones (Except Africa) and while fairly technical there are some great summaries. To give you an idea, I'm posting the summary of CO2, one of the "greenhouse" gases, and the impact of grazing on it below. I hope you find it interesting too.
Carbon Dioxide Balance in the Atmosphere
The fraction of incoming solar energy which is radiated back out to space from the earth as long-wave radiation is determined by the concentration of several atmospheric gases. The principal long-wave, energy-absorbing trace gases are carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide, all of which are increasing in the troposhpere. CO2 is the most abundant and is being added in the greatest quantity; it is expected to cause about 50 percent of global warming occurring in the next half century (Johnson et al. 1994).
There are two questions associated with CO2 and the impacts of livestock grazing on the environment: a) the impact, direct or indirect, of livestock grazing on atmospheric CO2 and b) the impact of atmospheric CO2 on livestock grazing and, subsequently, on the environment. Neither of these questions has definitive answers in the literature. However, the postulation that rangeland-grazing animals could increase in numbers from current levels so that their contribution to atmospheric CO2 would be significant compared to CO2 generated by industrialized humans and their activities is untenable. The second question, the impact of atmospheric CO2 on livestock grazing, is dealt with at length in recent literature and is more easily addressed.
Despite media obsessions with tropical moist forests, savannas actually dominate the southern continents, covering 65 percent of Africa, 60 percent of Australia, and 45 percent of South America (Stott 1994). In savanna ecosystems, the majority of the grass species involved belong to the C4 group of photosynthetic plants. In such plants, the rate of photosynthesis continues to increase with the intensity of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), instead of the carbon dioxide curve flattening off to a plateau, as is more normal in C3 species. In C3 plants the carbon dioxide is fixed initially as a three-carbon compound, phosphoglyceric acid; by contrast, in C4 plants, the carbon dioxide is fixed as a four-carbon compound, oxaloacetic acid. C4 plants are the most efficient photosynthetically where light conditions are maximized, so that their optimum temperature for CO2 fixation lies between 30 and 45o C, their photosynthetic rate under optimal conditions is between 40 and 80 mg CO2 dm-2 h-1 (3 to 4 times that of C3 species), and the light saturation is 100 percent. This means that they are ideally adapted to bright, fairly dry environments, precisely the conditions associated with open savanna grasslands of the seasonal tropics. However, there is some evidence that this competitive advantage in hot, dry regions may be significantly diminished as a consequence of predicted greenhouse effects, such as increased atmospheric CO2, because C4 species appear to show little photosynthetic response to elevated CO2 (Woolhouse 1990). Nevertheless, dry-matter production may still be enhanced by an improvement of the plant-water status, through the reduction of stomatal aperture which usually accompanies the effects of high CO2 concentrations (Squire 1990).
In the savannas, both natural fire, from lightning strike, and human-induced fire are often entirely integral to the maintenance of the ecosystem. In many savannas, it would be impossible to maintain the economic productivity of the grass stratum without the use of fire as a prescribed tool (Stott 1994). It is now recognized that the savanna form is generally governed by the intricate interplay of five key ecological factors, namely plant available moisture, plant available nutrients, fire, herbivory, and major anthropogenic events. Savanna ecosystems have themselves long been a significant contributor to the never-ending story of global environmental change. Even before the impact of humans, fire, through lightning strike, friction, and refraction, was a natural stress in savanna lands. Today, savanna fires contribute the largest percentage of all the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere through biomass burning in the tropics. In the Brazilian cerrado, for example, the entire humid savanna is fired once every two years, while 75 percent of the humid savannas of Africa burn annually. Thus, 85 percent of the CO2 emitted from tropical Africa is derived from its savannas. Many ecologists and conservationists thus regard biomass burning in the savannas as a major contributor to global warming. But in reality the issue is much more complex, because the savannas have always burned regardless of human activity. What we need to know is the exact nature of the recent increase in burning over the long-term historical levels. Would this recent increase really be significant at all if it were not being added to the historical contributions over the past 150 years or so by the industrialized countries of the North (Stott 1994)? In many ways our future management of the savanna landscapes of Australia, South East Asia, India, Africa, and Latin America will indicate all too starkly whether we are succeeding in our human response to global environmental change (Stott 1994).
