Tag Archives: Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson

Food Waste, Sustainability, and the Journey of Continuous Improvement…

In my never ending search for knowledge, I look to scientists to help me understand complex topics.  While I recognize that as a “layman” I will never completely understand the details, visiting with experts helps me to gain a good general understanding.  This enables me to make educated decisions in my daily life.  One of the best perks of working as a volunteer consultant outside of my farm is the opportunity to meet scientists who work in a myriad of subjects involving beef production.

As a mother of three girls, it is especially fun for me when the scientist is a confident and articulate young woman who holds all of the traits of a great mentor.  Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson spent some time sharing with us last spring explaining the topic of sustainability as it relates to raising beef.  She is back this week visiting with us on the topic of food waste and its role in the journey of continuous improvement.


Anne: What have you done personally in your life to improve your “food waste footprint”?

Kim: Reducing food waste is important to me and my husband. Cooking for two is sometimes challenging due to portion sizes that are available in grocery stores so we get creative with “left-over” recipes, which are becoming more and more popular and are easy to find online. My favorite beef leftover recipe is beefy sweet potato hash for breakfast, on beefitswhatfordinner.com. Another thing we do is raise backyard chickens. We have three Rhode Island Reds. We call them the “grandma chickens” because we named them after our grandmothers: Georgia, Carol, and Gaylean. They eat all of our food waste from preparing meals. Just this week I made tacos, so there was waste including stems from cilantro and avocado skins.

Anne: Can you please (as a scientist) speak to the topic of food waste relative to beef sustainability and the life cycle assessment? What role does it play in reducing the footprint of beef?

Kim: Food waste is an area where with small changes we, as society, can make a huge difference in sustainability. Approximately, 30-40% of our food is wasted in the U.S. resulting in a $161 billion dollar loss. The concern for me about food waste is not just monetary – it is environmental, and at a minimum we are wasting 2/3 of our natural resources on food that we waste. That is irresponsible. Beef is wasted much less than other foods, at 20%, but if we could reduce that waste by half we could improve the sustainability of beef production 10%.

Anne: What further research needs to be done relative to the topic of food waste?

Kim: The most pressing issues around food waste are communicating with consumers that it is a concern and teaching everyone ways they can help reduce waste – from backyard chickens that produce eggs, to more frequent trips to the grocery store, to left-over recipes – we all can help reduce food waste, help the planet and save money!

Anne: What further research needs to be done in order to accurately denote beef’s footprint relative to sustainability?

Kim: The science underpinning sustainability is quite new and while there has been tremendous progress made to better understand sustainability – like the beef industry’s comprehensive beef life cycle assessment – there are still a lot of unknowns, especially related to the unintended consequences of food production. For example, life cycle assessments aren’t comprehensive enough to capture the benefits of open space, improved water quality, wildlife habitat, land use change (from pasture to row crop), use of marginal lands for food production, or native grassland health – to name a few– all of which are dependent on the beef industry. In other words, we can’t yet quantify in a sustainability metric the whole food system as it relates to beef.

Kim pictured with

Kim, pictured with Georgia (one of her “grandma chickens”), at her home in Colorado…

I look forward to continuing to follow Kim’s progress as she develops ideas for reducing waste in the beef production system, as well as further determining beef’s environmental footprint…

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Sustainability Q and A with Dr. Kim Stackhouse-Lawson

It is my job to care for him in the best way, and also using the fewest natural resources...

It is my job to provide him with good care, and also to use the fewest natural resources to grow nutritious beef…

Matt and I care about the sustainability of our farm.  We not only want it to endure, but to thrive.  Our goal is to produce high quality products through the judicious use of natural resources.  In our journey to continuously improve, we look to scientists like Dr. Stackhouse-Lawson for guidance.

Below is a Q and A with Dr. Kim where she answers my biggest questions relative to the topic of sustainability.

Anne: Why do you think that it is important for beef farmers and ranchers to understand issues related to sustainability in beef production?

Kim: The largest challenge that agriculture is faced with today is preparing to feed a growing population which is expected to surpass 9 billion people by 2050. This population will require at least 70% more food using fewer resources than we have today.   Beef producers have a rich heritage of passing ranches and feed yards from generation to generation, however, sustainability is more than that.  With the increasing pressure of producing more food with limited resources, it is more important than ever before to utilize research and science to help meet this challenge.

For this reason, the beef checkoff has funded the largest sustainability assessment ever conducted along a food supply chain.  This study will ensure that U.S. beef producers will have the knowledge to continue to produce high quality beef while increasing our stewardship of land and resources.

Anne: Why is it important to have scientific documentation of the environmental footprint of beef?

Kim: It is important to have scientific documentation about our industry’s sustainability so that farmers can better utilize new innovations.  It is also imperative that the beef industry be able to measure improvements. One of the real challenges with sustainability is that 100 people will have a hundred different definitions.

The beef industry’s definition is much larger than the traditional definition of just carbon footprint or measuring greenhouse gas emissions. To the beef industry, sustainability is about balancing environmental responsibility, economic opportunity, and social diligence.

Anne: Explain the scope of the beef sustainability study, as well as the initial findings.  What are we doing well, and what do we need to work on?

Kim:  We used a life cycle assessment to predict environmental, economic, and social impacts to benchmark the sustainability of U.S. beef in the past and present. Millions of data points were utilized to accurately capture all inputs and outputs along the beef value chain. Comparing sustainability over time allows us to understand how improvements in cattle management and changes in technology affect industry sustainability.

Since 2005 the sustainability of beef has improved significantly.  Some examples of why U.S. beef industry sustainability has improved include: Improvements in crop yields, animal performance, and the increased utilization of bio-gas recovery.

This life cycle assessment method also allows us to identify areas where opportunities for improvement exist; some examples include: improving cattle utilization of protein in their diets, reducing packaging material, and reducing food waste.

Anne: What is the next step after the results are validated?

Kim: We are expanding the work to regionalize the data, so farmers can utilize the results to analyze their operation, regardless of where they raise cattle. This is a very important aspect of our sustainability project because a one-size-fits-all approach is not sustainable.

Different areas of the country have different resources available, and every producer faces a variety of challenges based on where they live and the climate they face. We are also working to develop a tool that will allow producers to assess individual approaches to improving sustainability on their farm.

beef sustainability image


Filed under General, Sustainable Spring