Brahman cross cattle grazing tropical pastures in North Queensland © WWF-Aus / Kerry Trapnell

Brahman cross cattle grazing tropical pastures in North Queensland © WWF-Aus / Kerry Trapnell

Beef

No other rural industry impacts more of Australia than our beef industry. More than 63,000 farming businesses are producing beef from 43% of the country's landmass. We are also the world's second largest beef exporter, which injects an estimated $8.4 billion into the Australian economy.

More than any other livestock industry, the beef industry relies on healthy natural ecosystems. Fodder and clean water are essential. But cattle production is costly to the environment. Clearing native vegetation for pasture has sacrificed wildlife habitat, and poor grazing practices have seen excess sediments enter waterways and damage places like the Great Barrier Reef. Cattle are also significant greenhouse gas producers, which contributes to climate change.

Environmental degradation and a changing climate loom as threats to the future of Australian beef production. However, there are opportunities for our largest rural industry to become a true environmental champion. Australia, and indeed our economy, may depend on it.

What WE'RE doing

Why it matters 

Australia's beef industry is a large economic contributor and land user. It’s crucial that we work with the industry to encourage the uptake of sustainable practices that reduce its negative impacts and support the environment.

These improvements are urgently needed. Half the Great Barrier Reef's coral has disappeared in the last generation and sediment from grazing lands is playing a significant role in its demise. Sediment loads from the waterways entering the Reef are more than five times natural levels. This silt and mud not only smothers seagrasses and coral; it also transports other pollutants.

Droughtmaster cows and calves, Mt Brisbane Station, Esk, Southeast Queensland © Ian McConnel

Impacts

  • Landclearing
  • Sediment
  • Global warming
  •  

    Landclearing
    Native vegetation is still being cleared for agriculture in Australia and roughly 90% of that is to open up new areas for grazing. In 2014, about 300,000 hectares of native vegetation was cleared in Queensland alone, destroying the habitats of millions of native animals and plants.

    Sediment
    Poor grazing practices that reduce the amount of grass in a paddock can lead to erosion. Erosion sees soil leave the landscape and enter waterways. We know that sediment moving onto the Great Barrier Reef is having a major impact on the health of coral and seagrasses. This has contributed to over half the Reef's coral dying in the past 30 years.

    Climate change
    Beef production has a considerable effect on climate change. Enteric emissions from cattle digestion and the release of carbon from forest destruction and land degradation are the major sources of greenhouse gases. Ironically, the beef industry, more than any other, relies on a healthy and stable climate for production.

    Recommended Reading

    • bg-blue (Oceans)

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