Arla farmers to decarbonize dairy faster thanks to big data
26 Apr 2021 --- Arla’s Climate Checks program confirms that Arla farmers are among the most climate-efficient dairy farmers. It also provides a clear blueprint of what will drive further reductions of greenhouse gas emissions on their farms over the next decade.
Arla farmers have been working steadily toward sustainable farming and implementing green opportunities on their farms, including circular farming practices, renewable energy and biodiversity – and now also Climate Checks.
A total of 7,986 farms across seven European countries have concluded a Climate Check using Arla’s new standardized tool for identifying carbon footprints. The data shows that their operations are among the least impactful farming practices upon the planet.
Working toward sustainable dairy chain
“We have made a major investment in developing and implementing a solid model for measuring climate impact on a dairy farm,” says Arla Foods chairman Jan Toft Nørgaard.
“The unique data set that Arla farmers have now created clearly shows which activities will accelerate our reductions over the next decade,” he notes. “We will use this to decarbonize our farms at a faster pace and share our findings with stakeholders to help drive an effective transition for the whole industry. There’s a huge amount of value in this for all of us.”
A year ago, the independent sustainability think tank Institute for Environmental Policy (IEEP), published a report for Arla Foods to go beyond fact-checking and turning the existing evidence into a practical, solution-focused pathway toward what could be a more sustainable dairy industry.
“It is certainly now very encouraging to see Arla taking the initiative to put sustainability at the core of their decision making and developing tools to measure their impact on the ground and adapt their practices. These sorts of initiatives can be an example for the dairy industry,” says Céline Charveriat, IEEP executive director.
Cutting carbon footprint on dairy farms
The data has revealed five universal levers to a lower carbon footprint for dairy on all types of Arla farms. They are:
- Better feed efficiency to improve milk yield.
- Precision feeding to reduce surplus protein in feed rations.
- A healthy and long life for the cow to improve milk yield.
- Precise fertilizer management to reduce nitrogen surplus from feed production.
- Better land use management to ensure better crop yields.
The areas targeted by the five big levers are explaining the majority of the differences between the individual farms’ carbon footprints. The five levers apply to all Arla farms in the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg regardless of size, geography, breed or landscape conditions.
“The data shows that all types of farms can achieve tangible results if precision farming is increased in these five areas. This helps us significantly going forward both to lower our CO2e footprint and for future investments on farms to help meet our ambitious climate goals,“ says Jan Toft Nørgaard.
More improvements needed
A total of 7,986 Arla farmer owners have assessed and submitted data to 203 questions about their herd, feed production, energy usage and other statistics. Their data has been verified by an external climate advisor, who has also helped create the farmer’s action plan for further climate reductions based on the individual data.
The data confirms that Arla farmers are among the most climate-efficient dairy farmers globally, with 1.15 kg of CO2e per kilo of milk, including peatlands.
“We are proud of where we’ve got to, but we are determined to go a lot further. The number is not a final result but a baseline from where we need to improve,” adds Nørgaard.
“The Climate Checks is a tool to guide our next steps, to accumulate more insight and transparently measure our progress going forward.”
As the next round kicks off in June, Arla farmers will access a new digital tool that enables them to follow their own progression and benchmark against data from other Arla farms.
What is particularly interesting is to learn from the high-performers. The data shows that the best performing Arla farmers can produce a kilo of raw milk with a farm level footprint well below 0,9 kg of CO2e.
Data to improve most effective measures
The insights generated from the compiled data will be shared within the cooperative and also presented to politicians, research partners and industry stakeholders to improve the common understanding of what works and where to focus funding and research to support the longer-term transition on farms.
It can also counter some of the myths and assumptions about what needs to be done on farm.
“Dairy has been an important and established part of many food cultures and economies around the world for many years because of its nutrient density, high-quality proteins, versatility and taste,” continues Nørgaard.
“Within the industry, we have always been clear about the responsibilities we carry to decarbonize our production. However, there has been a lack of robust data at farm level to enable fact-based decision making and investment.”
Capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide
There are still effects of dairy farming that are not fully scientifically understood. One example is carbon sequestration that can potentially be an important positive lever to mitigate climate change, not least for dairy farmers who have many grasslands.
Arla is part in collaboration with FrieslandCampina, Fonterra, Mars, McDonalds and Nestlé, among others, to develop internationally recognized and globally adopted carbon sequestration calculation guidelines for the dairy sector.
When these are in place, the aim is to include the impact of carbon sequestration in the Climate Check measurement.
The relatively low average footprint for Arla’s raw milk at farm level results from year-on-year improvements made by the cooperative’s farmers over the past three decades.
They aim to triple the speed of reductions to meet Arla’s science-based target of -30 percent CO2e per kg of milk from 2015 to 2030 and become carbon net-zero by 2050.
Overall, the number of dairy cows in Arla’s core European markets has declined by between 50 and 80 percent since 1950 while producing the same amount of milk with a significantly lower carbon footprint per kilo. This has been possible due to better animal welfare, strong farm management and new technologies.
Edited by Gaynor Selby
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