Embrapa validates technical guidelines to produce Low Carbon Beef (LCB)

According to the researcher who coordinated the validation of the guidelines for LCB production, Márcia Silveira, the results show that the implementation of the protocol ensures yield and meat quality

After launching the Carbon Neutral Beef (CNB), which values animal farming systems with a forest component and neutralization of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Embrapa validated the guidelines for another protocol that will help cattle farmers produce with a focus on sustainability: Low Carbon Beef (CBC).

The results of the assessment of technical parameters for the LCB protocol for two production cycles in the Cerrado biome in Bahia include cattle farming systems without the presence of trees in the pasture lands, but with the potential to mitigate GHG emissions based on the adoption of good agricultural practices, involving the soil, pasture and animal components.

Eight technical parameters were assessed during the two years of validation of the LCB protocol: soil density, carbon stock and soil quality, availability of forage and soil cover, average animal daily weight gain, weight gain per animal area and enteric emissions. Such parameters are included in the mandatory requirements proposed by the LCB Protocol alongside labor and environmental legislation requirements.

According to the researcher who coordinated the validation of the guidelines for LCB production, Márcia Silveira, who at the time worked at  Embrapa Southern Livestock (Bagé, RS) and is currently at Embrapa Maize and Sorghum (Sete Lagoas, MG), the results show that the implementation of the protocol ensures yield and meat quality, so as to increase profitability without giving up on maintaining or increasing soil carbon stocks and the mitigation of GHG emissions, on top of land-saving effects, that is, when there is less pressure on native vegetation. “It is another step towards production efficiency that considers product quality and its production environment,” Silveira says.

Brands like LCB and CNB have been developed under the aegis of the Low Carbon Cattle Farming Platform, which aims to add value to animal products produced in more efficient systems with less environmental impact. The technical guidelines to produce Low Carbon Beef were launched in 2020, and they are in line with the Low Carbon Agriculture Plan (ABC+ Plan).

Such parameters needed validation in a commercial production environment before the protocol was made available for voluntary adhesion by cattle farmers. “In this sense, the validation conducted by Embrapa will become a model for LCB certification in beef cattle farms that wish to produce meat within this scope,” says Roberto Giolo, a researcher at Embrapa Beef Cattle and leader of the Low Carbon cattle farming Platform.

Trijunção project 

Embrapa Validates Technical Guidelines To Produce Low Carbon Beef (Lcb)

Photo: Marcia Silveira

The case study was performed at the Santa Luzia Farm, belonging to the Trijunção Farm, located between the towns of Cocos and Jaborandi, in Bahia. The farm name, trijunction, refers to the neighbouring point where the borders of the states of Bahia, Goiás and Minas Gerais meet.

The property is a reference in beef cattle production through Good Agricultural Practices (GAP),  with structured sequential data for the entire production system. This stage of validation of the technical guidelines lasted from May 2019 to September 2021, totaling two full cycles of animal production assessments in the system.

The Technological Reference Unit (URT) comprised two plots, as well as an area of native vegetation (Cerrado). The first plot containing the forage grass Brachiaria brizantha cv. Marandu, had 115 hectares divided into four paddocks, representing conventional management. The second plot, of pastures recovered with Brachiaria brizantha cv. BRS Piatã had 85 hectares, also divided into four paddocks and managed according to the technical guidelines for LCB production. The areas were used to rear and terminate Nelore bulls.

This study is part of a project coordinated by researcher Flávia Santos (on the left, in the picture with Márcia Silveira), also from Embrapa Maize and Sorghum, entitled: “Agricultural intensification aimed at the sustainability of the use of sandy soils – Trijunção Project”. The guidelines resulting from the studies contribute to the main goal of defining the best agricultural intensification strategy based on sustainable production systems for sandy soils.

Santos considers that the importance of working in sandy soils lies in the fact that they correspond to about 20% of the area of Matopiba, which is the country’s last agricultural frontier. “However, because these soils have a sandy mix, in which the clay contents are less than 15% in the first 50 cm of depth, there are a number of limitations: low levels of organic matter, low CEC (cation exchange capacity), low water retention, weak structuring, high acidity, low fertility, among others”, the researcher points out.

“Therefore, the suitable management of those soils is a major challenge and should focus on building in-depth fertility, increasing organic matter, soil cover, crop rotation and intercropping, integrated production, etc., fundamental factors for their sustainable incorporation into the production process. In this sense, integrated systems are viable management alternatives, and the technical guidelines presented are perfectly in line with that purpose, ” Santos concludes.

