Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
RESEARCH ARTICLE

How can grass-based dairy farmers reduce the carbon footprint of milk?

D. O’Brien A B , A. Geoghegan A , K. McNamara A and L. Shalloo A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Livestock Systems Research Department, AGRIC, Teagasc, Moorepark, Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland.

B Corresponding author. Email: donal.mobrien@teagasc.ie

Animal Production Science 56(3) 495-500 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN15490
Submitted: 27 August 2015  Accepted: 6 November 2015   Published: 9 February 2016

Abstract

The Irish dairy industry aims to increase milk production from grass-based farms following the removal of the EU milk-quota system, but is also required to minimise greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to meet European reduction targets. Consequently, the sector is under increasing pressure to reduce GHG emissions per unit of milk, or carbon footprint (CF). Therefore, the goal of the present study was to determine the main sources of the CF of grass-based milk production and to identify mitigation strategies that can be applied to reduce farm footprints. In total, the CF of milk was estimated for 62 grass-based dairy farms in 2014. The method used to quantify GHG emissions was a life cycle assessment (LCA), independently certified to comply with the British standard for LCA (PAS 2050). The LCA method was applied to calculate annual on- and off-farm GHG emissions associated with dairy production until milk was sold from the farm in CO2-equivalent (CO2-eq). Annual GHG emissions computed using LCA were allocated to milk on the basis of the economic value of dairy products and expressed per kilogram of fat- and protein-corrected milk to estimate CF. Enteric methane was the main source of the CF of milk (46%), followed by emissions from inorganic N fertilisers (16%), manure (16%) and concentrate feedstuffs (8%). The mean CF of milk from the 62 farms was 1.26 kg of CO2-eq per kilogram of fat- and protein-corrected milk, but varied from 0.98 kg to 1.67 kg as measured using the 95% confidence interval. The CF of milk was correlated with numerous farm attributes, particularly N-fertiliser, the percentage of grazed grass in the diet, and production of milk solids. Grass-based dairy farmers can significantly improve these farm attributes by increasing herd genetic merit, extending the length of the grazing season and optimising N fertiliser use and, thereby, reduce the CF of milk.

Additional keywords: climate change, cow, mitigation, pasture.


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