Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention
Beef Improvement Federation Research Symposium and Convention

The Carbon Conundrum: Technical Limitations and Opportunities

The Carbon Conundrum: technical limitations and opportunies.

The carbon conundrum is a looming topic for cattle producers all over the world. Cattlemen have questions regarding the topic and the future of producing carbon-neutral beef.

Jason Sawyer, associate professor and research scientist at Texas A&M University–Kingsville’s King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management, shared the technical limitations faced in estimating emissions, as well as opportunities for producing climate-neutral beef.

Estimating emissions comes with limitations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines three tiers of emissions estimation for livestock.

“IPCC is viewed as the authoritative body that sets sort of the guidelines or definitions for how greenhouse gas inventory estimates are created by countries,” said Sawyer. “They define three different tiers of emissions estimation for livestock-based emissions depending on the availability and level of data quality available to a country.”

Each tier has a slightly different approach to calculate methane emissions. Tier 1 is the simplest approach, Tier 2 requires more granular data, and Tier 3 is the most data-intensive tier. There is wide range in emissions factors estimates between the three tiers and between each tier on its own, said Sawyer, who shared a graph (see Fig. 1) showing a wide range in emissions estimates for the U.S. beef cattle inventory over the last 100 years based on methods of calculation representing each of the three tiers.

“We could consider that this range or even some expanded range around this represents the uncertainty around emissions,” said Sawyer.

The other limitation Sawyer discussed was the ability to assess the effects of the emissions on climate factors.

After defining the limitations, Sawyer shared the opportunities created. Those opportunities include better definitions of total emissions, better assessment of the effects of emissions and direct modeling of warming affects.

“There are better ways for us to characterize beef systems and the methane emissions so that we might have clearer prioritization where mitigation efforts can be applied,” said Sawyer.

Sawyer noted there’s plenty of room for further research and creation of new models, as well as opportunities for questions to be answered in the future.

To watch Sawyer’s full presentation, visit To download the slides to the presentation, click here.

More than 300 beef producers, academia and industry representatives attended BIF’s 54th Annual Research Symposium and Convention in Las Cruces, New Mexico. For more information about this year’s symposium, including award winners, coverage of the symposium and an archive to coverage of past conferences, go to

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