The validation of the LCB Guidelines was divided into studies on soil, forage and animal components, involving performance and enteric emissions, in addition to the economic assessment of the reference unit results. For that purpose, it involved a multidisciplinary team from Embrapa Southern Livestock, Embrapa Maize and Sorghum, Embrapa Beef CattleEmbrapa Cerrados and Embrapa Cocais.

Results in figures

The researcher Flávia Santos underscores that the data from the soil component showed that the nutrient contents remained higher in LCB than in conventional management, as well as in comparison with the Cerrado, and so did the biological activity assessed through the enzymes beta-glucosidase and arylsulphatase.

“Considering the 0-20 cm layer of soil in 2019, the carbon stock in the soil under the LCB protocol was higher than in the Cerrado soil (an extra 5.4 tons per hectare), and in 2021 it was higher than conventional management (an additional 2.5 tons per hectare), a difference that was not observed in the 0-40 cm layer of soil. But due to the sandy texture, where there is no physical protection for the organic matter by soil particles, the accumulation of organic matter and carbon stock is more difficult and time consuming, ” Santos reports.

As highlighted by researchers Manoel Ricardo, from Embrapa Maize and Sorghum, and Manuel Macedo, from Embrapa Beef Cattle, “these results show that, in sandy soils, it is necessary to monitor fertility, density and C stocks more frequently, as their low clay content, lower protection of organic matter and weak physical structure also lead to more frequent variations in their characteristics”.

“With regard to the forage component, the forage mass (kilogram per hectare, kg/ha, of dry matter – DM) and soil cover (%) were higher in the LCB treatment in comparison with the conventional treatment, presenting figures above 2,000 kg/ha of DM and soil cover above 80%, as recommended in the LCB guidelines”, the researcher Márcia Silveira observes.

As for animal performance, the average daily weight gains per animal were similar across treatments, with average daily gains (ADGs) of 440 grams per day (g/day) and 404 g/day in LCB, in the first and second cycles assessed, and 430 g/day and 375 g/day in conventional management, in the first and second cycles assessed.

However, Silveira points out that in the LCB treatment higher gains per area were recorded in light of the possibility of working with higher stocking rates, in this case, 2.33 and 2.77 animal units per hectare (AU/ha) in the two LCB assessment cycles and 0.89 and 0.70 AU/ha in the two conventional management cycles. Those higher gains per area did not increase the intensity of enteric methane emissions.

As for the economic view, the analyses showed LCB has higher profitability than conventional management due to the higher yield per area over the period analyzed and, in the second harvest, the possibility of the LCB animals reaching the minimum weight for confinement and subsequent slaughter. “The results thus indicate that the implementation of the LCB protocol provides higher yield per meat area, with increased profitability,” states Mariana Aragão, a researcher at Embrapa Beef Cattle..

“From an environmental perspective, the LCB production system provided good soil cover, which impacted the maintenance of the carbon stock and the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, on top of promoting a land-saving effect and resilience in the production system,” Giolo adds.

Concept brands

The Low Carbon Cattle Farming Platform is a genuinely Brazilian initiative developed by Embrapa and partner companies. Over ten years, the initiative brought developed the concept brand design closer to the reality of the cattle farmer. “The concept brands embody the science, follow international standards, and are associated with a certification process – monitoring, reporting and verification,” Giolo observes.

Also according to Giolo, the CNB and LCB brands aim at the sustainability of agricultural systems. Created between 2012 and 2020, CNB can be used in cattle farming systems with trees (e.g. silvopastoral and agrosilvopastoral systems), and the forest component is responsible for the carbon sequestration to offset the emissions of grazing animals. In Brazil, the CNB protocol has the potential to be applied in between two and ten million hectares.

In turn, the LCB brand is associated with cattle farming systems without the presence of trees, which, based on good agricultural practices involving the recovery and correct management of pastures in an integrated crop-livestock system, promote an increase in the carbon stock in the soil, mitigating GHG emissions from the system.

It is estimated that pastures store 20% to 30% of the world’s soil carbon and have the potential to sequester carbon through improved management of the pasture-based animal production system, bringing significant benefits to environmental sustainability as they occupy large areas. In that sense, studies indicate that the correct management of pastures can be considered the second most important agricultural technology for the mitigation of global climate change.