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Agricultural Systems 155 (2017) 126–135

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Impact of roughage-concentrate ratio on the water footprints of beef feedlots MARK

a,⁎ b c
Julio Cesar Pascale Palhares , Marcela Morelli , Ciniro Costa Junior
Embrapa Pecuária Sudeste, Brazil
Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia/USP, Pirassununga, SP, Brazil
Instituto de Manejo e Certificação Florestal e Agrícola – Imaflora, Piracicaba, SP, Brazil


Keywords: The aim of this study was to determine the water footprint of beef feedlots up to the farm gate and evaluate the
Blue water impact of roughage-concentrate ratio on the green water footprint. The study purpose was to provide strategic
By-products insights about nutritional management and water used that have a positive impact reducing water demand and
Green water increasing water efficiency. A regional bottom-up approach of the beef feedlot production was applied and water
footprint methodology was used as the primary method. We included green and blue volumetric water footprint.
Sensitivity assessment was done to explore differences in agricultural performance. Total water footprint ranged
from 1935 to 9673 m3 kg− 1 of meat. The results are demonstrating the variability in water footprint that can
exist from farm to farm. Green water represented on average 84.5% and blue water 15.4% of the footprint value.
The farms with larger amounts of concentrate in the diet had high footprint values and the differences in feed
composition have a significant effect on the water footprint. The average water footprint of the current crop
yield was 5814 L kg− 1 of meat. With a reduction of 25% in the current crop yields, it was 7.416 L kg− 1 of meat
and with an increase of 25% in the current crop yields, 4677 L kg− 1 of meat. These results show that increasing
agricultural productivity has positive impacts on reducing the water footprint. The results show that the water
footprint values of feedlots are determined largely by the type of animal diet and by performance indicators of
the animals. The roughage-concentrate ratio and type of roughage are the nutritional aspects that most
significantly influence the footprint values. This study supports the recommendation that beef feedlots should
place emphasis on maximizing the use of roughage, because this could decrease the pressure on fresh water

1. Introduction improve the performance of individual farms, there is a need for water
consumption studies to include detailed farm-level data regarding
It is important for producers to recognize the growing concerns climate, agricultural practices, and utilization of feed (Jeswani and
attributed to water-animal nexus and for researchers to propose Azapagic, 2011; Krauß et al., 2015b; Ridoutt and Huang, 2012).
assessments to evaluate this nexus and improve water balance on Strzepek and Boehlert (2010) water scarcity will become a major
livestock supply chain and farms. With the increasing demand for limiting factor to food security due to possible inter-linkage and
animal products in the coming decades, balancing animal productivity competition between the water and the food supply system. Sultana
with water use will require a concerted effort among producers, et al. (2015) to problems of water scarcity and food security, there is a
scientists, agroindustries, and consumers to reduce the risks associated need for research to develop appropriate strategies that optimize water
with animal water demand and scarcity. Numerous management and use efficiency and increase livestock production without off-setting
resource factors determine the environmental outcome on farms, and water resources. Winchester and Morris (1956), considering areas of
the impact of any change needs to be determined by taking into account limited water supply, quantitative information on water requirement of
the whole farm system. farm animals is comparable in importance to information on the
There is increasing recognition of the tension between livestock animals' other nutrient requirements. Sultana (2013) suggested that
production and water use, hence understanding the distribution and in terms of water use efficiency goals, benchmarking with other farms
demands for freshwater in livestock production are of particular can be useful so that the individual farmer can see what others are able
importance (Busscher, 2012; Ridoutt et al., 2014).To contribute to to achieve and can strive towards the best practice.
better insight into the demand for freshwater in a specific region and to The world has over 1.3 billion cattle — about one for every five

Corresponding author at: Rod. Washington Luiz km 234 13560-970, São Carlos, SP, Brazil.
E-mail addresses: (J.C.P. Palhares), (C.C. Junior).
Received 12 December 2016; Received in revised form 25 April 2017; Accepted 28 April 2017
Available online 12 May 2017
0308-521X/ © 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
J.C.P. Palhares et al. Agricultural Systems 155 (2017) 126–135

