Carbon cost of beef and lamb production

Project number:                    74311

Lead contractors:                 ECO2

Partners:                                  Promar, Kite and MLCSL

Start & end date:                   January 2010 – September 2010


The Problem:

True measures of the GHG cost of beef and lamb production linked tio financial costs of production from working farm enterprises have not been collected and published on any scale.


Project Aims:

To collect GHG and financial cost of production data from 30 beef and 30 sheep enterprises that reflect the pattern of production across England (with regard to lowland and upland sites and broad system) using beef and sheep farm models that are Carbon Trust accredited..

ECO2  had completed the Carbon trusted accreditation for their beef model but not the sheep model.  A subsidiary aim of the project was to develop and accredit with the Carbon Trust a sheep model.



The ECO2 team were contracted to collect and process data from farms provided to them from the Promar list of EBLEX business pointers farms.  The 30 sheep units were 10 each of hill, upland and lowland.  The 30 beef units were 5 lowland sucklers, 10 upland sucklers, 15 dairy bred finishing enterprises (including 2 Holstein bulls systems).

The ECO2 team worked with the carbon Trust to develop and accredited an acceptable methodology  for sheep assessment.



The full results are published in the EBLEX Roadmap 2 – testing the water.


Commercial beef production footprints

Across 30 beef units studied, the E-CO2 carbon calculator shows an average 100-year Global Warming Potential (GWP100) of 11.93kg CO2 eq per kg liveweight, or 23.9kg per kg of carcase weight.
There is a wide range around this average – from little more than 3kg CO2 eq per kg liveweight (6.4 kg/kg carcase weight) to nearly 27kg (53.8 kg/kg carcase weight).

These levels are noticeably higher than the industry-wide benchmarks established by the original CranfieldUniversity modelling in Phase 1. This does not lessen the validity of the figures in the first instalment, but simply reflects the difference between broad theoretical studies and the narrower, but very much more commercial, focus of the E-CO2Project assessments we have been able to carry out.

Most importantly, when the most recent assessments are analysed by the main beef production systems, they underline precisely the same trends in GHG emissions shown by the Cranfield estimates (Table 1.1).


Table 1.1: English beef production system footprints

Environmental   Impact (GWP100)

Kg CO2 eq/kg liveweight


 Kg CO2 eq/kg liveweight


Lowland suckler beef


11.26 – 26.89

Upland suckler beef


8.83 – 20.60

Dairy beef


3.19 – 14.19


These results confirm that GHG emissions are notably higher in more extensive systems, based on lower quality forages that support lower growth rates, generating greater levels of methane.

Comparing environmental performance and economic performance shows encouraging links, hitherto assumed but which can now be demonstrated. Every 5kg CO2 eq reduction in GHG emissions per kg of liveweight, is associated with a 50p per kilogram improvement in financial margin (Figure 1.1).

74311 - ECO2 - Figure 1.1 Relationship between beef environmental and economic performance



Figure 1.1:

Relationship between beef environmental and economic performance



The most significant driver is the efficiency of feed use.


Commercial sheep production footprints

The E-CO2 sheep enterprise assessments show a similar relationship to the original Phase 1 Cranfield University industry modelling. Overall, the average 100-year Global Warming Potential (GWP100) calculated across 30 monitor units was 11.95 CO2 eq per kg liveweight or 23.9kg per kg of carcase weight.

As with the Cranfield modelling, the average GHG emissions per unit of sheep output are very similar to those per unit of beef production, exceeding the original theoretical industry-wide estimate to a similar degree.

Individual sheep system estimates again show lowland flocks having a distinct environmental advantage over hill enterprises, mainly as a result better quality forages and higher growth rates (Table 1.2).


Table 1.2: English sheep production system footprints

Environmental   Impact (GWP100)

Kg CO2eq/kg liveweight


 Kg CO2 eq/kg liveweight


Hill flocks


8.55 – 19.22

Upland flocks


9.40 – 13.56

Lowland flocks


9.57 – 12.87


Again, the range of emissions within each main production system demonstrates the considerable potential for improvement by addressing productive efficiency.

This position is underlined by an even more positive association between environmental and financial performance than in the beef industry – every 1kg CO2 eq reduction per kg liveweight in GHG emissions being associated with a 28p improvement in enterprise margin (Figure 1.2).

74311 ECO2 - Figure 1.2 Relationship between sheep environmental and economic performance



Figure 1.2:

Relationship between sheep environmental and economic performance




The main drivers are feed efficiency and litter size.


Planned activity:

The results were published in the Roadmap in December 2010.  Promotion at Open meetings and in events around the country including speaking engagements organised by a number of government and private organisations.