Over recent decades, the dairy industry has found itself regularly vilified for its perceived impact on the environment.
When the facts are viewed in context and the progressive approach adopted by many modern dairy farmers and producers is considered, however, the outlook isn’t nearly so bleak.
5 facts about dairy farming emissions
- Less than 3% of UK emissions come from dairy farming.
Comparing this to other sectors such as transport (27%), energy (21%), business (17%) and residential (15%) helps to put it into context. Source
- 46% of dairy cow emissions come from their digestion – a completely natural process in ruminants.
- Dairy milk production is more water efficient than milk substitutes.
It takes 8 litres of tap water to produce 1 litre of dairy milk V’s a whopping 158 litres of tap water to produce 1 litre of almond drink.
- UK milk emissions are much lower than the global average.
The carbon footprint of a litre of British milk is around 1.25kg CO2e, compared to an average of 2.9kg CO2e per litre globally.
- UK dairy cows are some of the most climate-friendly in the world.
If all dairy cows were as efficient as UK dairy cows, we would only need around 76 million of them to produce the same amount of milk as the 278 million dairy cows found globally today. Source
All facts withstanding, there’s no denying the need for the UK dairy industry to work together to continue to boost our sustainability credentials. And this is where the Dairy Roadmap comes in.
Let’s take a look at how some members of the dairy industry are tackling the matter.
Great strides in reducing the environmental footprint of the dairy supply chain
All too often, the pressure is put on the dairy farmer when it comes to overcoming the impact of the industry on the environment, but it goes without saying that the responsibility extends well beyond the cow.
With single-use plastics coming under huge scrutiny over the last few years, it’s no surprise that the packaging of dairy products is a focus for many producers.
As with all problems, there is not one single solution, but many approaches with the same end goal. With the likes of Müller moving to glass bottles for its Milk & More doorstep delivery service, Saputo Dairy UK teaming up with TerraCycle to allow the recycling of their cheese packaging, Ornua Foods reinventing their cheese block to reduce plastic by 40% and Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses going a step further by devising a fully recyclable polythene, it’s a team effort to reach the industry target of net zero by 2050.
Did you know? In 2009, the first milk container to use up to 15% recycled High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) was introduced. As a result, The Dairy Roadmap set the ambitious target to achieve 30% by 2015 - a feat that was achieved in 2015 with 31% recycled materials in HDPE milk containers. Source P11.
Reviewing farming practices
Approaching the way we do things from a new angle can be met with some resistance – whatever the industry. We get it – old habits die hard. But in order to bring about positive change, it’s an area of business we need to address. When it comes to agriculture, the need to work with nature instead of against it is high on the priority list and lots of dairy businesses are now exploring ways to reduce their carbon emissions and improve biodiversity.
One example of regenerative farming techniques is being trialled by the dairy co-op, Arla Foods and involves the injection of cow slurry into the soil rather than spreading it on top of the land, in a bid to lock carbon underground. They are also investing in biodiversity on their farms to attract pollinators and more diversity in the insect population via their Bee Road project.
Yeo Valley Organic has launched a new five-year soil carbon programme, which has the potential to lock away 1.5 times more carbon per year than it emits, via multiple carbon sequestration work streams.
Similarly, Cornwall-based Trewithen Dairy is trialling a minimum tillage and diverse cropping to create greater biodiversity and a reduced requirement for ploughing.
Another practice reaching for great heights in the fight for a healthier climate, is that of vertical farming. While not directly relevant to the dairy farming sector, it’s a practice that can’t go ignored for its ecological merits.
Multiple factors come into play when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. From the geographical distance between each phase of the production process (and thus the transportation required), to energy usage and waste production.
Müller UK & Ireland has already achieved its target to reduce its carbon footprint by 40% on 2015 levels, having reconfigured its manufacturing network.
Other major players in the industry have made their own pledges including Saputo who aim to make a 20% reduction by 2025 and Ornua who are progressing towards a 20% reduction in Scope 3 emissions by 2030. Meanwhile Arla are already producing milk with 1.13kg CO2e per kg of milk as a result of a series of on-farm initiatives.
Harnessing energy intelligently
From farm to factory, there’s a responsibility to harness energy from all available sources intelligently.
As an example at farm level, this has been achieved by the likes of the Gilman Family in Staffordshire with a 200 strong herd of dairy cattle. In 2012, the family installed a medium sized wind turbine to meet some of their business needs and provide an additional revenue stream from exported electricity.
In addition, the Gilmans installed a 90kw biomass log burner to heat the farmhouse, which is split into two separate dwellings.
Over 6 years, one third of the output from the 50kw wind turbine has been used to power milking machinery and other on-farm demands, with the remainder being exported to the local power network
At production level, Arla’s Aylesbury Dairy became the first net zero liquid milk dairy in the world. Pushing new boundaries in the design and construction of the site, harnessing new sources of energy and re-using waste energy from the site to achieve this.
Embracing nutritional innovation
As we stated earlier in our blog, nearly 50% of all dairy cow emissions are produced in the digestive process. A completely natural occurrence that can’t be helped. Or can it?
Our work with rumen protected fats here at Volac Wilmar Feed Ingredients suggests otherwise.
Up to 12% of feed energy intake can be lost as methane gas, produced in the rumen as a result of fermentation of feed. As fat is not fermented, higher fat rations can reduce methane production leading to improved feed efficiency and reducing undesirable environmental emissions.
With this in mind, the environmental and efficiency benefits of ensuring sufficient fat is included in diets to meet dairy cows’ needs are clear.
It goes without saying that the sourcing of these feed fats should be undertaken sustainably too. Our recent blog explores our use of sustainable palm oil in our products and what it means for the environment at both farm and feed-production level. Read it here >>>
We’re all on the same road
With the whole dairy industry - from farm to factory, pulling together, achieving the ambitions of The Dairy Roadmap Group, recently unveiled at the COP26 summit in Glasgow is totally achievable.
Here’s to reaching net-zero carbon by 2050 and maintaining ‘positive actions' which reduce climate warming caused by methane and nitrous oxides.