Beef producer Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) says its sustainability blueprint is the first of its kind for the beef industry. It has detailed five environmental commitments to set the standard. 

AACo CEO and managing director Hugh Killen said, “We work across the beef supply chain and the Australian landscape in a way that few others do. That’s why a framework of this nature, along with these commitments is significant,” Killen said. 

AACo has operations across 6.4 million hectares in Queensland and the Northern Territory, or roughly one per cent of Australia’s land mass. 

Killen said the company is making five commitments towards a greener nation including the country’s first methane trial, investing in climate solutions, technology for carbon dioxide removal, and an international animal welfare certification. 

Australia’s largest integrated cattle and beef producer Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) is partnering with seaweed manufacturer Sea Forest to reduce methane emissions from its cattle. (Image source: Sea Forest)
 (Image source: Sea Forest)

The company recently announced its partnership with seaweed manufacturer Sea Forest to reduce methane emissions from its cattle. The pilot program, co-funded by Meat and Livestock Australia, will start with 81 wagyu cattle having asaparagopsis seaweed incorporated into its feed.

With 14 per cent of global emissions coming from methane, it is the world’s second largest greenhouse gas producer after CO2 but produces 34 times more heat. Killen said the trial will serve as the first step of turning research into practice and will notify people that the industry is taking action. 

“The science behind emerging technologies such as feed additives is sound, however there are often significant challenging in maturing them to an operational reality that we can apply at scale. 

“This process will enable us to set ambitious reduction targets in the near future,” he said. 

Funding for action 

AACo will invest approximately $500,000 into environmental advisory group Wylarah Institute, aiming to transform sustainability science and research into practices that can be applied across the world. 

Killen said emerging technologies had the potential to significantly improve the environment across the Australian agricultural industry. 

“Feed additives are one example, but it could involve emerging disruptive agricultural technologies, commercialisation pathways for traditional food products or much more. 

“As an industry we’re faced with multiple challenges food, drought, global competitions, geopolitical tensions, biosecurity concerns, changing consumer preferences and more,” he said. 

Killen added the necessity for fast and scalable practices, which can be applied across the industry is required now more than ever. 

Carbon dioxide removal 

AACo is one of a number of industry and research businesses to partner with the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) on a $6.5 million project to develop a a remote sensing tool to estimate, manage and forecast soil carbon sequestration in rangelands. 

Soil carbon sequestration is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the environment and storing it in the soil carbon pool. 

Killen said: “Using carbon sequestration to earn and then trade credits currently relies on expensive soil tests that price companies even of our size out of the market, let alone smaller operations and reduces the incentive for improving soil quality.” 

Currently, tests can cost more than $20 per hectare,adding close to $130 million to baseline the company’s operations. 

Australian Carbon Credit Units are expected to increase from $20 in 2020 to $50 by 2030, with the global carbon market currently valued at $369 billion. 

“Through alternative farming practices, we can maintain or increase soil carbon, which in-turn reduces atmospheric carbon. No other industry can sequester carbon like this,” he said. 

The relevant data to make these changes will be available to thousands of Australian farmers to create new revenue streams that reward sustainable practices by lowering measurements costs. 

Improving nature through methodology 

AACo is also working with Accounting for Nature, a company that measures environmental conditions through its scientific methodology framework. It works with farmers, indigenous land managers, businesses, impacts investors and other organisations 

The collaboration will allow AACo to measure changes in nature capital values such as biodiversity, at scale. 

“Nature capital refers to air, water, soil, geology and all living organisms that come together to provide the fundamental services required to support life. 

“It’s the foundation of everything we do and investing in the protection and regeneration of nature through this scientifically robust measurement and reporting process, is fundamental to our business and the sustainable production of food,” said Killen. 

AACo will also use Accounting for Nature’s framework to create improvements in its nature capital. 

Certified animal welfare 

By 2024, AACo said it would create an internationally acknowledged Animal Health and Welfare certification standard to address the gap in certification particularly in relation to the northern Australian rangelands. 

“Certification opens markets, commands price premiums and provides a framework to drive improvement in practices,” Killen said. 

Killen added the company will develop its certification standard in collaboration with key industry partners and continue to adhere to the Five Domains of Animal Wellbeing. 

Killen said the commitments and framework show AACo is taking its role seriously when it comes to sustainability. 

“The framework embeds sustainability at the core of our business and will be used to prioritise our activities, set goals, and hold ourselves accountable. 

“We recognise our responsibility to mitigate our climate impact and to produce food in a way that benefits future generations,” Killen said.

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