Calgary Herald

U of A study finds upside for province in production of beef and barley


Barley, a key feed crop for beef production, is set to benefit from the warmer temperatur­es and increased humidity that come with climate change, shows University of Alberta research.

Researcher­s looked decades ahead to 2064 to assess the water footprint related to barley and the beef industry, concluding rain-fed barley crops in northern Alberta will increase while irrigation-fed crops in the south will remain stable, requiring less water for production.

“Global beef production is set to increase by 74 per cent by 2050 to meet global population and economic developmen­ts, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultur­e Associatio­n,” watershed scientist Monireh Faramarzi, an assistant professor in the U of A’s Department of Earth and Atmospheri­c Sciences, said in a Thursday news release.

“With the majority of beef production happening in Alberta, not only for all of Canada but also globally, it’s important to understand water-related risks to the industry.”

Faramarzi and post-doctoral fellow Badrul Masud predicted how rain-fed and irrigated barley will change in the future by examining the water patterns in the province, modelling how barley will respond.

“Plants like greenhouse gases, and by consuming more CO2, they won’t need as much water to produce the same amount or more yield. This means the irrigated water saved can be directed to different purposes that are more useful for the province. So the message is actually positive,” said Faramarzi.

The Alberta-wide research showed the amount of water per tonne of barley production will be cut between 10 per cent and 60 per cent for most rain-fed and irrigated barley. Most of the water in agricultur­al beef production is used for feed.

Faramarzi said that globally, producing one kilogram of wheat requires 900 litres of water, one litre of milk requires 1,000 litres of water, and one kg of beef can require between 16,000 and 32,000 litres of water.

“When you talk about climate change, people always think about the negative side. This comprehens­ive study will help establish the idea that climate change is not always negative. In some areas of the world, people can benefit from increased CO2 gases, such as in this instance of barley crops in southern Alberta,” said Masud.

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