people on the planet (FAOSTAT, 2015). Within the livestock sector, calculation is more challenging.
beef emerges as the commodity receiving most attention for its The water footprint approach provides information about water
environmental impacts. Rabobank (2016) as countries continue to consumed and the impact of the product in the quantity and quality of
develop, greater incomes will be achieved, increasing food consump- water. Several approaches exist for assessing water footprint, and one of
tion and putting additional pressure on agriculture producers and them is the Water Footprint Network method (Hoekstra et al., 2011).
water, especially in major producing regions. Gerber et al. (2015) this The water footprint concept was introduced as an indicator of fresh-
is due to the evident aggregated contribution that beef production water appropriation, with the aim to quantify and map indirect water
makes to global environmental issues such as climate change and water use and show the relevance of involving consumers and producers
use. Beef production from feedlots is expanding throughout the world. along supply chains in water resource management (Hoekstra et al.,
Feedlots are well established in countries such as the US or Canada and 2011). The evaluation of freshwater use is possible by assembling
rapidly growing in other regions, such as South America, Asia, and methods in a comprehensive methodology to adequately characterize
Africa, driven by an increasing demand for meat in urban areas. each use. The current state of the art can already provide a preliminary
Feedlots make use of relatively abundant crop products and co- understanding of water uses and associated impacts (Kounina et al.,
products. Vasconcelos et al. (2007) feedlot operations are nevertheless 2013). Manzardo et al. (2014) underlined the importance of applying
associated with relatively high impacts on water resources and air water footprint accounting to minimize local effects on water resources,
quality, mostly due to the geographical concentration of production such as water stress and availability.
units. Tilman et al. (2002) stated that feedlots are generally sourced Mekonnen and Hoekstra (2012) estimated that beef cattle were
from industrial crop production, and thus contribute to environmental responsible for 33% of the global water footprint of animal production
issues such as eutrophication, water depletion, and emission of and almost 10% of the global water footprint of total agricultural
pesticides into the environment. production. Water footprint of beef cattle in Brazil was based on global
Brazil is already the world's second largest beef producer and averages. No Brazilian case study was considered in the assessment, and
exporter. The Brazilian beef industry is on the verge of a transformation this raises doubts whether regional- or country-specific case study
shift towards rapid intensification (Rabobank, 2014). The beef feedlot footprints will be the same as the global averages. The global averages
industry has grown substantially in the last decade as the external show very small variations, from 15,415–15,497 L/kg of beef, including
market demand for fed cattle has increased. Brazilian cattle are fed in green, blue, and grey water estimates (Ran et al., 2016). In contrast, the
feedlots mostly during the dry season when pasture availability is study by Mekonnen and Hoekstra (2012) presents relatively large
decreased. In 2014, approximately 36 million cattle were slaughtered, variations between regions and production systems. Grazing systems,
which includes cattle on grass and in feedlots (IBGE, 2014). Approxi- for example, have a range of 16,353–26,155 L/kg of beef, mixed
mately 10% of the cattle slaughtered in Brazil were finished in feedlots systems of 11,744–16,869 L/kg of beef, and industrial systems of
in 2014.Cederberg et al. (2009), today, a minor fraction of the Brazilian 3856–13,089 L/kg of beef.
beef is produced in feedlot systems, but this production will most The aim of this study was to determine the water footprint of beef
probably increase in the future. For upcoming studies, it is essential that feedlot up to the farm gate and evaluate the impact of roughage-
resource use from complementary feed production is also included. concentrate ratio on the green water footprint. The study provides
Most significantly, cow and calf producers draw on narratives of strategic insights about nutritional management and water used. This
balance between economic and environmental concerns, focus on study presents the first water footprint assessment of Brazilian beef
environmental benefits, emphasize good management principles, and feedlot using farm-specific data, which does not currently exist in the
fragment their understanding of the beef industry to maintain dis- scientific literature.
courses of sustainability. Abstract and cumulative impacts from the beef
production were not easily observed by producers and were therefore 2. Material and methods
not the focus of producers' environmental efforts. In other words, a
situated and fragmented view of the cattle production allows producers A regional (state of Sao Paulo, Brazil), bottom-up approach of the
to self-identify as stewards (Kessler et al., 2016). The footprint beef feedlot production was applied in the analysis and water footprint
approaches are a way to change this fragmented view of the beef methodology was used as the primary method. Beef cattle feedlot is one
supply chain and help to achieve its sustainability. of the production systems used in Sao Paulo, within which productive
Beckett and Oltjen (1993) water used for beef cattle can be divided managements follow the general patterns of feedlots throughout Brazil.
into drinking water, water used for producing feed, and that used for Bos indicus cattle is a common practice in Brazilian feedlots.
processing the cattle into beef. Ridout et al. (2011) water footprint is Concentrate feed provided on each farm consisted of corn and soya
likely to become part of the mainstream dialogue about sustainability, meal; roughages are corn silage, sugar cane, and its bagasse.
much like the carbon footprint. Similarly, Murphy et al. (2016)
quantifying the water footprint of agricultural outputs is a first step 2.1. Systems data and reference unit
in reducing the pressures on freshwater systems resulting from livestock
production, while at the same time providing end user information. Data used in this paper consists of both primary and secondary data.
Water footprint assessment across the entire value chain of livestock The study considered the core process of the feedlot (fattening stage
products is gaining prominence because the livestock industry has where the animals are brought to the age of slaughtering) and the
crucial deficits in meeting the food needs of the increasing human upstream processes: cultivation and animal feed (formulation A,
population without exerting potential impacts on water resources formulation B, formulation C, and so on). Production of farm buildings,
(Zonderland-Thomassen et al., 2014). machinery, medicines, and pesticides were excluded.
Considering the relevance of livestock and the essential role that The reporting period was one production cycle (from 80 to
water plays in it, there is a high need for water footprint assessment in 110 days, average 90 days) based upon farm enterprise budgets. The
this sector. Beef production systems are very diverse and encompass underlying typical farm datasets were derived from Costa Junior et al.
cow-calf, stocker, and feedlot operations. Most of the environmental (2013). This research analysis was based on 17 farms (Table 1).
concerns have been directed at the feedlot industry due to the fact that Productive characteristics of each feedlot were based on process data
large numbers of cattle are housed in a small area in certain from site visits and dialogues with property managers.
geographical regions. Because animal breed, growth rate, feeding The reference unit was kg of fresh meat (meat with fat without
intensity, and carcass composition are significantly more variable to bones and offal). The live weight of the animal was converted to carcass
beef cattle than any other livestock and poultry, water footprint beef by multiplying live weight by 54.5%. This value was multiplied by

J.C.P. Palhares et al. Agricultural Systems 155 (2017) 126–135

Table 1
Productive characteristics of each feedlot.

Farm Number of animals Inicial body weight Final body weight Average gain Period of Live weight Meat Climatic station Annual
cycle− 1 (kg) (kg) (kg day− 1) cycle (kg cycle− 1) (kg cycle− 1) precipitation
(days) (mm)

1 800 240 357 1.3 90 285,600 120,194 Sao Carlos 1133

2 7150 380 470 1.0 90 3,360,500 1,414,263 Valparaiso 1180
3 10,000 320 480 1.5 90 4,800,000 2,020075 Borborema 981
4 1500 320 480 1.5 90 720,000 303,011 Piracicaba 1316
5 50,000 320 480 1.5 90 24,000000 1,0100376 Andradina 998
6 300 320 428 1.4 80 12,8400 54,037 Sarutaia 1189
7 8000 270 433 1.6 100 3,464,000 1,457,821 Barretos 1300
8 1750 320 480 1.5 107 840,000 353,513 Borborema 981
9 10,000 320 480 1.5 90 4,800,000 2,020075 Borborema 981
10 1000 320 446 1.4 90 446,000 187,699 Batatais 1139
11 6000 375 525 1.5 100 3,150,000 1,325,674 Bauru 995
12 500 380 523 1.3 110 261,500 110,052 Bebedouro 1089
13 1500 380 523 1.5 95 783,750 329,840 Bauru 995
14 500 320 480 1.4 90 240,000 101,004 Fartura 1189
15 600 370 523 1.7 90 313,800 132,062 Guara 1570
16 1500 380 540 1.6 100 810,000 340,888 Barretos 1300
17 150 320 480 1.6 100 72,000 3,0301 Presidente 1286

