New Study: Climate Impact Of Grazing Cattle Overestimated

From The Global Warming Policy Foundation

Date: 05/06/20

Dr David Whitehouse, GWPF Science Editor

The climate impact of grass-fed cattle may have been exaggerated as scientists find emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas from certain types of pasture are lower than previously thought.

Researchers from Rothamsted Research found urine from animals reared on pasture where white clover grows – a plant commonly sown onto grazing land to reduce the need for additional nitrogen fertiliser – results in just over half the amount of nitrous oxide previously assumed by scientists to be released. Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas some 265 times more harmful than CO2 and can account for 40% of beef supply chain emissions.

Co-author of the study, Dr Laura Cardenas said:

Due to technical and logistical challenges, field experiments which measure losses of nitrous oxide from soils usually add livestock faeces and urine they have sourced from other farms or other parts of the farm, meaning that the emissions captured do not necessarily represent the true emissions generated by the animals consuming the pasture.”

Writing in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, the team report how they created a near ‘closed’ system whereby the circular flow of nitrogen from soil to forage to cattle and, ultimately, back to soil again, could be monitored.

Lead author of the study, Dr Graham McAuliffe and colleagues had previously discovered system-wide reductions of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the inclusion of white clover in pasture. This conclusion was primarily driven by a lack of need for ammonium nitrate fertiliser, whose production and application create greenhouse gases.

Full article here

40 thoughts on “New Study: Climate Impact Of Grazing Cattle Overestimated

    • More to the point, the agw climate change issue is that humans dig up ancient carbon from under the ground that does not belong in the current account of the carbon cycle and release it into the atmosphere and this unnatural perturbation of the carbon cycle is what causes anthropogenic warming.

      Carbon cycle flows such as our respiration and that of the soil and the urine and the faeces are part of the current account of the carbon cycle and so are not relevant in this context. Two links.

      Link#1. Please scroll down to Claim#2

      Link#2. External carbon explained.

      • Your graphs, at least on Chrome, seem to have pretty low resolution and are difficult to read. Any suggestions.

        • If you right-click on a chart image, then click on “View Image”, you get just the image. Look at the url of the image up in the address bar, and at the end of it you see “?w=480”. Delete that from the url, and you will get the full size image.

      • “dig up ancient carbon from under the ground that does not belong in the current account of the carbon cycle ”

        its called REPLENISHMENT.

  1. Oh, adding a nitrogen fixing plant (clover) helps? Imagine that. Wow, maybe they should ask more questions of the farmers/ranchers when they go out in the field.

    • “Lead author of the study, Dr Graham McAuliffe and colleagues had previously discovered system-wide reductions of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the inclusion of white clover in pasture. This conclusion was primarily driven by a lack of need for ammonium nitrate fertiliser, whose production and application create greenhouse gases.”

      Their study treats the fields and livestock as locked in rigid locations; ignoring that farmers/livestock raisers rotate livestock and plantings to rest and revitalize fields.
      i.e. researchers are stuck at their “lack of need for ammonium nitrate fertilizer” where output=input assumption without recognizing restoration of nitrates to depleted soils indicates output<input.

      • Yeah, that “lack of need for ammonium nitrate fertilizer” stuck out like a sore thumb for me too.

        Rothamsted Research has a venerable history in agricultural research. It is sad to see such poor quality thinking from yet another of the UK’s once-great institutions.

        • the venerables are retiring or dying
          so as everywhere else we have the the young non- credibles taking over

    • no because they dont want the truth
      and the adding in from elsewhere issue means what they did do was bunkum
      why do I suspect it was feedlot byproducts they used

  2. Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas some 265 times more harmful than CO2

    Would these people please tell me how much theoretical warming current level of Nitrous oxide give, and will they tell me the temperature with or without lovely milk and beef buffalo?

    Oh wait, we may need new thermometers, assuming the current Pt100 ohm thermometers are not precise enough to measure ppm change in temperature.

  3. But the “science” was settled years ago and no mater how the empirical data evolves, we *must* follow the results of the “models…”

    • You may rest assured that these research findings and others that affect LCA of ruminants are “too late” to be incorporated in COP26

  4. Of course it was “overestimated”, this is about pushing political agendas not climate.

  5. So we have degreed scientists checking the emissions of cows eating clover-stabilized pastures in order to quantify the CAGW “problem”? That’s my idea of a University program: Cow Emissions For Fun and Profit! Reminds me of a young lady geologist working her first job for Conoco Minerals-Uranium, in the uranium belt in Texas. The uranium was accompanied by molybdenum and the cows eating the pasture exposed to the high molybdenum level developed “molybdenosis”, which produced tremendous diarrhia. So the lady geologist was driving around on back roads, watching cows with binoculares, noting where cows with diarrhia were most common, See, college degrees can be fun!

  6. And so it begins……..

    The dismantling of climate overestimation models–did they think they were immune to scrutiny? Just wait folks, the coming witch trials are gonna be a sight to see on this one!

