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Mixed result of Australian decade-long experiment to farm carbon-neutral meat

Mixed result of Australian decade-long experiment to farm carbon-neutral meat

Image source: Β© canva
Marta Grzeszczuk,
21.02.2024 16:15

The owners of an Australian farm that raises cows and sheep prematurely declared success in achieving climate neutrality.

Methane emitted by cows accounts for as much as 80% of emissions from raising animals for meat. In the European Union alone, the meat production industry contributes 54% of methane emissions, accounting for 30% of global warming since pre-industrial times. As a result, various experiments are being conducted worldwide to minimise the harmful impact of animal farming for meat on climate change.

Climate neutrality experiment on an Australian farm

As reported by Euronews, one such experiment began more than a decade ago in Australia. Mark Wootton and Eve Kantor's farm, located 250 km west of Melbourne, raises around 20,000 sheep and 550 cattle. Spanning 34 square kilometres, Jigsaw Farms comprises lush pastures and eucalyptus plantations. They are interconnected by wetlands and wildlife corridors to encourage biodiversity. Wootton and Kantor hoped to run their business in a climate-neutral way.

In order to reduce their carbon footprint, they planted hundreds of trees and maintained the soil quality. This resulted in the sequestration of significant carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, by 2011, the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered was enough to offset the annual emissions associated with wool, lamb and beef production. The process of storing greenhouse gases in the soil using trees and mycelium is the only known method for removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere. This is crucial to prevent global warming and minimise the effects of climate change.

A new report points to the loss of climate neutrality on the farm

"In the early 2010s, we were pretty cocky that we had conquered this thing," Wootton told the Guardian. "We thought we’d cracked the formula."

However, a recent report has found that the balance between methane emissions from cows and sheep and carbon sequestration by trees was only temporary. The author of the report, Professor Richard Eckard, an agricultural economist at the University of Melbourne, explained that cows and sheep continue to produce the same amount of methane yearly. Still, the rate of carbon sequestration slows down as trees grow taller.

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Young trees absorb the most carbon dioxide. As they grow, they take in less and less each year, and Jigsaw Farm has already passed the peak sequestration point. In addition, the soil, initially enhanced by the transition to deep-rooted perennial grasses, is now saturated with carbon, so it cannot take in any more from the atmosphere.

According to Prof Eckard's study, the farm sequestered between 70.3% and 83% of its annual emissions in 2021. The scientist's model predicts that by 2031, Jigsaw Farm will have absorbed just over half of what it did in 2012 when carbon sequestration peaked, Euronews reports.

Climate-neutral meat production on the current scale is not possible

It turns out that even the best farms, like Jigsaw, cannot maintain climate neutrality. It is impossible to have CO2-neutral farming on the scale currently in demand for meat. According to the latest report from Our World in Data, almost 45% of habitable land is used for agriculture, with 80% of this land used for grazing animals or growing crops to feed them. This amounts to an area equivalent to the whole of the Americas. Forests cover the rest of the habitable land.

Due to the lack of space, planting enough trees to offset the emissions from raising animals for meat is impossible. Experts suggest that reducing global meat production and reclaiming land in this way is the only effective way to counteract climate change, as well as the loss of biodiversity threatened by monocropping for feed.

Source: euronews.com

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