Using a combination of changes, the average Irish dairy farm can reduce the emissions intensity of its milk over a five-year period by 20%, according to a vision outlined by Alltech.

At the online Alltech Ireland Environment Forum, presented by the animal nutrition giant today (Wednesday, April 28), Dr. Stephen Ross, senior sustainability specialist of Alltech’s E-CO2 division outlined in a presentation how Irish dairy can significantly reduce its carbon footprint.

“We have used information from Teagasc, UCD, Bord Bia and the ICBF to benchmark the current situation on the average Irish dairy farm,” the scientist explained.

Continuing, Ross set out “achievable targets” that the average Irish dairy farm could implement under Alltech’s “vision”, noting:

“Anywhere within the system that you can identify inefficiency – that’s an opportunity.

Ross said that the cow is the “core”, affecting the efficiencies of all resources used on farm, meaning any small improvements in this area will have a knock-on effect.

“These changes should benefit the farm, not only environmentally but also with respect to productivity and profitability of the farming system,” he added.

Alltech Vision

“To help us with our vision of the future of dairy, we modelled a benchmark of the average farm in Ireland, compiled from ICBF and National Farm Survey data.

“The emissions intensity was modelled using Alltech E-CO2’s dairy environmental assessment model – and the baseline we came to is concurrent with figures produced both by Teagasc and Bord Bia at 1.14kg CO2 eq./kg of fat and protein corrected milk [FPCM].”

This, Alltech noted, is actually less than half of the global average emissions intensity of milk, which in 2015 amounted to 2.5kg CO2 eq./kg, and slightly below Ireland’s own 2015 levels.

Source: Alltech

Using this baseline, the Alltech specialist outlined four scenarios “based on attainable targets for on-farm management”.

These included different aspects aiming for more efficient use of resources and reducing emissions intensity, including:

  • Grass utilisation;
  • Forage quality;
  • Fertiliser usage; and
  • Increasing milk production.

Grass utilisation and forage

“First off, the current typical grass utilisation on our average farm in Ireland is 7.8t DM/ha. We project it would be achievable to reach 9t DM/ha as an average in five years,” Ross said.

“This would be achieved through improved management, reseeding, soil fertility. In simplest terms, what we are achieving here is more milk from grass.

“From this scenario, we estimate an emissions intensity reduction of just under 2%.”

Turning to forage, he said: “The current silage quality produced on our average farm in Ireland is 0.86 UFL and 12% crude protein.

“If we were to achieve an increased quality early content of silage to 0.93 UFL and increase the crude protein by just 1%, how would this affect our footprint?

“After taking the winter dry period into account, if you’re feeding silage for two and a half months at the beginning of the season, this equates to approximately an extra 135L or 10.5kg of milk solids per cow.

“Increased protein in the silage would also allow us to reduce the level of soya in the typical concentrate as fed [by 3%]. This would reduce the supplementary protein in the concentrate by approximately 1%.

“This is a bold but achievable step and this combination of factors would result in an emissions intensity reduction of 4.9%,” he asserted.

Fertiliser and milk production

Moving onto fertiliser, Ross said: “The average farm in Ireland employs a combination of different inorganic nitrogen sources – fertilisers. Ammonium nitrate, urea, CAN, NPK.

“With a focus on reducing inorganic nitrogen inputs by 1.5% per annum, that would take us to an attainable target of 170kg N/ha in five years.

“Within that, the current average farm also uses 9t of urea, which we modelled as [being] replaced by protected urea.

“Of course, the overall influence of this will depend on the balance of fertilisers you start with, but on the average farm, this will reduce emissions intensity by 5.5%.

“Ultimately what we’re all about here is more efficient milk production.

“We propose a realistic increase in milk solids of 3% per annum, leading to a target of 15% increase to 487kg of milk solids per cow in five years.

“This improvement will be driven by a combination of many factors, including the feed efficiency, diet formulation and management, and improvement here will be maintained by better nutrition, health, fertility and genetics.

“Overall this improvement would equate to around 6,000L per cow in five years, to 487kg of milk solids and this is a feasible increase in production, with an emissions intensity improvement of 9.9% projected as a realistic target through improving efficiency inside the animal.

Combining efficiency

Summing up the “vision” of Alltech, Ross highlighted that the combination of the four target scenarios “projects a frontier of efficiency improvement over the next five years”.

“Taking into consideration some overlap between the scenarios, this can result in an estimated overall emissions intensity reduction of 20% by 2026 in five years.

“This would take the average Irish footprint of dairy production from 1.14kg CO2 eq. to 0.93kg CO2 eq. FPCM,” Ross concluded.

Stay tuned to Agriland for more coverage from Alltech’s Ireland Environment Forum this week…