1% (loss of water during frozen, cold carcass) and 78% (percentage of The crop evapotranspiration requirement (ETp, mm/period of growth)
meat with fat in the carcass). In this study, the output is defined on a was calculated using the crop coefficient (Kc) for the respective growth
mass basis (meat with fat). period and reference crop evaporation (ETo) summed over the period
from sowing to harvest (Allen et al., 1998). The crop coefficient is crop-
2.2. Water footprint calculation specific and varies over time, depending on the growth stages of the
crop (initial, crop development, mid-season, and late season). The
We included green and blue volumetric water footprint. Quantified sowing date, length of the growing period, and Kc values of a desired
freshwater use included water required for on-farm cultivation of crops crop were also noted. Evapotranspiration for each feed consumed at
for concentrate feed and silage and water required for animal husban- each farm was calculated based on climatic data collected from the
dry. Calculations adopted the concept of water footprint as described in nearest and most representative meteorological station (CIIAGRO,
the Water Footprint Assessment Manual by Hoekstra et al. (2011). 2017). Land use for the production of grains, silage, and sugar cane
To produce a product of agricultural origin, rainfall evaporated was calculated based on total animal feed intake, considering a feed
from the soil, absorbed by roots, and transpired by the crop as well as intake of 10.1 kg dry matter− 1 head− 1 day− 1 (Millen et al., 2009), one
the water incorporated in the harvested crop (Hoekstra et al., 2011) feedlot production cycle per year, and the crop yield.
must be considered. This represents the green water and is understood Soybean crop produces two products, meal and oil. Meal is the form
as an indirect use of water. A large amount of data is needed to estimate that cattle feed on. Technical conversion factors for agricultural
the green water footprint. When the purpose of the assessment is to commodities (FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
make a rough estimate, it is common to work with climate data from Nations, 2013) were used to calculate the water quantity from
nearby locations, crop data obtained from standard statistics, and more evapotranspiration that is used to yield meal. Considering the Brazilian
readily available regional or national averages. When the study is case, each grain produces 77% as meal and 23% as oil.
carried out at farm scale, more detailed climate and crop data are Blue water footprint refers to “blue water consumption” or “net
needed for the calculations. Pimentel et al. (2004) assessing consump- water withdrawal” and is equal to the volume of fresh surface water and
tive water use is linked to feed is a specific methodological challenge, groundwater that is withdrawn and not returned because the water
particularly for ruminant production systems. A simplified approach is evaporated or was incorporated into a product (Mekonnen and
to attribute all, or a fixed share, of the evapotranspiration from all the Hoekstra, 2014). In this study, the blue water calculation comprises
biomass that grows in an area. According to Ran et al. (2016), another consumptive water use through animal drinking, water to feed mixing,
approach is estimate the feed required to produce a certain amount of and water in the meat. The equation for blue water is expressed as:
animal product and the corresponding evapotranspiration for that feed.
Such calculations are more accurate, since they generate water BW = (Wani‐drinking) + (Wfeed) + (Wprod) 2
estimates directly related to the quantity of biomass consumed by
where BW is blue water (m3 tonne− 1), Wani–drinking is consumption
animals rather than the production of biomass over an area.
of (drinking) water by animals (m3 tonne− 1), Wfeed is consumption of
This study assumed that feed was grown on each farm and fed in
water for feed mixing (m3 tonne− 1), and Wprod is the percentage of
feedlots in that region, which implies that the water required to grow
water in 1 tonne of meat.
feedstuffs is used at regional water efficiency.
Drinking water intake was calculated from the dry matter intake
The equation for green water is expressed as:
(kg day− 1), salt intake (kg day− 1), precipitation (cm day− 1), and
GW = ∑ p =1 (ETC[a, s] + Product[s]) 1
maximum ambient temperature according to Hicks et al. (1988).
The water consumed for feed mixing is assumed to be 50% of total
where GW is green water (m tonne ), ETc [a, s] is the potential crop concentrate dry matter intake (DMI) (0.5 L kg− 1 DMI) according to
evapotranspiration of each feed ingredient p consumed by animals a in Mekonnen and Hoekstra (2011). Water consumed to produce feed
a farm s (m3 tonne− 1), and Product [s] is water content in feed additives was not considered.
ingredient p in farm s (m3 tonne− 1). The grey component of WF, defined as the amount of water needed
The potential crop evapotranspiration for sugar cane, silage, and to dilute all the sources of pollution to restore a standard environmental
grain crops was calculated based on the crop coefficient method (Kc). condition, was not included in this study. Its estimation is quite

J.C.P. Palhares et al. Agricultural Systems 155 (2017) 126–135

Table 2
Agricultural scenarios to sensitivity assessment: actual crop yields, reduction of 25% in the actual crop yields, and increase of 25% in the actual crop yields.

Farm Roughage (tonne ha− 1) Concentrate (tonne ha− 1)

Maize silage Maize silage Maize silage Sugar cane Sugar cane Sugar cane Soya Soya Soya Maize Maize Maize
actual Yield + 25% −25% Actual + 25% − 25% actual yield + 25% − 25% actual yield + 25% − 25%

1 11.3 15.1 9.0 35.8 47.7 28.6 44 58 35

2 36.1 48.1 28.9 376.5 502.1 301.2 621 828 497
3 70.7 94.3 56.6 799.8 1063.5 638.8 199 266 160
4 3.4 4.5 2.7 71.6 95.5 57.3 147 196 200
5 50.5 67.3 40.4 1431.7 1908.9 1145.3 7772 10,363 6218
6 0.6 0.8 0.5 9.2 12.3 7.4 33 44 27
7 9.2 12.9 7.4 383.4 511.9 306.5 1177 1569 942
8 4.2 5.6 3.4 74.9 99.6 59.9 414 551 331
9 131.3 175.1 105.0 448.2 597.6 358.6 607 810 485
10 5.6 7.4 4.4 58.6 78.1 46.9 49 65 39
11 23.6 31.5 18.9 532.4 708.3 425.4 595 792 475
12 2.5 3.4 2.0 35.1 46.6 28.00 72 95 57
13 12.8 17.1 10.2 53.7 71.5 43.0 235 314 188
14 7.6 10.1 6.1 20.6 27.4 16.5 12 16 10
15 3.2 4.3 2.6 32.1 42.7 25.7 33 44 27
16 1.7 2.4 1.4 71.9 96.0 57.5 221 294 177
17 0.8 1.0 0.6 9.6 12.7 7.6 24 33 20

