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Variability of greenhouse gas emissions and economic performances on 10 Piedmontese beef farms in North Italy
Agricultural Systems  (IF5.37),  Pub Date : 2021-10-02, DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2021.103282
Dennis Bonnin, Ernesto Tabacco, Giorgio Borreani


The discussion on the sustainability of beef production has grown considerably, but the research on this topic has mainly been focused on farm-model studies considering a single year and only assessing the environmental impacts while neglecting the temporal representativeness of the data (variability) and the economic sustainability of beef production systems.


This work is aimed at evaluating the environmental impacts and economic performances of beef production through a joint assessment based on a dataset compiled on commercial farms to take into account the variability of the environmental impacts and economic performances over a 4-year period. Farms rearing suckler cows and fattening animals (whole cycle farms) in Northern Italy were taken as a case study.


Data have been collected from detailed on-farm questionnaires, field books, and invoices on 10 whole-cycle Piedmontese beef farms for four consecutive years (2016-2019). The collected data enabled to evaluate the environmental impacts by means of the global warming potential (GWP) LCA category, and economic efficiency indicators. Furthermore, correlations between the environmental impacts, economic performances and productive efficiency have been investigated.


The assessment of the environmental impacts showed a mean GWP value of 15.0 kg CO2 eq/kg LW, thus highlighting a high variability between farms and years. It has been found that farms characterized by a better productive efficiency had lower GWP emissions. The studied farms also showed high variability, in terms of economic performances, especially for the productivity of family work and farm household income. It has also been found that the environmental and economic sustainability of beef cattle farms is linked by a negative correlation (Pearson's r = −0.707 and P -value <0.001), thus implying that the farms that show lower environmental impacts tend to be characterized by better economic results.


From the findings of this study, it therefore seems appropriate that efficient production practices, especially improvements in productive and reproductive efficiency, coupled with high farm feed self-sufficiency and low concentrate consumption, should be applied as mitigation strategies to reduce the environmental impacts of beef farms, thereby allowing good economic results to be achieved at the same time. Furthermore, to obtain more reliable results, the study indicates that it is advisable to carry out evaluations of environmental impacts and economic performances over several consecutive years. However further research involving a bigger farm sample and different production systems is needed to confirm the findings of this case study.