Knowledge for better food systems

Report on UK dairy sector GHG emissions

The UK dairy sector has published its first report which looks at the carbon footprints of a selection of British dairy farms with a view to establishing a baseline against which progress can be measured.   The study reveals very substantial differences in the GHG footprints expressed as CO2 eq/kg fat corrected milk, of different farms, and also finds that there is more variation between farms, than between production systems.  It also concludes that there is no one variable (eg milk yield, fertiliser use or energy consumption) that accounts for most of the variation between farms.

The UK dairy sector has published its first report which looks at the carbon footprints of a selection of British dairy farms with a view to establishing a baseline against which progress can be measured. The study reveals very substantial differences in the GHG footprints expressed as CO2 eq/kg fat corrected milk, of different farms, and also finds that there is more variation between farms, than between production systems.  It also concludes that there is no one variable (eg milk yield, fertiliser use or energy consumption) that accounts for most of the variation between farms.

 

Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK Government is legally required to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the UK economy by 80% of 1990 levels, by 2050. The agriculture sector is committed to playing its part in meeting this national goal and will need to demonstrate an 11% reduction on 2008 levels, by 2020. While GHG emissions from dairy farms account for less than 2% of the UK’s total annual GHG emissions, further reduction commitments have been made through initiatives such as the Dairy Roadmap. To support the industry’s position and efforts, better data are required on the carbon footprint of milk production from British dairy farms. Focusing on the more efficient use of inputs will also help reduce costs of production, as well as enhance the environmental credentials of the dairy industry.
 
In September 2010, the E-CO2 Project (E-CO2) was contracted by DairyCo to establish a national annual average carbon footprint figure for GB dairy farms. This three-year research project is part-funded by levy payers and match-funded by participating dairy processors, to ensure a sufficiently large sample of participating farms.

 

The specific objectives during Year 1 were to:

  • Provide a Carbon Trust verified average carbon footprint figure for GB milk production based on actual farm data
  • Benchmark current industry performance, in order to measure year-on-year improvement
  • Provide each participating farmer with a carbon footprint figure, identifying ‘hot spots’ of carbon emissions and how these may be reduced
  • Record any mitigation or abatement practices which reduce carbon footprint
  • Calculate separately, carbon footprint according to International Dairy Federation (IDF) methodology
  • Present information from six participating farms as specific case studies

A total of 415 GB dairy farms, varying in size, system and geographical location, participated in the study. Information was collected from farm records and financial accounts. Thorough data validation and verification processes were carried out on all assessments made. The results were anonymised, compiled and analysed to produce a report for every farm, which was returned to each participant. In this first year of the study, the average carbon footprint for GB milk production was 1,309g of carbon dioxide equivalents per litre (g CO2e/l) of fat-corrected milk. Across the sample of farms, carbon footprint ranged from 832 to 2808 (g CO2e/l). The majority of the data lay within + or - 276 g CO2e/l of the mean. The average figure calculated using IDF methodology (1327 g CO2e/l) was very comparable to these results.

 

The results show that regardless of the farming system there are opportunities for reducing carbon footprint. The largest contributors to carbon footprint were enteric emissions from rumen fermentation (40%) and concentrate feed inputs (26%). Furthermore, the data suggest that there is likely to be more variation between farms, than between production systems. When correlated with carbon footprint per litre of milk across the sample of 415 farms, no single variable (eg milk yield, fertiliser use or energy consumption) accounted for most of the variation between farms. Some relationships were stronger than others, although all were in the direction anticipated. The carbon footprint of six case studies, reflecting a range of circumstances and production systems, ranged from 886 to 1,246 g CO2e/l. Data collection for Year 2 began in October 2011. As the data set expands, the robustness of the figures produced will continue to increase and deeper analyses of factors contributing to carbon footprint, as well as the impact of specific mitigation measures, will be undertaken.

 

Reference

Greenhouse gas emissions on British dairy farms.  DairyCo carbon footprinting study: Year one, DairyCo, 2012

 

You can download the report below and get more information here.

 

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