complex, mainly when the kind of pollution is diffuse, and could result The sum of water footprints ranged from 1934 m3 kg− 1 to
in misleading water footprint results due to the great variability of 9672 m3 kg− 1 of meat. The results are demonstrating the variability
runoff conditions that exist in each feedlot (i.e. different soils and in water footprint that can exist from farm to farm when we calculate
nutrient concentration in the manure lead to completely different WF with farm-specific data that enabled this variation be captured. Green
volume estimation). water represented on average 84.5% and blue water 15.4% of the
footprint value. Hydro-efficiency in livestock depends on agriculture,
2.3. Sensitivity assessment because the highest water demand to produce meat is found in feed
production. The larger percentage of green water confirms the im-
Sensitivity assessment was done to explore differences in agricul- portance of rainfall, which endorses why Brazilian agriculture and
tural performance of maize silage, sugar cane and sugar cane bagasse, livestock have a competitive factor compared to other countries.
corn, and soya production per hectare. We used three scenarios which Owusu-Sekyere et al. (2016) since green water is the largest contributor
were applied to each feed ingredient in order to determine variation of to the total water footprint for feed production for lactating cows,
the results: (1) actual crop yields; (2) reduction of 25% in the actual particular attention should be given to feeds such as maize meal, high
crop yields; and (3) increase of 25% in the actual crop yields. Table 2 protein concentrate feeds, and soybean, which have high green water
shows the agricultural scenarios to each local. footprints in order to minimize green water consumption.
The farms with larger amounts of concentrate in the diet had high
3. Results and discussion footprint values. When the concentrate represented 90% of the diet,
footprints ranged from 6685 to 9673 m3 kg− 1 of meat. The inclusion of
Table 3 presents water use by roughage and concentrate, volumetric 80% represented a footprint variation from 4628 to 5236 m3 kg− 1 of
and percentage of green water footprint, volumetric and percentage of meat. Farms 4 and 5 used the same roughage (sugar cane bagasse) and
blue water footprint, and the sum of blue water footprint and green presented the same daily weight gain (1.5 kg day− 1), initial and final
water footprint. weights of the animals, and confinement period (90 days). However,

Table 3
Percentage and volumetric of green and blue water footprint and, the sum of blue and green water footprint.

Farm Water use by roughage (%) Water use by concentrate (%) Green water (%) Blue water (%) Blue water footprint Green water footprint Blue plus Green
(L kg− 1) (L kg− 1) (L kg− 1)

1 12.7 87.3 85.8 14.2 773 4686 5459

2 1.9 98.1 87.5 12.5 769 5400 6169
3 4.1 95.9 80.2 19.8 768 3103 3871
4 1.0 99.0 83.4 16.6 769 3859 4628
5 0.3 99.7 89.2 10.8 770 6334 7104
6 0.8 99.2 85.3 14.7 767 4468 5235
7 0.4 99.6 89.5 10.5 774 7378 8151
8 1.0 99.0 92.0 8.0 773 8899 9672
9 12.1 87.9 84.0 16.0 768 4021 4789
10 8.9 91.1 60.2 39.8 769 1165 1934
11 1.3 98.7 87.1 12.9 768 5210 5978
12 1.3 98.7 89.7 10.3 771 6703 7474
13 4.8 95.2 88.3 11.7 767 5818 6585
14 19.1 80.9 76.0 24.0 766 2422 3188
15 2.8 97.2 80.0 20.0 766 3058 3824
16 0.3 99.7 88.5 11.5 769 5916 6685
17 0.01 99.99 90.4 9.6 770 7221 8991

J.C.P. Palhares et al. Agricultural Systems 155 (2017) 126–135

farm 4 used 80% of concentrate in the diet and farm 5 used 90%. The Farms 7 and 16 used the same roughage (sugar cane bagasse),
water footprint of farm 4 was 4628 m3 kg− 1; farm 5 had a footprint of obtained the same daily weight gain (1.6 kg day− 1), confinement
7103 m3 kg− 1; a difference of 2475 m3 kg− 1 of meat or 53.5% more period (100 days), and percentage of concentrate (90%), but different
water. The increase in the amount of concentrate in the diet shall result initial and final weights of the animals. On farm 7, the initial weight
in higher water footprints, but it should be considered together with the was 270 kg and the final weight 433 kg. On farm 16, initial weight was
growth performance of animals and farm managements. A major driver 380 kg and the final 540 kg. The water footprint of farm 7 was
of water use is the efficiency of feed conversion into product, which is 7103 m3 L− 1 of meat and of farm 16, it was 6685 m3 L− 1 of meat,
determined by potential animal productivity as well as feed availability with a difference of 418 m3 kg− 1 of meat. Although the aspects of the
and quality throughout the year. Herrero et al. (2013) feed quality and genetic, type of diet, and daily weight gain were the same, the higher
feed efficiency are the key drivers of productivity and water consump- initial weight on farm 16 determined a lower water footprint. Better
tion variations between production systems. herd management prior to the confinement period and hence the
Concentrate dry matter intake results in higher water consumption entrance of heavier animals had positive impacts on the value of the
because water used for concentrates is five times larger than that used footprint, improving liters of water relative per kilogram of meat. The
for roughages (Hoekstra, 2012). Concentrate feeds have the highest ideal initial animal weight to start the confinement was 330 kg.
water use because they demand higher evapotranspiration, which is However, not only herd management prior to confinement, but also
strongly dependent on the geographic position. Disaggregated crop the management during confinement had an impact on the footprint
water use indicates that concentrated water clearly dominates over value. Farms 1 and 9 used corn silage as roughage and a concentrate
roughage water irrespective of the roughage-concentrate ratio. In this inclusion of 30 and 35%, respectively. Despite the lower concentrate
study, concentrated water ranged from 80.8 to 99.9% of the green inclusion on farm 1, its footprint was 14% higher. In both farms, the
water footprint. Values of crop water use indicate that this factor, which confinement period was the same (90 days), but they had different daily
is dependent of regional differences and the evapotranspiration condi- weight gains, 1.3 kg day− 1 (farm 1) and 1.5 kg day− 1 (farm 9). This
tion, drive water use in beef production. Millen et al. (2009) argued that determined animals with an average final weight of 357 kg on farm 1.
the greater concentration of roughage in finishing diets is likely more This relationship was also observed between farms 7, 15, and 16, with
feasible in Brazilian feedlots than in the other countries because feedlot concentrate inclusion of 90% and farms 6 and 4 with inclusion of 80%.
operations are generally smaller and the availability and decreased cost The average final weight was different between them. Farm 16 had the
of roughage favors greater use. As the capacity of feedlots increases, lower footprint and the heaviest animals. In this farm, the animals were
especially in areas in which the cost of land and roughage are more slaughtered with an average weight of 540 kg; up to 480 kg is the
expensive, greater concentrate diets will possibly become a more average slaughter weight in Brazil. Farm 4 had ten more days of
common management practice in Brazil. confinement that farm 6, but its footprint was lower. In both farms, the
The differences in feed composition have a significant effect on the initial weights were the same, but in farm 4, the animals finished
water footprint. Results indicate that the type of roughage influences heavier. We know that older animals use nutrients less efficiently and
the footprint values. Farms that used sugar cane bagasse as roughage have higher feed conversion. This fact was not reflected in the footprint
had the highest dietary concentrate percentages; the average inclusion values, but should be studied in depth in future studies. We should
was 70%. On farms that used sugar cane, this average was 60% and analyze the balance of nutrients and methane emissions together with
48% with corn silage. This is an aspect that is related to the nutritional water use in order to identify the trade-offs between the nexus water-
quality of roughage. While sugar cane has a content of crude protein nutrient-emission. In addition, studies that integrate the evaluation of
and metabolizable energy of 2.76% dry matter and 2.16 Mcal kg− 1, water consumption with the herd and management aspects to identify
respectively, its sub-product (bagasse) has 2.03% dry matter and and propose mitigation actions should be developed.
1.78 Mcal kg− 1. Corn silage has 7.24% of crude protein in the dry The results of green and blue waters will be present and discussed in
matter and 2.41 Mcal of metabolizable energy kg− 1. Because of the a disaggregated way to facilitate our understanding of the impacts of
lower protein value of sugarcane, farmers have to add larger amounts of each water in the footprint. Ridoutt and Pfister (2010) expanded the
concentrate to meet the needs of the animals. discussion about water use by livestock production and stated that it is
Farms that used bagasse in the ratio of 10% showed high water important not only to quantify aggregated water use, but also assess
footprint values. The uses of by-products in animal nutrition are disaggregated water. The aggregated water (i.e. the sum of green and
understood as a mitigation action that reduces the values of water as blue water) in animal products is potentially misleading and confusing
well as ecological or carbon footprints. With the use of a by-product, because its use fails to take into consideration disaggregated green and
only part of the water consumed by the main product is allocated to the blue water use.
by-product. In this case, bagasse represents 30% of the volume of sugar A growing number of authors highlight the importance of including
cane. Brazil is a major producer of agricultural commodities and green water, as its inclusion demonstrates how rain fed agricultural
therefore has a high availability of by-products that can be used as systems reduce the demand and impact of blue water consumption. De
feed in the feedlots. The advantage of using by-products as feed is Fraiture et al. (2007) the use of green water resources should be seen
economical, and we also have to show that these require less water to from a competition perspective when analyzing the current trend for an
produce one tonne of feed and one kilogram of animal protein. increase in the global demand for animal-source foods. Berger and
For the ratio of 10%, the advantage of by-product was not verified. Finkbeiner (2010) the consumption of green water can cause water
When the ratio was 20% (farms 4 and 6), footprint values were lower deprivation for ecosystems and also may reduce the renewability of
even when compared with farms with inclusion of 60 to 70% of ground and surface water, representing a severe shortcoming. De
concentrate. On farms with a ratio of 10% of bagasse, the confinement Fraiture and Wichelns (2010) water consumed by crops fed to cattle
period was 100 days. This period was 85 days for 20%. Farm 8 had the each year was 1312 km3, or about 18% of the total crop water
highest water footprint and used corn silage as roughage and a diet with consumption. An additional 840 km3 (12%) are consumed by grazing
90% of concentrate. Farms with sugar cane as roughage and the same livestock.
percentage of concentrate presented footprints ranging from 6685 to Green water footprint on the farms ranged from 1165 to
7345 m3 L− 1 of meat. On farm 8, animals were confined by 107 days, 8899 m3 kg− 1 of meat. The results show that local differences in
while on farms with sugar cane as roughage, this period was on average evapotranspiration and yields provide insights in why footprints are
95 days. The roughage-concentrate ratio determines the performance of small or large in specific regions. Differences in green water use
the animals, which will influence the confinement time and the value of depended on soil agronomic features (pH, nutrient and mineral soils
the footprint. content, and texture), protected or unprotected systems, and geogra-