    *popping popcorn to watch the show*

    • the recent outedutter rubbish science on hydroxyq etc have been a huge help to wake a few up to betst journals and per review
      that are NEITHER
      and so if lifesaving med data is now proven crud
      the mindset of a few might change too
      can hope.

  7. I read through the whole script and I don’t find “less than previously thought” anywhere. Surely they meant to say that the “cows will kill us all with their gas in time must less than previously thought”. Don’t these people know what science is?

  8. Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas some 265 times more harmful than CO2

    Here’s where that bit of non-sense comes from:

    IPCC AR5 Report Chapter 8 Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing
    Page 731 Appendix 8.A Lifetimes, Radiative Efficiencies & Metric Values

    The Global Warming Potential numbers use the mathematical trick of creating a very small number, nearly zero, and using it as the denominator to generate very large numbers. A true statistic and total bullshit.

    • Thanks for the IPCC “Chapter 8” reference, and also ‘no thanks’ to the extent that it appears to be garbage! At least, a quick view of the chart would seem to indicate that the estimates of ‘GWP’ (stands for Global Warming Percentage or Global Warming Potential, something like that), are essentially as much a ‘trick’ as you say. Real physics would be based on whether a gas like N2O has more or less IR absorptive effect *per molecule*, as compared to CO2, and go from there. However, for N20 to be 265 times ‘better’ on that basis would be quite implausible, one would think! So, the 265x thing no doubt comes from some other calculation or computer model, with no perception as to whether what’s being churned out is really plausible.

      • The main factor in GW potential is how long it is estimated to stay in the atmosphere. Some CFCs get a rrealy bad score because they are estimated to be very stable and hand around for centuries. Probably mostly made up anyway.

  9. The meat haters all seem to forget that there were 10’s of million bison roaming America until the late 19th century farting away just like the cattle.

    • Mike M.,
      Don’t forget large herds of elk, coast to coast, and vast quantities of deer; not the giant antlered rats you see in Commifornia and other places that discourage hunting!

      • Food for thought:

        While travelling along the Arkansas River in May of 1871, Colonel Richard Irving Dodge rode for more than 25 miles through an immense, unbroken herd of bison. As a keen observer and self taught naturalist, Dodge noted that the density of the herd averaged 15 to 20 bison / acre. And after consulting with local travelers and hunters, he concluded that the herd was at least 50 miles long. Based on his observations, that single immense herd covered ~1,250 square miles and contained 12 to 16 million bison.

        A few years earlier, in 1839, Thomas Farnham reported traveling along the Santa Fe Trail for 3 days (and an estimated distance of 45 to 50 miles) through a large herd of bison. Farnham also reported that he could see bison for ~15 miles in all directions, which suggested that this herd covered ~1,350 square miles. At 15 to 20 bison / acre, this herd would have contained 13 to 17.25 million bison.

        The most widely-cited estimate for the bison population (west of the Mississippi) when Columbus discovered America is 60 million animals. This number comes from a paper written after bison were nearly extinct, in 1929, by a researcher named Ernest Thompson Seton. In his paper, Seton relied on an earlier estimate made by a previous researcher, a William Hornaday, who, in a paper published in 1889, arbitrarily reduced the size of the herd Colonel Dodge observed (12 to 16 million animals) to only 4 million. Hornaday considered himself to be a thoughtful, conservative scientist who preferred to err on the side of caution in his numbers, and as such, he downgraded Colonel Dodge’s estimate because he was ‘almost certain’ that the herd Colonel Dodge observed must have been wedge-shaped rather than rectangular. He therefore slashed Colonel Dodge’s estimate of 12 to 16 million animals by more than two-thirds. When Seton later wrote his paper, he not only used Hornaday’s overly conservative estimate, also he also arbitrarily presumed that a herd like the one Colonel Dodge observed would range over an area of ~200,000 square miles. Then using the total area of the plains and prairies of North America (the area of land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and from Great Slave Lake in Canada to the Rio Grande), he guesstimated this region could reasonably support 15 such herds. By multiplying 15 herds x 4 million animals per herd he came up with a guesstimate of ~60 million bison. Sadly, this guesstimate of paleo-bison population has no scientific basis whatsoever.

        Because both Hornaday and Seton used numbers essentially pulled out of their backsides, Seton’s ultimate guesstimate of 60 million bison in North America (west of the Mississippi) when Columbus arrived is likely exceedingly low. A much more reasonable guesstimate could be obtained by simply multiplying Colonel Dodge’s observation-based estimate of 12 to 16 million animals by Seton’s 15 herds, which yields a of pre-Columbian bison population of between 180 to 240 million animals. And even this more reasonable guesstimate may be low.

  10. Firstly, I thought the science was settled, and
    Secondly, “265 times more harmful than CO2”; but if CO2 isn’t harmful in the first place, 265 X 0 is still zero, and
    Thirdly, Mike McHenry is spot on.

  11. Any farmer could of told them this,plus cattle are rotated on fields.otherwise it would not be a field,just a muddy mess.

