Water use intensity of Canadian beef production in 1981 as compared to 2011


Legesse, G., Cordeiro, M.R.C., Ominski, K.H., Beauchemin, K.A., Kroebel, R., McGeough, E.J., Pogue, S., McAllister, T.A. (2018). Water use intensity of Canadian beef production in 1981 as compared to 2011, 619-620 1030-1039. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.194

Plain language summary

Despite increases in the amount of beef meat produced (comparing 1981 to 2011), the amount of utilized drinking water decreased by 20% for each kg of boneless meat produced.


© 2017 The amount of beef produced per animal in Canada increased significantly from 1981 to 2011, due to enhanced production efficiency and increased carcass weight. This study examined the impact of improvements in production efficiency on water use intensity over this period. Temporal and regional differences in cattle categories, water use for drinking, feed production and meat processing, feeding systems, average daily gains, and carcass weight were considered in the analysis. Potential evapotranspiration (PET) was estimated by the National Drought Model (NDM) from 679 weather stations across Canada using the Priestley and Taylor equation. To adjust PET estimates for each crop included in cattle diets, FAO crop coefficients were used to calculate total feed water demand. Estimates of drinking water consumed by a given class of cattle accounted for physiological status, body weight and dry matter intake as well as ambient temperature. In both years, drinking water accounted for less than 1% of total water use with precipitation (i.e., green water) included for feed and pasture production. With exclusion of green water, drinking water accounted for 24% and 21% of total water use for Canadian beef production in 1981 and 2011, respectively. The estimated intensity of blue water (surface and groundwater) use per kilogram of boneless beef was 577 L in 1981 and 459 in 2011, a 20% decline. The observed reduction in water use intensity over the past three decades is attributed to an increase in average daily gain and slaughter weight, improved reproductive efficiency, reduced time to slaughter as well as improvements in crop yields and irrigation efficiency. Given that feed production accounts for the majority of water use in beef production, further advances may be achieved by improving feeding efficiencies and reducing water use per unit of feed crop and pasture production.