J.C.P. Palhares et al. Agricultural Systems 155 (2017) 126–135

phical and/or temporal location, which can deeply affect the yield and concentrated feeds or enhance the roughage ratio.
the economic return. Although climatic and soil factors are important in In this study, we considered that both roughages and concentrates
determining evapotranspiration from crop fields and yields, water were produced on the farms, but this may not be the reality of other
footprint is largely determined by agricultural management rather than feedlots. Often, the concentrate is produced in another region. Imports
by the environment in which the crop is grown (Rockström et al., 2007; of grains mean the import water and are water dependent. Considering
Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2011). Mueller et al. (2012) a large increase the 17 locations of the farms, the water footprint of corn ranged from
in crop yields, without an increase or even with a decrease in field 1118 to 2326 m3 tonne− 1 and that of soybean from 1534 to
evapotranspiration, is achievable for most crops across the different 2718 m3 tonne− 1. Higher evapotranspiration resulted in a higher water
climate regions of the world through proper nutrient, water, and soil use. This shows that, depending on the region, the water footprint can
management. change significantly. Grain yield also played an important role, i.e., a
Water originating from roughage represented on average 4.4% of larger yield was obtained because greater productivity led to a lower
green water volume and from concentrate, this value was 95.6%. Farms water footprint. Feed production in areas with poorer natural produc-
with the lowest concentrate inclusion had the lowest percentage of tion conditions, less qualified farmers, and low technological develop-
concentrate feeds in green water volume. On farm 14, this inclusion ment will negatively impact water management in livestock chains. São
was 25% and represented 81% of green water. On farms with inclusion Paulo is not a state with a considerably high grain productivity. Drastig
of 90%, it represented an average of 99.5% of green water volume. et al. (2016) soy produced in the state of Sao Paulo had the lowest crop
The type of roughage impacts the percentage of it in the green water water productivity when compared with other Southeast and Center-
footprint and when this is corn silage, representativeness of roughage is West Brazilian States, most likely because soy is not a traditional crop in
greater in the green water. The water footprint of corn silage varied Sao Paulo and the production conditions are not ideal. Ercin et al.
from 137 to 166 m3 tonne− 1, that of sugar cane from 137 to (2012), water consumption of soy products is highly influenced by the
160 m3 tonne− 1, and that of sugarcane bagasse from 38 to location from which production inputs are sourced and the production
48 m3 tonne− 1. Scarpare et al. (2016) calculated average green water conditions. This is most relevant for the agricultural inputs, because
to sugar cane in the state Sao Paulo to be 145 m3 Mg− 1. Mekonnen and they largely depend on the location and management practices of the
Hoekstra (2014) calculated the average global green-blue water farms producing soy.
footprint for sugarcane of 197 m3 tonne− 1. In a study by Mekonnen If the farm is located in a region of low rainfall, which prevents the
and Hoekstra (2011), the green water footprint in a rain fed system for production of grains, importation is a strategy that will enable the
sugarcane was 164 m3 tonne− 1. This value is lower than those found by production of beef cattle. The choice of roughage feed can reduce the
Scholten (2009), which, on average, quantified above 200 m3 tonne− 1. concentrate imported and has a positive economic impact because
Palhares and Pezzopene (2015) stated that to produce 1 tonne of corn concentrate has the highest nutritional cost. Another strategy is the use
silage in the central region of Sao Paulo, water usage was 131 m3. Feed of by-products, preferably those available in the region. Some examples
ingredients have different water footprints, resulting in differences in of by-products that have been used in feedlots are citrus pulp, cotton-
the total green water footprint. seed, and peanut hulls. By-products could have lower water footprints
On farms 1 and 3, the inclusion of concentrated feed was 30% and depending on their nutritional content and the performance of the
roughages were corn silage and sugar cane bagasse, respectively; 12.7% heads, as demonstrated by the use of sugarcane bagasse, and are also
of green water on farm 1 was originating from silage, while this value associated with lower costs. Soybean, at present the most used protein
was 4.1% for farm 3. When the inclusion was 90% and the roughage feed ingredient, and potential alternatives will play an important role
was sugar cane bagasse, it represented 0.3% of green water. On farm 8, regarding this matter. There is considerable room for expansion and
with the inclusion of 90% and corn silage as roughage, this accounted increased usage of rendered products such as animal by-product meals
for 1% of green water. Farms 2, 13, and 17 had 60% of inclusion and (Nates et al., 2009; Tacon et al., 2011). Drastig et al. (2016) soybean
roughages were sugar cane bagasse, corn silage, and sugar cane. and corn are not the only feedstuffs that can be used to meet the protein
Roughage on farm 2 accounted for 1.9% of the volume of green water, and energy requirements of the animals, although they are the most
for 4.8% on farm 13, and for 1.3% on farm 17. traditionally used ones. It is becoming evident that studies on feed
Roughages feeds are different in their water productivity. We composition should take water consumption by feed ingredients into
defined water productivity as the crop yield (kg ha− 1) by the crop consideration in order to formulate water-efficient diets. Choices about
evapotranspiration (m3 ha− 1). The averaged water productivity of corn roughage and by-products should also consider the nutritional values.
was 6.5 kg m− 3 and for sugarcane, this value was 6.9 kg m− 3. Dry Currently, the Brazil's Southeast and Central regions are experien-
matter production per hectare of sugar cane is on average twice as high cing a chronic water shortage due to extremely low rainfall records
as for corn silage. However, if we calculate the protein water efficiency when compared to the historical average and water withdrawals
(m3 tonne− 1 of crude protein), the corn silage average was increases (Scarpare et al., 2016). The state of Sao Paulo has a water
5174 m3 tonne− 1 of crude protein and sugar cane average was scarcity index of 73% (total water use by state water availability) and
5502 m3 tonne−1 of crude protein. Despite the higher water productiv- has been classified as a state with high water stress (40% < WSI <
ity of sugar cane, the water footprints of the farms that use this 100%) (Da Silva et al., 2016). In this high-density region, the available
roughage were higher due to the lower nutritional value of this product. land for crop expansion is quite expensive, with an average of R$
Corn had an average water use of 65.7% of green water from 15,380.00 (Brazilian currency converted at 0.33 USD = 1 BRL, 2015
concentrate and 63.3% of the total green water. Soybean represented average value) (AEI, Applied Economics Institute, 2015).
34.3% of green water from concentrate and 32.3% of the total green Fig. 1 shows the values of the green water footprint in accordance
water. The use of these grains in feedlots is justified by their high with the productivity of crops. The average water footprint of the
nutritional values and the positive impact on indicators of animal current crop yield was 5814 L kg− 1 of meat. With a reduction of 25% in
performance. Since water scarcity is a major issue of concern and, given the current crop yields, it was 7.416 L kg− 1 of meat and with an
the fact that it is directly associated with production cost, producers increase of 25% in the current crop yields, 4677 L kg− 1 of meat. These
should carefully evaluate the water footprint of the various feed crops results show that increasing agricultural productivity has positive
and minimize or substitute the ones with high water footprints with impacts on reducing the water footprint. In many cases, techniques
crops with lower footprints in order to be sustainable in terms of water for increasing water productivity, especially when it is low, require
use. If feeds are produced in regions or basins with water scarcity little or no additional water.
(green and blue), water quality problems from diffuse pollution, and The variation of the water productivity between the soil groups has
conflicts over water use; we should promote the replacement by other been caused by the differing yields. Variation between water produc-

J.C.P. Palhares et al. Agricultural Systems 155 (2017) 126–135

Actual crop yields Reduction of -25% Increase of +25%


L kg-1 of meat




1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Fig. 1. Values of green water footprint in accordance with the productivity of crops. (For interpretation of the references to colour in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web
version of this article.)

