May 10, 2023
Look around and you’ll see “sustainability” claims in food marketing and packaging. But how do you measure the buzzword? How sustainable is the claim that’s on the packaging?
Putting metrics to sustainability methods and tools is the next frontier in agricultural research, and Colorado State University is leading the way in the livestock sector with its AgNext research center.
AgNext is bringing the knowledge and research skills of the CSU Departments of Animal Sciences and Agricultural Sciences with the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences into one initiative: to develop sustainable solutions in animal agriculture. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson, AgNext director, says what sets this collaborative effort apart is that AgNext is focused on innovations that have a practical real-world application.
“We innovate in real time to improve the health of animals and ecosystems,” she says. “And we’re really interested in enhancing profitability on the farm and also supporting those rural communities that provide food for the globe.”
According to its website, AgNext has three focus areas:
Resiliency. The advancement of human, animal and ecosystem health while improving food security and strengthening communities
Efficiency. Enhancing the health, performance, efficiency and safety of the supply chain to optimize natural resource use
“Regeneracy.” Creating management strategies that steward natural resources use in animal agriculture production
To get real-world applicable sustainability solutions, the first step is to gather data. Sara Place, associate professor of Feedlot Systems, joined AgNext bringing her industry knowledge from a career focusing on sustainability in the cattle industry with her. The work AgNext will be conducting will answer a lot of questions surrounding greenhouse gas emissions and the role cattle play: What greenhouse gas emissions are created in the production cycle? How can cattle producers influence that production with their tools and decisions? How can they be documented on commercial operations?
“A big part of our research right now is benchmarking those emissions from cattle systems, both from the grazing side of things and on the cattle feeding side of things to look at what are those emissions — how they’re influenced by diet, for example,” Place says. AgNext’s research will look at these solutions through a practical lens, she says, making sure these mitigation strategies make economic sense for livestock producers.
AgNext’s Climate-Smart Research Facility was finished in 2022. CSU says is the largest research facility dedicated to climate-smart research in the country, with more than $1 million in donated equipment from industry partners.
“On the feedlot cattle side of things, we can measure methane emissions and feed intake on basically 150 to 300 head simultaneously,” Place says. That’s closer to a real-world setting, using commercially relevant rations that meet the industry standards. It’s equipped with SmartFeed, SmartFeed Pro, SmartScale and GreenFeed machines designed by C-Lock Inc. In addition to six climate smart pens that can hold 50 head each, the facility also has a 200-acre grazing pivot for grazing research.
Beyond the state-of-the-art facility, CSU has also committed to funding 12 faculty to join the AgNext team, Stackhouse-Lawson says.
Place and Stackhouse-Lawson both emphasized that the results to be found through this research will be the basis for decision tools for producers going forward. For example, Place says, cattle producers have signaled that they would like to know how much methane their cattle are producing; but also, what is the economic relevancy of that number and how much does that cost them? They may be considering a feed additive that is meant to reduce methane emissions, but does it make economic sense for their operation? AgNext’s research will help cattle producers get beyond the buzzword.
To learn more about AgNext or to follow along with some of its research, visit agnext.colostate.edu.
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