The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America

W. R. Teague, S. Apfelbaum, R. Lal, U. P. Kreuter, J. Rowntree, C. A. Davies, R. Conser, M. Rasmussen, J. Hatfeld, T. Wang, F. Wang, P. Byck

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

    • 5 Citations

    Abstract

    Owing to the methane (CH4) produced by rumen fermentation, ruminants are a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) and are perceived as a problem. We propose that with appropriate regenerative crop and grazing management, ruminants not only reduce overall GHG emissions, but also facilitate provision of essential ecosystem services, increase soil carbon (C) sequestration, and reduce environmental damage. We tested our hypothesis by examining biophysical impacts and the magnitude of all GHG emissions from key agricultural production activities, including comparisons of arable- and pastoral-based agroecosystems. Our assessment shows that globally, GHG emissions from domestic ruminants represent 11.6% (1.58 Gt C y-1) of total anthropogenic emissions, while cropping and soil-associated emissions contribute 13.7% (1.86 Gt C y-1). The primary source is soil erosion (1 Gt C y-1), which in the United States alone is estimated at 1.72 Gt of soil y-1. Permanent cover of forage plants is highly effective in reducing soil erosion, and ruminants consuming only grazed forages under appropriate management result in more C sequestration than emissions. Incorporating forages and ruminants into regeneratively managed agroecosystems can elevate soil organic C, improve soil ecological function by minimizing the damage of tillage and inorganic fertilizers and biocides, and enhance biodiversity and wildlife habitat. We conclude that to ensure longterm sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems, agricultural production should be guided by policies and regenerative management protocols that include ruminant grazing. Collectively, conservation agriculture supports ecologically healthy, resilient agroecosystems and simultaneously mitigates large quantities of anthropogenic GHG emissions.

    LanguageEnglish (US)
    Pages156-164
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Soil and Water Conservation
    Volume71
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

    Profile

    carbon footprint
    ruminant
    agriculture
    North America
    ruminants
    greenhouse gas
    agricultural ecosystem
    greenhouse gas emissions
    agroecosystems
    soil
    forage
    agricultural production
    carbon sequestration
    soil erosion
    grazing management
    soil emission
    soil carbon
    ecosystem service
    organic soil
    tillage

    Keywords

    • Carbon sequestration
    • Conservation agriculture
    • Ecosystem services
    • Greenhouse gases
    • Regenerative ecosystem management
    • Soil erosion

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Soil Science
    • Agronomy and Crop Science
    • Water Science and Technology
    • Nature and Landscape Conservation

    Cite this

    Teague, W. R., Apfelbaum, S., Lal, R., Kreuter, U. P., Rowntree, J., Davies, C. A., ... Byck, P. (2016). The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 71(2), 156-164. DOI: 10.2489/jswc.71.2.156

    The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America. / Teague, W. R.; Apfelbaum, S.; Lal, R.; Kreuter, U. P.; Rowntree, J.; Davies, C. A.; Conser, R.; Rasmussen, M.; Hatfeld, J.; Wang, T.; Wang, F.; Byck, P.

    In: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, Vol. 71, No. 2, 01.03.2016, p. 156-164.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

    Teague, WR, Apfelbaum, S, Lal, R, Kreuter, UP, Rowntree, J, Davies, CA, Conser, R, Rasmussen, M, Hatfeld, J, Wang, T, Wang, F & Byck, P 2016, 'The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America' Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, vol 71, no. 2, pp. 156-164. DOI: 10.2489/jswc.71.2.156
    Teague WR, Apfelbaum S, Lal R, Kreuter UP, Rowntree J, Davies CA et al. The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 2016 Mar 1;71(2):156-164. Available from, DOI: 10.2489/jswc.71.2.156
    Teague, W. R. ; Apfelbaum, S. ; Lal, R. ; Kreuter, U. P. ; Rowntree, J. ; Davies, C. A. ; Conser, R. ; Rasmussen, M. ; Hatfeld, J. ; Wang, T. ; Wang, F. ; Byck, P./ The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture's carbon footprint in North America. In: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 2016 ; Vol. 71, No. 2. pp. 156-164
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