Higher milk production, lower carbon footprint
Farmer's Weekly|Farmer's Weekly 24 September 2021
Pressure is mounting on dairy farmers to reduce their carbon footprint. The good news is that research shows it is not only possible, but can be done in a way that increases productivity. Lindi Botha reports.
Lindi Botha

FAST FACTS

By reducing emissions from their cows’ enteric gases and feed, dairy farms can substantially reduce their carbon footprints.

By increasing yield, farmers need fewer cows to produce the same quantity of milk, thereby reducing the need for inputs and improving profits.

Reducing disease helps boost yield and thus income.

The subject of methane emissions from dairy cattle has received increasing attention from environmental activists concerned about climate change. This has spilled over to consumers, many of whom are seeking milk alternatives to reduce their carbon footprints. To maintain market share and increase their sustainability, farmers will thus have to focus on reducing methane emissions to reduce their carbon footprints.

Dr Saheed Salami, research fellow in the solutions deployment team at animal feed and nutrition manufacturer Alltech, notes that the dairy industry is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the livestock chain.

“It’s very clear that going forward it won’t be business as usual, and stricter environmental regulations will come from governments to reduce emissions. The dairy industry will have to adapt to these changes, while also battling limited resources in terms of land and inputs that we use in milk production.”

Salami explains that crucial to any effort to reduce emissions is the ability to simultaneously increase productivity and profit. “It doesn’t make any sense if farmers are able to achieve lower GHG emissions, but run at a loss.”

Dairy farmers are already under pressure, considering low milk prices, and with the complexities of reducing methane emissions in their herds, are daunted by the task.

Prof Jude Capper, the livestock sustainability consultant, says that in reducing methane emissions, there is no one easy solution; instead, a host of checks and balances need to be put in place on the farm. Fortunately, much of it boils down to better management of cowherds, which would not only increase production but boost profit too.

“Improving milk yield is the first step in reducing emissions. If you get more milk per cow, it means you need fewer cows to produce the same amount of milk. And removing a cow from the herd automatically reduces the carbon footprint, since water, land, feed and emissions are reduced. This also improves the economics of dairy farming.”

BETTER NITROGEN SOURCES

To understand how emissions can be reduced, it is necessary to identify the source. Salami explains that enteric emissions (those created in the rumen) and the food that cows consume are the two largest sources of emissions on dairy farms, totalling over 60% of total emissions.

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