Modelling nutrient cycles in agriculture and their environmental impacts

AS Sykes*, CFE Topp, RM Rees

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Rationale for environmental modelling in agricultureWe know that our climate is changing, and the international community is committed to taking action to reduce overall levels of greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid dangerous climate change. Agriculture will play an important role here given that agriculture and land use are responsible globally for around 24% of greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change has been identified as the most potent threat facing the global economy (World Economic Forum, 2019), and public, scientific and political consensus generally reflects this sentiment (Lorenzoni & Pidgeon, 2006). In line with this, the Paris Agreement formalised a commitment to hold the increase in global average temperature to below 2oC since pre-industrial times (Griscom et al., 2017a). Achieving this commitment is certain to be extremely challenging (Peters et al., 2013), and will require significant reduction in emissions from all sectors. If rising demand for livestock protein is to be met, livestock agriculture therefore faces the dual challenge of reducing emissions while increasing production. This process has already begun; Opio et al. (2011) show the changes which global production has undergone in response to three decades of population and income growth. However, livestock remains a significant contributor to the global greenhouse gas (GHG) budget; global emissions from livestock production contributed 18% to total annual anthropogenic emissions in the first years of the 21st century (Steinfield et al., 2006). A growing global herd and high per-head emissions (Opio et al., 2013) means that cattle (i.e. beef and dairy production) form a significant proportion of this total, contributing almost three-quarters of total emissions (Caro et al., 2014). Over time, emissions from beef have risen by an estimated 59% over 50 years (Caro et al., 2016).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAssessing the environmental impact of agriculture
EditorsBo Weidema
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherBurleigh Dodds Science Publishing Limited: Series in Agricultural Science
Number of pages69
ISBN (Print)13: 9781786762283
Publication statusPrint publication - 26 Aug 2019


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