Dairy farms are a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Although the output per unit of product decreased, the sector can still reduce more by focusing on better efficiency.
This is according to a new report from the FAO and Global Dairy Platform. The report contains data from a study that calculated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the dairy sector over a 10-year period (2005-2015). These results can help in finding solutions on where to target mitigation actions. The study was commissioned by the Dairy Sustainability Framework.
The analysis identified that (emissions per unit of product) by 11% from 2.8 to 2.5kg CO2 equivalents per kg of product produced. The largest reductions in emission intensity occurred in low and-middle-income countries with traditionally low productivity. While developed dairy regions also reduced the intensity of emissions, the FAO noted that the percentage improvement was not as substantial as these systems were already operating at much lower rates.
Over the same period (2005-2015), global dairy production has grown by 30% to meet consumer demand for high-quality nutritious food products. The growth in milk production over the decade (2005-2015) has been achieved either through higher yield growth per milking cow, increased number of milking cows or combination of both, although there are differences per region (Figure 1).
The kg CH4 per animal is seen in Figure 2 and shows that cows in North America emit the most per animal. As a result of increased global output, absolute emissions rose by 18% globally. In 2015, emissions increased by 256 million tonnes CO2 eq. above 2005 levels. Importantly, the FAO notes that without the efficiency improvements made by the sector, total emissions from dairy would have increased by almost 38%, more than double the current levels being achieved.
The report also details where the dairy sector can positively address climate change. Improving the efficiency and profitability of the dairy farm is key in reducing the emissions.This can be done in a number of ways:
Feed and feeding management:
Fertiliser management (manure and commercial fertiliser)
Energy use at the farm
Animal health and husbandry
|Reducing emission through animal nutrition
Dairy farms are a source of GHG emissions, mainly from enteric fermentation (methane) and manure management (methane and nitrous oxide) and feed
production, transport and processing (carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide). Methane is produced as a byproduct of the digestive process in animals through
a microbial fermentation process. Since enteric fermentation contributes more than half the total of emissions, this area represents a potential opportunity for mitigation. Emissions associated with feed production point to a potentially applicable strategy for reducing GHG emission intensity of milk, i.e. improving feed conversion efficiency defined as the amount of feed input for producing a given quantity of milk or using plant extracts or other feed additives such as probiotic yeast. Improving feed conversion is an attractive strategy that will not only contribute to reducing emission intensity but also improve farm profitability given that feed costs form a large share of overall farm costs.