Reducing the carbon footprint of dairy farms is achievable. However, a range of tools will be needed to effect change.

These include the use of feed additives (such as seaweed extracts),the reduced use of nitrogen fertiliser and the more efficient management of animals.

Dr. Tianhai Yan is a world-leading scientist at the Agri-Food Bioscience Institute (AFBI), specialising in methane emissions from cattle.

He has highlighted the key findings of the recent Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) report ‘Net Zero and Livestock: How Farmers Can Reduce Emissions’.

Case studies saw reduction in carbon footprint

Using real case study farms, the report has highlighted that by deploying a wide range of mitigation measures, a 31.5% reduction of the carbon footprint of a higher yielding herd was achievable, while a 16.9% reduction was possible with a spring calving herd.

Dr. Yan commented: “There are a range of practical mitigations that can be used on dairy farms to help ensure that emissions from agriculture can be reduced, this includes practical nutrition and management-based practices designed to lower emissions of ammonia and methane.

“At AFBI, we have conducted extensive research modelling mitigation strategies on our farm to help determine the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions from cattle and sheep.

“This includes the development of energy rationing systems for precision farming which have resulted in improvements in the efficiency of milk production and has reduced the level of emissions generated per unit of milk produced.”

Alternative forages to reduce carbon footprint

According to Yan, AFBI is also researching the nutritional benefits of alternative forages for dairy and beef cattle.

This work includes measuring how these forages, as well as feed additives and seaweed extracts, can minimise the impact of enteric methane emissions from cattle.

“This, combined with management practices such as reducing the age at first calving to 24 months, improved genetics and fertility, has shown that a significant reduction in GHG emissions can be achieved,” Yan explained.

“The research outlined in the CIEL report is a fantastic resource for all livestock farmers and I’d urge them to take some time and study its findings.”

Mitigating measures

The CIEL report sets out eight options for farmers that, if implemented partly or wholly, could help make a significant difference to the emissions from the dairy sector.

Lead on the research, Prof. Elizabeth Magowan, also highlighted the fact that the range of mitigations modelled in the report could not only help protect the environment, they could also help farms become more efficient.

“In our research we have identified a number of key areas where farmers could act now to reduce their carbon footprint. One of those key areas is around efficiency on the farm.

“Improving efficiency not only reduces the carbon footprint of farms, but it also helps ensure farms are better run and more profitable,” she stated.