Deforestation and grazing influence species composition, primary productivity, and organic matter decomposition, thereby altering the liberation and sequestering of CO2 (Archer 1994). Changes in land cover and ecosystem processes may further influence climate by altering surface energy flux and biophysical properties (albedo, temperature, evapotranspiration, air circulation, etc.) and by changing levels of particulate input (e.g., dust) in the atmosphere (Graetz 1991).
With an eightfold increase in population since the eighteenth century to the currently more than 5 billion people, development and industrialization have increased atmospheric level of greenhouse gases. The population now appropriates 40 percent of all organic matter fixed by photosynthesis per year and consumes the equivalent of 2 tons of coal per year. It is no great surprise that CO2 levels have increased dramatically in the last century and particularly in the last three decades (Byers 1994a). The CO2 concentration of the atmosphere has increased from as low as 265 ppm only 125 years ago to about 350 ppm at present (Mayeux et al. 1991), an increase of almost 30 percent. However, atmospheric levels of CO2 are not expected to double before the year 2025 and may not occur within the next century (Trabalka et al. 1985). The biggest contributors to elevated CO2 are emissions from factories, vehicles, and power plants, primarily within the industrialized countries. CO2 release from deforestation has contributed as much as half of the atmospheric increase since 1800 and is responsible for at least 20 percent of current emissions (Byers 1994a). The slash-and-burn conversion technique immediately releases both tree and litter CO2 to the atmosphere. Dead organic matter in the soil holds two times as much total CO2 as there is in the atmosphere and when released during deforestation is a major source for increasing atmospheric levels of carbon. Deforestation without slash and burn, for example, in the U.S. where the forest heritage was converted into the Midwest breadbasket and logs converted to lumber for construction, does not contribute as much CO2 to the atmosphere. Using this latter technique leaves the majority of the CO2 in the lumber. However, past deforestation, especially in Central and South America, has been done to accommodate crops and pastures for livestock grazing (Cross 1994). Thus, there is a relationship, albeit indirect, between livestock grazing and elevated atmospheric CO2.
Possible effects of the predicted increase can be characterized as a) the direct effects on rangeland vegetation caused by a carbon enriched atmosphere, or b) indirect effects on vegetation caused by global warming as a consequence of increased CO2 and other greenhouse gases. There is substantial evidence to support the hypothesis of some researchers that there have already been dramatic changes in rangeland vegetation over parts of the world that can be related, at least in part, to elevated atmospheric CO2 (Byers 1994a).
Mayeux et al. (1991) and Scifres and Hamilton (1993) describe changes in the vegetation of the southern Great Plains and Southwest of the U.S. as essentially an increase in the distribution and density of naturally occurring shrubs from widely separated sites into open grassland stands. Many woody species were a part of the migration from limited sites to become established across the broad range of soils and topography. Archer et al. (1988) describes the mechanisms of establishment of pioneer woody plants in a grassland environment and subsequent changes through juvenile to mature plants and associated components of mottes in south Texas. Major woody species that have increased and/or thickened as a part of this phenomenon include mesquites (Prosopis spp.), creosote bush (Larrea divaricata), and junipers (Juniperus spp.), many shrubby composites including sagebrushes (Artemisia), rabbitbrushes (Chrysothamnus), snakeweeds (Gutierrezia), and a host of less geographically important plants.
The commonly accepted combination of causes for the increase of woody plants on open grasslands (overgrazing, fire suppression, propagule dissemination, climate change) are acknowledged by Mayeux et al. (1991). However, these researchers also believe that the change cannot be explained by these factors only and contend that no compelling evidence exists which substantiates that any single one or combination of them is responsible. Woody plant increases have been observed across extreme heterogeneity of the entire American West as well as in other parts of the world, including Argentina, Mexico, South America, Australia, Africa, and India. Interestingly, in the low veld of Rhodesia, shrubs increased at the expense of perennial grasses more in the absence of domestic livestock than when grazed lightly or moderately (Kelly and Walker 1976). Areas from which grazing has been excluded since before significant woody plant invasion, including an exclosure since 1915 on the Jornada Experimental Range in southern New Mexico, have been encroached by woody vegetation similar to adjacent unprotected sites.