  12. I’m sorry, but any research that combines off-site samples to get the volumes needed should not get through peer review, simples, this is fraud.

  13. “Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas some 256 times more harmful than CO2…”
    Since CO2 is beneficial, not harmful, you multiply 256 by zero to get: ZERO!
    I think I’ll pull a nice thick steak out of the freezer to celebrate this study showing that grass fed beef is not harmful to the planet. Better have some dark red grape juice to go with, too!
    Never forget that dementia can be one the first signs of lack of essential amino acids; obviously this means that vegetarianism, like Liberalism, can cause dain bramage!
    I don’t know about y’all, but after every roundup I ever worked the first thing I wanted to do was have a great big slab of prime rib or a steak! Cattle are stupid, ornery and vicious, but tasty, critters!

  14. Cows and CO2/Methane…is like saying that 7.7 billion humans breathing out on average about 1.1 KG of CO2 per day adds up to about 8% aerobic respiration of all manmade fossil CO2 emissions, are adding to the overall carbon budget. But it isn’t. Considering humans dig up and burn about 36-37 GT of geological carbon per year, human breath is a significant chunk (8%) of that entire amount, except that it is terrestrial carbon, which is just a temporary use of the existing atmospheric CO2 meaning it doesn’t add to the geological carbon we already burnt. (human respiration/breathing is about 3 GT per year) We breathe in atmospheric oxygen (21%) and exhale some 100x more CO2 than we took in, with each exhaled breath containing about 38,000 ppmv. The carbon we breathe out as carbon dioxide comes from the carbon in the food we eat. So, when the taxman figures this out, expect the carbon tax on food too. But that would really be false, as we are just recycling the CO2.

    It should be the same for cows emitting methane/CO2 since the grass and grain they eat was just going to rot back to methane and CO2 anyway if wasn’t eaten by the cow, (or the buffalo) first. It is kind of a moot point in the scheme of things, all this terrestrial carbon such as growing rice causes more CO2. Same for the critics of biomass saying burning wood causes more CO2 than coal, but that forest was going to burn or rot away anyway in the scheme of things over dozens/100’s of years and it just recently acquired that CO2 from the atmosphere and will again. Same for termites, which produce about 3 GT of methane per year, but the same cellulose they digest was going to rot to CO2/Methane anyway.

    Anyway, we see that we have a much greener and healthier planet with more CO2 than less, so any argument about CO2 being a dangerous pollutant is patently false, and the little bit of theoretical warming we get is also good, a kind of insurance policy on life itself since life is carbon and slightly warmer is better than slightly cooler as we see just recently such as the LIA or worse, major cooling in glacial advances for tens of thousands of years when atmospheric CO2 drops to 180 ppmv, just a hair above the threshold for keeping basic life alive. Most life won’t exist if CO2 levels drop below 150 ppmv which might be a real possibility in the near geological future.

  15. Yet another assumption built into the climate models is found to be faulty.
    Surprise, surprise, the error resulted in assuming too much future warming.

  16. “Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas some 265 times more harmful than CO2”
    265 x 0 = ZERO

  17. Wait a minute here! I’m supposed to believe that a herd of buffalo, 50 miles across, is migratory? As the herd marches to greener pastures (taking, I assume, days/mile), what does the back end of the herd eat, buffalo apples? Seems more likely that the buffalo stayed more or less in place. If they could sustain a density of 15-20 / acre (Impossible in my view); 1 or 2 on a sustained basis even seems a stretch. Something wrong with this picture…

    • Some average search engine ‘stats’ and a correction that these animals are called Bison and not Buffalo. The most average ‘guesstimates’ are between 30-60 million Bison roamed the Great Plains prior to 1800. That is still a lot of animals. There were vast herds, but I also doubt it reached 200+ million at any given time and probably peaked in the Medieval Warm Period when temps were a lot better for prairie grass growth and not the droughts of the LIA prior to 1850.

      Plus western Native Indian populations probably peaked just as they were gaining the horse but succumbing to newly introduced European diseases, circa 1600-1700 AD. Just guessing but probably this interglacial also had the most Bison than previous, just due to all the Megafauna competition for resources and predators like the Sabre Tooth Cat and Short Faced Bear that would have dined on Bison in previous interglacials. So the Bison really did rule the vast Prairie and northern Parkland belts the last 10,000 years. I remember as a kid in the 1950’s northern prairie Aspen being cleared on our farm and finding old buffalo skulls from where they probably died a natural death a century or less earlier.

      “Because the great herds were nearly gone before any organized attempts were made to survey populations, we may never know just how many buffalo once roamed North America, although estimates range from 30 to 75 million.”

      “Though the terms are often used interchangeably, buffalo and bison are distinct animals. Old World “true” buffalo (Cape buffalo and water buffalo) are native to Africa and Asia. Bison are found in North America and Europe. Both bison and buffalo are in the bovidae family, but the two are not closely related.”

  18. “need for ammonium nitrate fertilizer”
    The back end of a cow already does this. The cow fertilizes the grass, creating more feed for the cow

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