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Good science for improving policy: greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural manures

Pratt, Chris, Redding, Matthew, Hill, Jaye, Shilton, Andrew, Chung, Matthew, Guieysse, Benoit
Animal production science 2015 v.55 no.6 pp. 691-701
animal manure management, beef, climate change, dairy farming, farms, feedlots, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, industry, inventories, issues and policy, methane, nitrous oxide, poultry, risk, sheds, swine, Australasian region, Australia, New Zealand
Australia’s and New Zealand’s major agricultural manure management emission sources are reported to be, in descending order of magnitude: (1) methane (CH4) from dairy farms in both countries; (2) CH4 from pig farms in Australia; and nitrous oxide (N2O) from (3) beef feedlots and (4) poultry sheds in Australia. We used literature to critically review these inventory estimates. Alarmingly for dairy farm CH4 (1), our review revealed assumptions and omissions that when addressed could dramatically increase this emission estimate. The estimate of CH4 from Australian pig farms (2) appears to be accurate, according to industry data and field measurements. The N2O emission estimates for beef feedlots (3) and poultry sheds (4) are based on northern hemisphere default factors whose appropriateness for Australia is questionable and unverified. Therefore, most of Australasia’s key livestock manure management greenhouse gas (GHG) emission profiles are either questionable or are unsubstantiated by region-specific research. Encouragingly, GHG from dairy shed manure are relatively easy to mitigate because they are a point source which can be managed by several ‘close-to-market’ abatement solutions. Reducing these manure emissions therefore constitutes an opportunity for meaningful action sooner compared with the more difficult-to-implement and long-term strategies that currently dominate agricultural GHG mitigation research. At an international level, our review highlights the critical need to carefully reassess GHG emission profiles, particularly if such assessments have not been made since the compilation of original inventories. Failure to act in this regard presents the very real risk of missing the ‘low hanging fruit’ in the rush towards a meaningful response to climate change.