Future changes in plant community structure have been predicted as consequences of continued increases in atmospheric CO2 in the next century (Bazzaz and Garbut 1988, Overdieck 1986). Mayeux et al. (1991) considered whether the effects of global increases in atmospheric CO2 levels are already evident as shifts from open grassland to shrubs. There is evidence that higher levels of CO2 may have already influenced productivity of forests based on studies of annual growth rings of pine species (LaMarche et al. 1984) where tree growth rates were found to exceed those expected from climatic trends, but to be consistent with global trend in CO2. Historic increases in the yields of other plants, including several crops such as wheat (Gifford 1979, Byers 1994a) and soybeans (Allen et al. 1987), may be at least partly due to increased availability of CO2.
CO2 enhancement of the atmosphere will have its greatest effect under hot, dry climates, where leaf temperatures and stomatal closure lead to elevated O2/CO2 ratios at the site of CO2 fixation. In C4 plants, however, there already exists a CO2-concentration mechanism, the C4 cycle, which is not susceptible to O2 competition, and in which the carboxylating enzyme is protected by a locally elevated concentration of CO2. It is not surprising, therefore, that C4 plants show little response to elevated CO2. This means that their competitive advantage may be reduced under increased atmospheric CO2, having significant effects on both the composition and the productivity of the grass stratum in the tropical savannas. But, again, there is much uncertainty about this simple prediction because the single variable advantage may be offset or transcended by significant changes in the other environmental factors concerned with dry-matter production, particularly temperature and precipitation (Squire 1990).
Increasing the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere in which plants grow increases carbon assimilation rates and has favorable effects on other physiological processes of all functional groups of plants (Pearcy and Bjorkman 1983). Idso et al. (1987) found that the literature indicated plant growth would be increased by approximately 30 percent by a 300 ppm increase in atmospheric CO2. When combined with the 3o C predicted increase in temperature from the greenhouse effect, the plant growth enhancement factor rises from 1.30 to 1.56. These same researchers found that even higher growth enhancement could be achieved if the non-CO2 trace gas effect is equally as strong. However, they also found that atmospheric enrichment tends to reduce plant growth at relatively cold temperatures and that predicting the ultimate biospheric consequences of the earth's atmospheric CO2 concentration may be more complex than originally anticipated.
A study reported by Riechers and Strain (1988) using blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) bears out that much more specific information will be required to predict changes. Blue grama, a C4 grass species, may benefit more from CO2 enrichment than would be predicted based on the response of other C4 species studied in other experiments, even though the relatively large enhancement in growth is far less than the increases seen for many C3 species. Therefore, even though some C4 species, such as blue grama, may be differently enhanced by elevated CO2, they will still be at a comparative competitive disadvantage compared to C3 species.
Rochefort and Woodward (1992) modeled the response of global family diversity to global environmental change, including climate and a doubling of atmospheric CO2. The model assumes that three primary mechanisms define diversity: the capacity to survive the absolute minimum temperature of a site, the ability to complete the life cycle in a given time length and warmth of the growing season, and the capacity to expand leaves in a defined regime of precipitation and vegetation transpiration. Global temperatures are assumed to rise 3o C and global precipitation increase 10 percent. The direct effects of CO2 on vegetation transpiration are also included. The addition of CO2 in the atmosphere along with a 10 percent increase in precipitation appears to counteract the negative effect of increasing temperature on vegetation diversity (global warming was found to be deleterious for global diversity because the increased rate of vegetation transpiration, at the higher temperatures, was not offset by increased rates of precipitation). As a consequence, one-third of the world's floristic regions might increase their diversity or at least maintain a similar value of diversity to the present. The model demonstrated that CO2 taken as a factor by itself can have a significant effect on global family diversity, and the authors recommend strongly that CO2 effects should be included when modeling global climate change.
