Beef in California Agriculture

Cows in the US and California

In 2015, there were 90 million cattle in the US.  Cow products brought in $44 billion in farm gate receipts.  In 2013, $5.7 billion was from exports.

In 2012, there were 30 million beef cows, 9.3 million milk cows, 5.8 million beef replacement heifers and 34 million head calf crop.

In 2015, the leading cow states are:

  1. Texas with 11.8 million
  2. Nebraska with 6.3 million
  3. Kansas with 6 million
  4. California with 5.2 million, or about 9% of the US total.
  5. Oklahoma with 4.6 million

Beef production was 25.8 billion pounds, and beef consumed in the US was 25.5 billion pounds.  That comes out to 80 pounds per person.

In California, 70% of the alfalfa crop goes to cows.

Water Used to Produce Beef

Here is a table of estimates of the gallons of water used to produce a pound of beef for eating.



Here the estimates depend on what is included in direct water usage versus a complete cycle, and who is making the estimate.  The Beef Association somehow came out with the lowest value.

Water Used to Produce Beef Compared to Other Foods

Here is a table of the relative amounts of water needed to make various meats and other crops in various diets containing different amounts of beef.

























This uses the value of 2,600 gallons of water to produce 8 oz. of beef, 400 gallons to produce 8 oz of chicken, 70 gallons to produce an egg, 65 gallons for milk in cereal, and 200 gallons for a cheese sandwich.  The same table that produced this one had 800 gallons for an 8 oz. serving of pork.

Another table based on recent estimates is used by ecocentric blog.  They have for the gallons of water to produce a pound of each product:

beef      1800

pork        576

chicken   468

soybeans 206

wheat       138

corn          108

The LA Times in a recent graphic is using a figure of 17oo gallons for a pound of beef.

Despite the uncertainty in the beef estimate, the water savings for eating chicken or pork or dairy are considerable.

The estimate that it takes a gallon of water to produce one almond, amounting to 400 gallons per pound of almonds, and that doesn’t look like high water consumption compared to beef.

The estimates are compounded since we are discussing the use of California water in the current crises.  The above estimates are worldwide averages!  In the US, only 1/5 of the water used to grow grain is irrigated water.  What is the fraction for California?  Half of the California water used in agriculture is used to make meat and dairy.


About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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