EMAG - National model for evaluating environmental impacts of cattle production systems in Uruguay
Keywords:environment, grazing systems, cattle, model
Cattle and sheep systems in Uruguay and worldwide are challenged to reduce their environmental footprint while increasing efficiency and production. To achieve this challenge, user-friendly tools are needed that can translate research findings into practical information that could improve decision making by farmers and advise different stakeholders. Despite this, there are a limited number of applied environmental models in other countries and they are typically based on productive, high-quality pasture/crop-feed systems with relatively high inputs. In contrast, cattle and sheep production in Uruguay is largely associated with extensive grazing systems on unique natural grassland systems of relatively poor feed quality and often with no nutrient inputs in fertilizers. Thus, there is a need for a model that can take account for these types of systems and bring together relevant country-specific data to provide information of relevance for Uruguay. The EMAG (Evaluación Medio Ambiental Ganadera) model accounts for multiple environmental and resource use indicators of nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) balances and losses, greenhouse gas emissions and use of fossil energy. Results are provided on a per-hectare and per-kg product basis. This decision support tool for cattle and sheep farmers systems is based on life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology from “cradle-to-farm gate” for all resources use indicators. It uses national parameters and in case of lack of information is supplied from international research in pastoral systems. The model use for environmental methodology tier 2 animal energy model to account for key animal productivity and management practices. EMAG is a user-friendly model that requires basic information for a farm system divided into land use (forage types used uniquely for natural grassland in Uruguay), animal management (beef cattle and sheep), farm inputs (fertilizers, supplementary feeds, seeds and agrochemicals) and fossil energy (fuel and electricity) used in the system. EMAG can help to identify hot-spots of emissions and resource use, as well as to evaluate changes over time. In addition, it can be used to test cattle or sheep management practices or evaluate mitigation options within the system. By providing multiple indicators, EMAG can be used to provide information to avoid “trade-offs” between environmental impacts when assessing future options. As an example of usability, the paper reports a case study which showed potential benefits of improving environmental efficiency and note interesting result around negative P balance when increase productivity in a system. In summary, EMAG is a decision-support tool developed with the objective of evaluating the environmental performance of cattle and sheep systems, that would help farmers in decision making and different stakeholders according to their interest.
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