While increasing CO2 appears to improve water use efficiency of all plants, experimental evidence suggests that effects on other physiological processes are more strongly expressed in plants that possess the C3 photosynthetic pathway than in those with C4 photosynthesis (Bhattacharya 1993). Carbon assimilation rates vary widely with species and environmental conditions but are thought to be higher in C4 than C3 species at current levels. Mayeux et al. (1991) compared net carbon assimilation rates of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), a C4 native perennial bunchgrass widely distributed across the Great Plains of the U.S., and the C3 woody invader honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) at increasing CO2 levels. Their studies indicate that photosynthetic rates of the grass are about 20 percent higher at CO2 levels characteristic of 150 years ago. However, net photosynthetic rate of the shrub equals that of the grass at today's atmospheric CO2 level, 350 ppm, and will exceed that of the grass as ambient CO2 level continues to increase. Thus, the C3 mesquite has realized a greater relative advantage than the C4 grass as CO2 increased over the last 150 years, if increasing photosynthetic capacity improves performance at the whole-plant or higher levels.
The work by Mayeux et al. (1991) has profound implications for predicting relative composition changes of rangeland vegetation between C3 plants (woody and cool-season species) versus C4 plants (warm-season perennial grasses). However, there may be offsetting conditions not addressed in their experiments. CO2 can interact in complex ways to alter plant growth, making it difficult to predict the future productivity and composition of plant communities from the results of studies solely examining the effect of CO2 on plant performance (Coleman and Bazzaz 1992).
Even with the lack of definitive information on interactions between elevated atmospheric CO2 and other environmental factors, such as temperature and precipitation, the evidence is strong that rangeland vegetation will be affected in both composition and productivity potential by the greenhouse effect, including CO2. The result could be a decrease in the relative proportions of C4 to C3 plants based on the increased competitive advantage to C3 plants from increasing CO2. In the studies by Mayeux et al. (1991), there was also a dramatic increase in the response of C3 herbs to increasing CO2 at subambient levels representative of the past 150 years. Oats (Avena sativa) and wild mustard (Brassica kaber) were grown in a continuous CO2 gradient from 150 ppm to current ambient, about 350 ppm. Over the range of increasing CO2 from 250 to 350 ppm, representative of the change in the last 150 years, net carbon assimilation increased by over 50 percent. Leaf area and oven-dry weight of top growth increased by the same extent or more, indicating that historical changes in CO2 may have profound effects on the growth of C3 herbs. C3 woody plants respond to elevated CO2 to the same or greater extent as C3 herbs (Tolley and Strain 1987). Conifers exhibit a pronounced growth increase, suggesting that CO2 may have already played a role in recent increases in the extent of the piñon pine-Juniper type and the abundance of a number of Juniperus species throughout North America.
Mayeux et al. (1991) hypothesize that favorable effects of increasing CO2 that apply to all functional groups of plants, especially improved water-use efficiency and amelioration of stress, suggest that overall productivity of rangelands will increase. However, increased productivity will probably continue to be reflected in increased biomass of less desirable C3 weeds and woody vegetation, as opposed to C4 warm-season perennial grasses, where the two functional groups occur together. This has very profound ramifications for rangeland management and for the use of grazing animals. The hypothesis that historical increases in atmospheric CO2 conferred competitive superiority upon C3 weeds and shrubs and rendered them inherently better adapted to today's rangeland than C4 grasses implies that, by definition, current climax is characterized by shrub dominance. This seems true not only for the present but increasingly so in the future as CO2 levels continue to climb. Efforts to define range condition and trend relative to a historical species composition in which shrubs were poorly represented seem unrealistic in light of both the hypothesized CO2 effect and the well-documented success of woody plants over recent decades.
