The development of a modeling platform to examine management alternatives to improve the sustainability of beef production
White, Robin R.
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The objective of this research was to develop a modeling platform to test the effects of management practices on sustainability of beef production systems. A simulation model was constructed to examine the role of improved efficiency on environmental impact (land use, water use and greenhouse gas emissions; EI) of beef production systems while increasing economic viability and consumer willingness to pay (WTP). An optimizer was developed to adjust cattle diets to minimize whole-system EI while constraining production costs within the bounds of consumer WTP. Cradle-to-farmgate EI and production costs were calculated following the simulation model. Consumer WTP for environmental attributes of beef was determined by meta-regression of published estimates of consumer WTP. The validated model was then used to assess how nutritional, reproductive and genetic management could help improve sustainability. Nutritional management alone reduced EI by 2%. Twinning or decreasing the calving window decreased EI by 17% or 11%. Selected bulls by expected progeny difference reduced EI by 18%-19%. Finally, Bayesian analysis was used to quantitatively summarize consumer WTP for environmental attributes of meat. The model predicted U.S. consumers WTP ranged from 6.7% to 32.6%. The confidence range was used to predict probability of consumer purchase across the schedule of WTP. When probability of purchase was ignored, this range in WTP equated to a maximum 65.5 L/kg beef reduction in water use when beef cattle diets were adjusted. When probability of purchase was factored in, a 10% increase in WTP optimized theoretical opportunity to decrease EI, netting a 41.4 L/kg beef reduction in water use. A novel model was successfully developed and used to assess the role of specific management practices and their use in improving beef production sustainability. Optimizing nutritional management, including reliance on precision pasture management, while concurrently improving genetic and reproductive efficiency, substantially improved sustainability. Additionally, when relying on WTP as a method of incentivizing adoption of environmental-impact reducing management practices, focus should be put on obtaining market share rather than sacrificing cost in an attempt to reach the biological ideal opportunity to minimize environmental impact.