Dairy sector makes strides tackling GHG

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Northern Ireland’s dairy farms have made considerable progress in tackling Greenhouse Gas emmissions.

The carbon footprint study released this week by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) shows that for the period 1990 to 2014, while the agriculture sector has made relatively modest progress in reducing total GHG emissions (i.e. a reduction of 5.2% since 1990), dairy farming has made substantial progress in reducing its emissions on a per unit of production basis (i.e. a 30.7% reduction since 1990).

The reason for this improvement is that Northern Ireland has experienced continual growth in its total milk production over the period (i.e. a 67% increase since 1990) which was driven primarily through increases in milk yield per cow. This growth has spread the emissions burden associated with each dairy cow over a greater volume of production.

This statistical report presents findings from a carbon footprint time series study that was undertaken for Northern Ireland’s dairy farm sector.

Carbon footprints as shown in the report refer to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions per unit of product and thereby allow assessments at that level. Within the report, they are measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of energy corrected milk (CO2e/kg ECM).

In addition, the department also publishes annual statistical releases with results from the UK GHG inventory. Results within these releases relate to total emissions at either the UK, regional or sectoral level. Carbon footprints can be considered supplementary as they present emissions on per unit of product basis.

Other key points are:

Key points are:

In terms of inter-farm variability, the emissions intensity of production for 2014 (i.e. the final year in the series) was found to vary between 0.91 and 2.06 kilograms of CO2e/kg ECM (excluding sequestration.) with an average of 1.32. The main factor causing variation in carbon footprint between individual dairy farms was milk yield per cow. This factor was found to have an inverse relationship with carbon footprint levels – as yield per cow increases, GHG emissions per litre fall.

Another factor identified as causing variation in carbon footprint levels between individual dairy farms was the proportion of their total stock that were lactating dairy cows. This factor was also found to have an inverse relationship with carbon footprint levels. The reasoning for this is that as the number of dairy replacements increases, their associated emissions have to be spread over the milk produced. From a GHG perspective, this highlights the importance of minimising replacement rates and meeting target calving ages.

The statistical report on the carbon footprint study is available at https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/northern-ireland-carbon-intensity-indicators