Abstract for:A Modeling Framework to Assess the Impact of the Texas Beef Cattle Water Footprint on Livestock Sustainability

Beef cattle production is one of the highest water consumers within the U.S. agricultural industry. The anticipated growth in the demand for beef products driven by increased protein consumption, brings into question the efficiency, sustainability, profitability, and social dimensions of increased water use for beef production. Current documentation of U.S. beef production provides a wide range of water footprint (WF) measurements of green (rainfed), blue (ground or surface), and grey (waste treatment) water use, which also lacks clearly defined region-specific estimates. Recent beef WF (WFB) estimates range from 2,100 to 14,191 L of H2O/kg boneless beef while others have reported estimates that range from 27 to 200,000 L/H2O/kg boneless beef. Thus, meaningful assessment of water needs and synergistic improvement toward a sustainable and water-efficient beef cattle industry are limited by the uncertainty of existing WF methodologies to evaluate complex water consumption dynamics of the first three major phases of the beef cattle production chain; cow-calf, stocker, and feedlot. This study describes the development of a model that estimates a Texas WFB, allows users to evaluate assumptions and parameters of current methodologies, identifies water-use inefficiencies, and provides policy recommendations for sustainable beef cattle water-use.