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What if optimizing dairy farming can mean more productivity and less environmental impact? - Part 1

What will the dairy market look like in ten years’ time? In the following two blog episodes, we would like to share with you some useful data and ideas to better face the predicted growing trend in our sector, in terms of both sustainability and herd management.

As revealed by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the FAO’s most recent data, global milk production is expected to rise by 1.6% per annum, throughout the next decade. Based on this 1.6% increase it is predicted that milk production will grow from 852 Mt (Metric Ton) in 2019 to 997 Mt in 2030, essential to face the increased demand due to the expanding global population. In fact, the population is forecast to rise exponentially to 8.6 billion over the next ten years. Hence, the goal of the dairy system is to provide this growing population with healthy milk from high-yielding and sustainable farms. 

Higher milk yield and lower environmental impact

Since sustainability is becoming a hotter topic from both a legislative and consumer perspective, environmental concerns and regulations could alter the projections for dairy sector. This aspect may therefore be a suitable starting point for our analysis.

To better understand the link between milk production and greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, the following figures may be helpful.

Figure 1: Relationship between Carbon footprint (CF) and farm production level - calculated on 282 Italian dairy farms, divided between those with low milk production level (circles, yLMP) and high milk production level (triangles, yHMP). Source Serra et al. 2013

 

Figure 2: Relationship between economic and environmental performances (IOFC) of 282 Italian dairy herds, in terms of Carbon footprint (CFP). Source Serra et al. 2013

As these results show, increasing the production level may be the first step not only towards a higher economic performance, but also to lower environmental impact.

Some farm management practices, that decrease GHG emissions while improving productivity are already known and available. Since they are currently unevenly spread among dairy regions, this factor provides plenty of room for a further mitigation of emissions within existing systems.

Which are the largest GHG emissions sources?

At this point it is necessary to focus on the main causes of GHG emissions within dairy cattle system and herd management. Once detected, these outcomes will be fundamental to provide adjustments, suitable for the utilisation and recycling of elements such as Carbon, Nitrogen, Methane, and trace minerals.

FAO outlined two types of GHG sources:

Direct ones:

  • Methane emissions from cow’s enteric fermentation, released as a by-product of the digestion process.
  • Methane and Nitrogen emissions from manure and urine, which occur in pastures and in buildings, during storage and when spreading manure.

Since each dairy cow has the same base level of emissions (those she releases if she is producing milk or not) that cannot be avoided, the logical step would be to spread those base emissions over more production litres. This is a well know economic theory to maximise a fixed asset’s costs (in this case emissions) over as many production units as possible (in this case milk litres), to reduce the overall cost (emission) per unit (litre of milk). This would in turn maximize herd efficiency in terms of health, productivity, and its genetic potential. Consequently, this is a real advantage both from an emission standpoint but also on herd profitability.

Indirect ones:

  • Carbon dioxide and Nitrogen emissions from feed production, processing, and transport. At this regard, a key challenge is the improvement of feed conversion efficiency, that is the amount of feed needed to produce a given quantity of milk. An improved feed conversion will contribute to reducing emission intensity, as well as to improving farm profitability, since feed costs account for the bulk of overall farm costs.
  • Energy used in fertilizer manufacture, milking, refrigeration, housing, storage, and transport. Along with the improvement of production efficiency, farms should also act in terms of technological and best practices interventions, in order to decrease their demand for resources, through a better integration of livestock into the circular bioeconomy.

 

Starting from topics covered in this episode, what are some possible solutions available to combine long-term competitiveness and sustainable farming practices for a quality milk? Follow our next blog episode to discover them all!

 

Date: 08 January 2021

  • Summary:
    Our world is rapidly changing, read more here!