As a member of the Society for Range Management, I receive both the Journal of Rangeland Ecology & Management and Rangelands. The latter is dedicated to getting scientifically correct information in a user friendly, non-technical format out to a wide-range of individuals including educators, students, rangeland owners and managers, researchers, and policy leaders. Recently a very good article, written by author Jerry Holechek of New Mexico State University, appeared in Rangelands that should definitely be shared to a much wider audience. The following press release provides a brief summary and most importantly there is a link to Jerry's full article. I encourage everyone to give it a read and share with your friends and neighbors.
Rangeland Conservation Key to Weathering Changes in Food Production
Released: 2/25/2010 3:00 PM EST
Source: Allen Press Publishing Services
Newswise — During the past century, food production in the United States has achieved a remarkable degree of efficiency and the cost of food has remained low, but some of the conditions that made such a system possible are changing. Rising human population, water shortages, and depletion of fossil fuels all threaten current food production systems. In short, the era of cheap food may well be coming to an end.
A recent article in the journal Rangelands, a publication of the Society for Range Management, explores changing conditions likely to affect U.S. food production, particularly on American rangelands. Decades of cheap oil have led to cheap grain, which has been fed to cattle in an increasingly consolidated animal production system. As fossil fuels become more scarce and prices increase, range operators that rely less on cheap oil and cheap grain may be able to adapt to changes.
Other forces that are likely to influence meat production are growing demand for humanely raised animals; potentially inflationary monetary policies that may stimulate U.S. meat exports; and renewed appreciation for the nation’s rangelands. Grasslands used for raising livestock have been devalued by conditions of the past few decades.
“Both privately and publicly owned rangeland came to be viewed by political leaders and the public as disposable resources because it was thought that our meat could be efficiently produced with harvested feed or imported,” writes author Jerry Holechek of New Mexico State University. “As a rational hedge against the possibility of technological lag or failure, I most strongly believe everything possible should be done to conserve and enhance our rangelands and farmlands so they will meet the basic needs of a world with ever more people (70 million per year), but with shrinking energy, water, and agricultural land resources.”
Historically, other factors have influenced the American farm economy as well, including:
• Gains in technological efficiency.
• Global climate patterns.
• U.S. policy toward the monetary supply and interest rates.
• Conversion of U.S. grain into ethanol.
Though many questions about the future of agriculture remain unanswered, it is important to discuss such questions and prepare for coming changes that will affect our ability to produce food for a growing population.
Full text of the article, “Range Livestock Production, Food, and the Future: A Perspective,” is available at http://www2.allenpress.com/pdf/1551-501X-31.6.pdf
Rangelands is a full-color publication of the Society for Range Management published six times per year. Each issue of Rangelands features scientific articles, book reviews, and society news. Additionally, readers may find youth, technology, and policy departments. The journal provides a forum for readers to get scientifically correct information in a user friendly, non-technical format. Rangelands is intended for a wide-range of individuals including educators, students, rangeland owners and managers, researchers, and policy leaders. The journal is available online at www.srmjournals.org. To learn more about the society, please visit www.rangelands.org./span>
Good neighbors start with good fences. Even with the best fences livestock will sometimes escape. Often times the local Sheriff's office gets contacted when this happens. While very skilled in the jobs they normally do they often have a very hard time containing stray livestock. The livestock owner, on the other hand, is quite skilled in rounding up stock.
Fortunately, in Mendocino County, you can help the local Sheriff by registering your livestock with them. By doing so, they'll have a better chance of matching the wandering livestock to the owner. It's good for the animal, the owner, the investigating Sheriff deputy, and for public safey. To register your livestock go to: http://www.mendocinosheriff.com/animals/livestockReg.pdf and fill out the form. There's a button on the form to email it to the Sheriff's office or you can print it out and mail it to them.
The following came to me from Dr. Jim Oltjen and hearlds some good news for those in the livestock industry.
The world needs to double its output of meat by 2050 to meet growing demand, the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a new "State of Food & Agriculture" report issued last Thursday.