tivity of the different fields on the commercial farm was as high as the rations on the basis of individual digestible nutrient levels rather than
variation between the soil groups (Krauß et al., 2015a). Water on crude gross nutrient levels and at the same time, aim to minimize the
productivities in crop production will need to be increased by increas- environmental and ecosystem impact of feeds and feeding regimes
ing yields and reducing non-productive evaporation (Brauman et al., (Tacon et al., 2011).
2013; Foley et al., 2011). An important part of a strategy to reduce the The low feed conversion efficiency may be attributed to errors in
pressure on limited blue water resources will be to raise productivity in feeding management or genetic factors, such as breed, as well as
rain-fed agriculture (Rockström et al., 2009). climatic factors such as heat stress. Careful nutritional managements to
On average, the productivity increase meant a reduction of 19.4% of improve nutrient availability and quality as well as breeding programs
the footprint value with a minimum reduction of 5.1% and a maximum that aim at enhancing growth rates can improve feed conversion
of 65%. Decreasing or increasing actual yield for grass and maize efficiency. Naturally, there will be differences among the terrestrial
production per hectare by 10% decreased or increased consumptive plant-based proteins and lipids with respect to their green, blue, and
water use by 52% (De Boer et al., 2013). On the other hand, the lower grey water footprint, which must have implications when different
amount of tonnes of feed per hectare resulted in an average increase of goals are to be reached, e.g. the reduction of the blue water footprint,
26.4% of the footprint value, with a maximum of 30.5%. reduction of pollution, or reduction of the overall water footprint. The
If all crops used by the 17 farms had a 25% increase in productivity, choice depends on the goal and therefore, we do not strive to provide
this would result in a reduction of 20% of the agricultural area required explicit recommendations regarding the choice of feed ingredients
for the production of feeds. On the other hand, a 25% reduction in (Pahlow et al., 2015). The climatic condition in a region of production
productivity would result in 33% more area for feed production. Low and the methods for assessing evapotranspiration explain a large part of
water productivity in precipitation-limited regions was raised to the the variation between studies, since evapotranspiration can vary hugely
20th percentile; the total rain fed food production in Africa could be between different areas and climates across the world. The variation in
increased by > 10% without exploiting additional cropland. Similar livestock water productivity for beef can also be explained by differ-
improvements in water productivity in irrigated cropland could reduce ences in feed quality, digestibility, and feed conversion efficiency
total water consumption by 8–15% in precipitation-limited regions of between production systems (Ran et al., 2016). Diet composition and
Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America (Brauman et al., 2013). quality also determine the magnitude of the water footprint of meat and
Increases in water efficiency in the production of animal protein will milk production. Improved diets translate to better feed conversion and,
be only achieved considering agriculture. Therefore, an integrated eventually, to more efficient use of freshwater (Bosire et al., 2015).
approach is essential to improve water performance in livestock, as If we take a water approach combined with the knowledge that we
well as consideration of green water consumption. If green water is not have about ruminal physiology and nutritional management, we could
calculated, this could mean no interest in the use of agricultural reduce the green, blue, and grey water footprints because the animal
practices that have positive impacts on improving water efficiency. better take advantage of the available nutrients and therefore require
These practices also mean other environmental benefits, such as soil smaller amounts of roughage and concentrates, resulting in lower water
and water quality conservation. use and agricultural areas.
Our results show how diet formulations influence the water The blue water footprint ranged from 766 to 774 L kg− 1, the
footprint values. They also indicate that improvements in water average value for the 17 farms was 769 L kg− 1 (Table 2). This footprint
efficiency of animal products should consider the nutritional manage- represented 15.5% of the footprints on average, with variations from
ment of the farms in order to propose actions and policies that promote 8.0 to 39.8%. Detected differences in farm size are important because
positive impacts. Feed formulations are often termed “standard” in the they influence the water footprint use from a single farm and determine
literature, but feed for a certain beef type may differ significantly from the presence of scale economies for abatement of water cost and
country to country or within countries, depending on the producer's production.
practice, feed ingredient availability, financial means of the farmers, Among the uses considered in the calculation, water in the meat was
and the farming system. Precision feeding is formulating the ration to the biggest, followed by drinking water. Meat water had a mean value
meet the nutritional requirements of the animals, especially in terms of of 97% of the blue footprint and drinking water a value of 2.3%. Water
protein and phosphorus. It can reduce feed costs and improve feed to feed mixing was lowest. Despite the large percentage of blue water in
efficiency and animal performance. In the plan, whole-farm nutrient the form of meat, the consumption of drinking water should be
imbalances, nutrient buildup, and feed efficiency can be addressed. considered and related to the water availability in the basin. For
Tacon et al. (2009) in the short term, efforts should focus on further example, farm 5 confined 50,000 animals per cycle, which means a
improvements in feed formulation techniques and on formulating drinking water consumption of 178,066 m3. The sustainability analysis

J.C.P. Palhares et al. Agricultural Systems 155 (2017) 126–135

of this value is fundamental to propose measures that have a positive comfort to the animals. If temperature is reduced by 2 °C, water
impact on water efficiency. The direct effect of changing beef water consumption per animal per day would be 38.2, a difference of
consumption in one region will impact the water availability in that 1.4 L day− 1. Considering the production cycle, this would mean a
region and its watersheds, reducing the conflict between water users. It water saving of 6378 m3 cycle− 1 or 3.6%.
may have little or no effect on water use for beef meat in other places, Nutritional aspects had their values set for all farms according to the
because much of the beef produced in these regions is being sold to scientific literature, because these kinds of data were not measured by
other parts of the country and to other countries in the form of virtual each feedlot. We know that the dry matter intake and diet quality are
water. Pfister et al. (2009) blue water use can have an impact on human determining factors in the quantity of water consumed by animals. We
health and ecosystem quality or can result in the depletion of water should encourage farmers to monitor this information to obtain more
