Climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to be a “hot” topic in public discourse in the U.S. and across the globe. As a part of the discussion, various sectors’ GHG emissions are being increasingly scrutinized, livestock production being one of these sectors. A recent AFBF Market Intel piece by Dr. John Newton provides insight into agriculture’s contribution to GHG emissions using data from the USDA Economic Research Service and EPA’s GHG Inventory Data Explorer. When measured by sector, agriculture represented 9 percent of all GHG emissions in the U.S. in 2017, totaling 582 million metric tons. The transportation sector is the largest GHG contributor, accounting for 29 percent of all emissions. Crop cultivation represents 50 percent of agriculture’s GHG emissions, and livestock production contributes roughly 42 percent. About two-thirds of the livestock emissions are methane emissions. In total, methane emissions from livestock represent about a quarter of total U.S. methane emissions, or 2.5 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions.
When productivity gains are considered, though, livestock methane emission per unit of production have declined substantially since 1990. Figure 4, created by Dr. Newton, shows the decline in methane emissions per unit of production. For beef production, methane emissions have dropped more than 1 metric ton for every ton of beef produced. Newton found productivity trends and technology adoption are reducing the footprint of agricultural GHG emissions. Agriculture is producing more food, fuel, and fiber using less inputs, thus becoming more sustainable. (Agriculture and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Dr. John Newton, AFBF Market Intel, March 5, 2019.)