CIEL | News: Practical steps for dairy farmers to reduce carbon emissions

A practical guide has been launched to help dairy farmers reach net zero targets.

Concentrating on mitigation strategies dairy farmers can adopt to reduce their carbon footprint, this new guide is a dairy-focussed summary of the key aspects from a report published by CIEL (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock) earlier this year, titled Net Zero & Livestock: How farmers can reduce emissions.

In the report case studies were used to demonstrate the effectiveness of different carbon saving strategies across UK livestock systems. The findings have been summarised in this practical guide for dairy producers and showcase how emissions could be reduced if changes or further developments to current farm practices are implemented.

CIEL CEO, Lyndsay Chapman, says the dairy sector often “takes one for team ag”, with cows appearing to take the brunt of criticism for their contributions to emissions, despite total emissions from UK dairy production falling by 16.1% between 1990 and 2020.

“Farmers are aware that we need to meet net zero targets, but we often hear the question, ’how do I play my part?’. The answer is you can do plenty, with relative ease of implementation and low cost, for example – by improving business and herd efficiency, making small tweaks to every-day management, and focusing on the successes. The key is knowing where to start and taking the first step.”

This new guide is action-driven, highlighting how making management changes to reduce age at first calving, optimising feed efficiency, making use of specialised feed additives, such as methane inhibitors, and using carbon auditing tools, are some areas of focus that can have a big impact on a farm’s carbon emissions.

“None of this is new to dairy farmers but we know these changes can make a difference from the mitigation strategies we put to the test as part of our latest net zero report,” she adds.

CIEL’s modelling work found that for a high-yielding dairy herd, making improvements to age at first calving, incorporating the use of a dietary methane inhibitor (30% effectiveness) and introducing forestry sequestration, the farm business in question saw a 17% reduction in their carbon footprint. For a lower-yielding, spring calving dairy herd, the combined effect of the dietary inhibitor, selling surplus heifers, plus improved grassland productivity and forestry sequestration, resulted in a 31.5% reduction in the farm’s associated carbon footprint.

“And critically, in both cases, this was not achieved by reducing milk production,” she notes.

“Although this can feel like a daunting task, if we pull together as an industry and utilise the R&D available, we can work towards our shared net zero ambition,” concludes Mrs Chapman.

The four-page practical guide on how dairy farmers can reduce emissions is available on the CIEL website:

Practical steps for dairy farmers to reduce carbon emissions