resources. The impact of freshwater use on human health, ecosystem accurate calculations of water use. It will also show the relations
quality, or resource depletion, however, is site-specific. Oki and Kanae between nutritional management and water efficiency. > 50% of the
(2006) withdrawing > 50–80% of the annual water flow (the exact clients serviced by the 31 cattle feedlot nutritionists did not manage
figure depends on local conditions) leads to water stress, as water is also feed bunks to control the quantity of feed offered per pen (Millen et al.,
required for environmental use and ecosystem services. 2009). Hansen et al. (2007) noted that more feed efficient bulls drank
Unlike green water, consumption of blue water is more perceived by less water per unit of body weight gain than less feed efficient bulls.
the farmer, so the proposition of actions that contribute to its more Meyer et al. (2006) found an average voluntary daily water intake of
efficient use will have a greater chance of being internalized by farmers. 17.8 kg bull− 1, varying from 0 to 78.7 kg bull− 1 for fattening bulls of
Kessler et al. (2016) an environmental impact occurring elsewhere is the German Holstein breed. A positive relation was found between
not tangibly experienced by producers, not measured by producers, and water intake and dry matter content of roughage, dry matter intake,
not understood through local, embodied knowledge. The authors roughage part of the diet, maximum ambient temperature, as well as
conclude that abstract and cumulative impacts from beef production sodium intake. Hatendi et al. (1996) observed a higher water con-
were not easily observed by producers and were therefore not the focus sumption as a result of an increased roughage content of the diet.
of producers' environmental efforts. Dry matter intake measurements also have economic significance
Water content in the meat is a type of water for which we have little since nutrition represents the largest cost in the production cost of an
capacity for intervention. This content is related to the physiology of animal. Thus, the calculation of water consumption with more accurate
animals. It is possible that genetic factors influence its content, but to intake information will provide the proposition of water friendlier
date, there is no data in the scientific literature that proves this nutritional managements and the evaluation of the economic viability
hypothesis. Researches evaluating how genetic factors influence the of these managements. It is important to show to farmers the relation
meat water content should be encouraged in order to generate knowl- between production aspects and water resources. This approach will
edge that enable the proposition of actions to improve water efficiency. facilitate implement conservative water practices because the costs
Such information will also be interesting for agribusinesses and could be shared throughout the production system. Robinson et al.
consumers as it will provide them with choices that improve the (2016) the main relationship between water taxes and future was that
environmental condition. Beede (2012) additional research could prove farmers who believed that water should not be taxed were also
useful to better understand the relative quantitative importance of concerned about possible future water restrictions. Therefore, dairy
other factors, such as genetic factors or accelerated growth rates of farmers are concerned about future water access, but do not want to be
modern genetics that may influence cattle water needs at different taxed as an inducement to use less water.
stages of the life cycle in different environments. Brew et al. (2011) Blue water footprint calculations for animal products are essential
reported that cattle from tropically adapted cattle breed types con- to better understand the water and animal protein relations, facilitate
sumed less water than British or continentally influenced cattle. compliance with environmental legislation by farmers, such as obtain-
For the drinking water calculation, we considered zootechnical and ing water use permits, help in integrated river basin policies, and
environmental aspects of each farm. It has been known for a long time reduce the cost of water for farmers and the society. Lovarelli et al.
that body weight is an important consideration regarding the water (2016) state that blue water is expensive to use, since it has a high
intake (Winchester and Morris, 1956). In the present farms, the average opportunity cost with which, reducing its use, both production costs
final body weight was 480 kg and ranged from 357 to 540 kg. The (e.g., energy for pumping, machines, and plants to buy and manage)
average consumption of water per animal per day was 37.8 L, repre- and environmental impacts (due to energy, materials, plants, etc.) are
senting an average of 3.78 L kg− 1, with variations from 3.5 to reduced as well. According to Girard (2012), there is a lack of
3.9 L kg− 1 of dry matter intake. Water intake related to dry matter knowledge of the water requirements of animals. Obviously, being
intake was reported to be about 4 L kg− 1 of dry matter intake in cattle aware of this situation is the first step towards improving the efficiency
(Kamphues, 2000). Feedlots presented an average of 18 L kg− 1 of meat, of water use in the production of animal products.
with variations from 15 to 22 L kg− 1 of meat. Calculations of blue water use could also assist to reach the
The maximum temperature in the farms ranged from 25 to 31.3 °C fulfillment of sustainable development goals proposed by the United
and precipitation from 2.7 to 4.8 mm day− 1. The farms with the Nations. We highlight two goals: ending hunger by achieving food
highest maximum temperatures showed the highest drinking water security and improved nutrition as well as sustainable agriculture
consumption per animal per day (39.6 L). On farms with the lowest (ensuring sustainable food production systems and the implementation
temperatures, the consumption per animal per day was 34.9 L. Brugger of resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and produc-
(2007), in a study on dairy farms, observed a direct correlation between tion by 2030) and ensuring the availability and sustainable manage-
drinking water consumed and ambient air temperature. During hotter ment of water and sanitation for all (substantially increase water-use
months, the drinking water use was higher. efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and
It supports that bioclimatic needs of animals is a mitigation supply of freshwater by 2030) (United Nations, 2015).
management to reduce blue water demand from feedlots. In this way, Producing sufficient food to meet future needs will require water
the outcome will be a more sustainable blue footprint. It also subsidizes development and management strategies that promote improvements
managements that provide greater thermal comfort to the animals, in food security while maintaining the productivity of our land and
showing the impact that these will have on water demand. These water resources and enhancing environmental amenities (Molden et al.,
managements will also reduce the cost of water and enhance animal 2009). The aim for improved natural resource use efficiency, defined as
performance. Farm 5, which showed the highest maximum tempera- the amount of natural resources engaged per unit of product, is an
ture, could implement practices and technologies to give more thermal objective of global relevance which applies to the most affluent areas of

