Big data empowers Arla farmers to decarbonise dairy at a faster pace
Arla’s Climate Checks programme, which is one of the world’s largest externally validated set of climate data from seven European countries, confirms that Arla farmers are among the most climate efficient dairy farmers in the world. It also provides Arla farmers a clear blueprint, of what will drive further reductions of greenhouse gas emissions on their farms over the next decade.
For the last decades, Arla farmers have been working steadily towards sustainable farming and implementing green opportunities on their farms, such as 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 standardised tool for identifying carbon footprint and the data shows that they are among the most climate efficient in the world.
“We have made a major investment in developing and implementing a solid model for measuring climate impact on a dairy farm. The unique data set that Arla farmers have now created clearly shows which activities will accelerate our reductions over the next decade. We will use this to decarbonise 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,“ says Arla Foods Chairman Jan Toft Nørgaard.
Five universal levers
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.
A baseline, not a result
The data confirms that Arla farmers are among the most climate-efficient dairy farmers in the world with 1.15 kg of CO2e per kilo of milk including peatlands. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) the global milk production emits an average of 2.5 kg CO2e per kg of milk, meaning Arla is way under the global average. The relatively low average footprint for Arla’s raw milk at farm level is a result of year-on-year improvements made by the cooperative’s farmers over the past three decades. In this decade of action, they aim to triple the speed of reductions to meet Arla’s science-based target of -30% CO2e per kg of milk from 2015 to 2030 and to become carbon net-zero by 2050.
However, Arla is determined to go a lot further citing the number is not a final result but a baseline from where they need to improve. Arla farmers’ have already implemented numerous actions that have a positive impact on climate. For instance, 11% of Arla farmers have a biogas generator on the farm or are delivering manure for external biogas production. Using manure to produce biogas is a truly circular process creating a closed-loop system as the remaining degassed biomass can be circulated back to the farms afterward as a higher value fertilizer, which is more nutritious and odorless than the original manure.
Furthermore, 24% of Arla’s cooperative farmers also generate green electricity on their farms from solar panels and wind turbines, which enables them to reduce the total carbon footprint of their milk. Arla farmers also feed their cows mainly with feedstuff grown on or close to the dairy farm. Local protein production is better for the climate than for example imported soy protein transported over long distances. On average 62% of all protein that Arla farmers feed to their cows are homegrown on their own farm.