Globally, the livestock sector now produces 228 million metric tons of meat. To meet rising demand, this will need to double in 40 years, putting added pressure on industry and governments to find answers to problems impeding one of the "fastest-growing" parts of agriculture, according to FAO.
"Rising incomes, population growth and urbanization are the driving forces behind a growing demand for meat products in developing countries, and they will continue to be important (Figure). To meet rising demand, global annual meat production is expected to expand from 228 mmt currently to 463 mmt by 2050, with the cattle population estimated to grow from 1.5 billion to 2.6 billion and that of goats and sheep from 1.7 billion to 2.7 billion," according to FAO estimates.
"Livestock contributes 40% of the global value of agricultural production and supports the livelihoods and food security of almost 1 billion people. Globally, livestock contributes 15% of total food energy and 25% of dietary protein. Products from livestock provide essential micronutrients that are not easily obtained from other plant food products," FAO said in its report published in Rome, Italy.
Despite oft-repeated claims by sources ranging from the United Nations to music star Paul McCartney, it is simply not true that consuming less meat and dairy products will help stop climate change, says a University of California authority on farming and greenhouse gases.
UC Davis air quality specialist Frank Mitloehner says that McCartney and the chair of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ignored science when they launched a European campaign called "Less Meat = Less Heat." The launch came on the eve of the major international climate summit in Copenhagen in December.
McCartney and others, such as the promoters of "meatless Mondays," seem to be well-intentioned but not well-schooled in the complex relationships among human activities, animal digestion, food production and atmospheric chemistry, says Mitloehner.
"Smarter animal farming, not less farming, will equal less heat," Mitloehner said. "Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries."
Mitloehner traces much of the public confusion over meat and milk's role in climate change to two sentences in a 2006 United Nations report, titled "Livestock's Long Shadow." Printed only in the report's executive summary and nowhere in the body of the report, the sentences read: "The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). This is a higher share than transport."
These statements are not accurate, yet their wide distribution through news media have put us on the wrong path toward solutions, Mitloehner says.
"We certainly can reduce our greenhouse-gas production, but not by consuming less meat and milk. Rather, in developed countries, we should focus on cutting our use of oil and coal for electricity, heating and vehicle fuels."
Mitloehner said leading authorities agree that, in the U.S., raising cattle and pigs for food accounts for about 3 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation creates an estimated 26 percent.
"In developing countries, we should adopt more efficient, Western-style farming practices, to make more food with less greenhouse gas production," Mitloehner continued. In this he agrees with the conclusion of "Livestock's Long Shadow," which calls for "replacing current suboptimal production with advanced production methods -- at every step from feed production, through livestock production and processing, to distribution and marketing."
"The developed world's efforts should focus not on reducing meat and milk consumption," said Mitloehner, "but rather on increasing efficient meat production in developing countries, where growing populations need more nutritious food."
Mitloehner particularly objects to the U.N.'s statement that livestock account for more greenhouse gases than transportation, when there is no generally accepted global breakdown of gas production by industrial sector.
He notes that "Livestock's Long Shadow" produced its numbers for the livestock sector by adding up emissions from farm to table, including the gases produced by growing animal feed; animals' digestive emissions; and processing meat and milk into foods. But its transportation analysis did not similarly add up emissions from well to wheel; instead, it considered only emissions from fossil fuels burned while driving.
"This lopsided 'analysis' is a classical apples-and-oranges analogy that truly confused the issue," Mitloehner said.
Most of Mitloehner's analysis is presented in a recent study titled "Clearing the Air: Livestock's Contributions to Climate Change," published in October in the peer-reviewed journal Advances in Agronomy. Co-authors of the paper are UC Davis researchers Maurice Piteskey and Kimberly Stackhouse.
"Clearing the Air" is a synthesis of research by the UC Davis authors and many other institutions, including the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. Writing the synthesis was supported by a $26,000 research grant from the Beef Checkoff Program, which funds research and other activities, including promotion and consumer education, through fees on beef producers in the U.S.Since 2002, Mitloehner has received $5 million in research funding, with 5 percent of the total from agricultural commodities groups, such as beef producers.