J.C.P. Palhares et al. Agricultural Systems 155 (2017) 126–135

the globe, where the sector is requested to minimize its environmental The green and blue water consumed is a result of either feeding
impact, and to emerging economies, where livestock production strategies or performance indicators. Currently, decision-making under
expands rapidly in a context of relatively weak environmental policies these two factors is determined by economic aspects, but this reduc-
and often wastes natural resources (Gerber et al., 2014). High-income tionism in decision-making will not be accepted, depending on the
countries have a greater capacity to implement best available technol- water scarcity and the global demand for environmentally better
ogy and best practices than less developed countries, but our results production systems. Therefore, the water consumed by livestock
indicate that less developed and tropical countries can reduce water production systems should be quantified and evaluated in a systemic
footprints of crops (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2014). It would be useful way. We also need to put a greater focus on water management data
to make footprint evaluations considering the best available technology collection at the farm level and on how to benchmark and deliver useful
and practice (e.g., optimized nutrient management, crop rotation, crop information back to farmers. Strategies need to be tailored to local
residue management, reduction of non-beneficial evapotranspiration, conditions and the combination of managements and technologies will
and effective rainfall enhancement) (Lovarelli et al., 2016). Despite the be required to achieve significant improvements.
extensive concerted effort by governments and researchers over many Factors of supply chains have to be disposable robust tools for water
years, success in protecting the environment is still questioned on the decision-making. The results of the studies can subsidize relevant meat
basis of (a) the efficacy of the individual measures proposed, (b) the supply chain stakeholders (retails, farm and trade associations, com-
suitability of some methods for certain farm types, (c) the actual level of pound feed producers, consumers, government representatives, non-
uptake of the related technology, and (d) the conflict and incompat- governmental organizations, public agencies, and independent parties)
ibility of methods for differing objectives (Loyon et al., 2016). to analyze and make decisions regarding water consumption and
Animal production is inevitably associated with water consumption efficiency in beef feedlots, ensuring water security to this production
and therefore, some degree of water depletion seems unavoidable. system and animal protein. This study evaluated one of the environ-
Various strategies are available or can be developed to minimize mental aspect of beef produced in feedlots. Future studies should
depletion and achieve water efficiency. For this, animal scientists consider all relevant environmental aspects. In this way, we could
should understand the relation between livestock and water and identify the trade-offs of meat production and support the best decision
consider water management in their works. Experience indicates that by stakeholders.
the required water efficiency in livestock will not occur without Water use by Brazilian livestock has increased in recent decades
substantial financial and social investments in water management, because of an unprecedented expansion. This means that the water
agricultural research, supporting extension services, and rural infra- consumed by this industry needs to decrease even further to alleviate
structure. Technical assistance, capacity building, and the right incen- local and regional stress on catchments and water resources.
tives and policies are required to motivate farmers to increase water
efficiency. Acknowledgements

4. Conclusions This study was developed in the context of the “Water footprint of
beef and dairy products” project (number, 404243/2013-4), founded by
The results show that the water footprint values of feedlots are The National Council for Scientific and Technological Development
determined largely by the type of animal diet and by performance (CNPq).
indicators of the animals. The roughage-concentrate ratio and type of
roughage are the nutritional aspects that most significantly influence References
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