As the world turns its attention to agriculture’s role in climate change, so the mountain of relevant resources grows. Farmers and ranchers have a connection to the earth that has always been integral to what they do. Seeing more data gathered and shared is largely a good thing. However, with recent approaches like carbon offsetting gearing towards the farming industry, it’s important to distinguish the trends that will have the greatest impact by using accurate, reliable data.
Key things to remember when evaluating statistics
Finding out where statistics come from before deciding whether you should trust it is a good start. Scrutinise every source, asking yourself who funds the organisation that is releasing the data and who their members are. Do they collaborate with other research institutes, groups, or industry players? How closely do they work with farmers or ranchers in conducting their research? Most importantly, are they gathering on-the-ground data that’s relevant to you and the role that livestock farming plays in climate change?
Top five sources for livestock-related data
To demystify the data, we’ve compiled a short list of trustworthy sources that cover global and regional areas. While some data may have global applications, remember that there is no ‘one size fits all approach’ to livestock farming.
1. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Founded in 1945, the FAO is a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN) that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Moreover, it aims to create a world where “the livestock sector sustainably contributes to the welfare of people and conservation of natural resources”.
Wondering how the FAO’s work can help farmers and ranchers? Start by perusing the key facts and figures from its acclaimed Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock report. (Did you know that approximately 44 percent of livestock emissions come from methane?) You’ll also find links to publications and videos about FAO’s role in livestock and the environment. Consider getting involved in its Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership. It provides technical guidance on assessing the environmental impacts of feed and livestock production and has some interested statistics too.
2. Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D)
The LD4D does precisely what its name implies: it arms farmers and decision-makers with the data they need. This enables them to find symbiotic solutions for farming, food security, and environmental sustainability.
Launched in January 2017, LD4D is a platform for sharing evidence-based findings from research trials. These findings stem from its community of organisations throughout the livestock sector, alongside research from other expert sources. Here’s a highlight: the collaboratively-created Livestock Project Portal. It gives funders, governments, and the people implementing projects a big-picture view of the work being done throughout the globe, with some decent statistics.
LD4D’s helpful “report back” supplies data from the June 2022 international Greenhouse Gas and Animal Agriculture Conference (GGAA). It highlights how challenging it is for some countries to formulate the local emission calculations vital for establishing a baseline. Only five of 141 Low or Middle-Income Countries succeeded in calculating emissions. (Delve into the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Management Institute’s very helpful definition of a “baseline” here.)
3. Centre for Innovative Excellence in Livestock (CIEL)
CIEL is a UK-based organisation that’s proud to be a world leader in research and technology regarding the livestock industry. CIEL’s platform tackles “the issues that no one part of the livestock food production sector can address alone”.
Importantly, it counts several prestigious universities and research institutes among its growing membership. They’re joined by organisations and people that are involved in farming and agriculture. The relevance of its widely cited annual report extends far beyond the UK.
This free factsheet on how beef farmers can reduce emissions is a good place to get started with some useful statistics as goals. Want a standout statistic or bit of data? The GHG emission intensity of UK-produced beef (48kg CO2 – eq/kg of meat from dedicated beef herds) is equivalent to half of the global average.
4. The US Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB)
The USRSB is a multi-stakeholder initiative that advances the sustainability of the United States’ beef sector. In mid-2022, the group released a revised set of sustainability goals for the beef supply chain.
This includes data targets against which producers can hold themselves and tools to help them bring sustainable beef to market.
Achieving climate neutrality by 2040 is one key goal. This is attainable because there is good baseline information about the US beef industry’s contribution, among other reasons. A major milestone on this path would be “establishing a baseline for acres under grazing management plans by 2023”.
5. Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA)
MLA is the official research body in Australia’s meat and livestock industry. Like its regional counterparts, MLA recognises the importance of ongoing Research and Development (R&D). Its dedicated online sustainability hub is replete with a database of R&D reports.
This MLA report focuses on the use of novel feed supplements to reduce methane emissions in livestock. It’s one example of the group’s focus on technology that drives the reduction of carbon emissions in the industry. Interested in topics such as Australia’s red meat and livestock industry’s progress in reducing net greenhouse gas emissions? Find out how they halved it by checking MLA’s multimedia range of FAQs.
Let’s start with a baseline
Every farm and every ranch is different, so micro-level research – beyond global or national contexts – is essential. The first step is creating a baseline to understand your individual situation, and how it fits into the wider world. Your baseline provides the standard by which you can measure any changes: your data might be different from global or national statistics. You can set goals to reduce the emissions your farm produces and improve the welfare and productivity of your animals. Data on how far we’ve come and where we’re going in this journey toward sustainability is being collected daily. As such, a larger variety of credible organisations are making their resources available to farmers and other land custodians. From there, they can put knowledge into action and realise even the most ambitious goals. And it all starts with data. After all, we can’t manage what we can’t measure.