Water footprinting of pasture-based farms; beef and sheep
Murphy, E. | Curran, T. P. | Holden, N. M. | O’Brien, D. | Upton, J.
In the context of water use for agricultural production, water footprints (WFs) have become an important sustainability indicator. To understand better the water demand for beef and sheep meat produced on pasture-based systems, a WF of individual farms is required. The main objective of this study was to determine the primary contributors to freshwater consumption up to the farm gate expressed as a volumetric WF and associated impacts for the production of 1 kg of beef and 1 kg of sheep meat from a selection of pasture-based farms for 2 consecutive years, 2014 and 2015. The WF included green water, from the consumption of soil moisture due to evapotranspiration, and blue water, from the consumption of ground and surface waters. The impact of freshwater consumption on global water stress from the production of beef and sheep meat in Ireland was also computed. The average WF of the beef farms was 8391 l/kg carcass weight (CW) of which 8222 l/kg CW was green water and 169 l/kg CW was blue water; water for the production of pasture (including silage and grass) contributed 88% to the WF, concentrate production – 10% and on-farm water use – 1%. The average stress-weighted WF of beef was 91 l H₂O eq/kg CW, implying that each kg of beef produced in Ireland contributed to freshwater scarcity equivalent to the consumption of 91 l of freshwater by an average world citizen. The average WF of the sheep farms was 7672 l/kg CW of which 7635 l/kg CW was green water and 37 l/kg CW was blue water; water for the production of pasture contributed 87% to the WF, concentrate production – 12% and on-farm water use – 1%. The average stress-weighted WF was 2 l H₂O eq/kg CW for sheep. This study also evaluated the sustainability of recent intensification initiatives in Ireland and found that increases in productivity were supported through an increase in green water use and higher grass yields per hectare on both beef and sheep farms.Show more [+] Less [-]