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Sustainability

How the dairy industry can become more sustainable

Lombard’s head of agriculture, Rachael Watson, gives her key takeaways from the 2023 Dairy Show, and highlights ways in which the dairy industry could reduce its environmental impact.

The Dairy Show is always a highlight of the agricultural calendar, and this year was no exception. Visitors from all over the UK came together at the Bath and West showground near Shepton Mallett, Somerset, to enjoy the show and help build a bright future for the industry.

But with growing political momentum and more environmental regulation surrounding the emissions produced by UK businesses, the industry is under pressure to lower its environmental impact and become more sustainable.

There needs to be an emphasis on meeting emission-reduction targets throughout the UK dairy industry

Rachael Watson
Head of Agriculture, Lombard

Many milk processors are taking action to address this, as on-farm emissions account for a significant majority of their Scope 3 emissions.

Most have made carbon pledges across their businesses, and many are actively engaging with their suppliers to encourage them to measure their environmental footprint and lay out plans to show improvement.

Some key areas for dairy farmers to focus on:

  • Having happy cows that live a long and healthy life will produce more milk over their lifetimes. A longer lifespan means the cow produces milk for a larger part of her life, which improves climate efficiency.
  • Feed has a big influence on how much milk a cow produces. If farmers can manage to maximise the milk-to-feed ratio, and minimise waste, then milk production will almost certainly be more climate efficient.
  • Feed yield can also be optimised to increase climate efficiency. A lot of our dairy farmers produce their own feed. This is another important aspect because imported feed can carry a much higher carbon footprint.

There is a general misconception that dairy foods are high in fat. In fact, whole milk is only 3.6% fat, semi-skimmed milk is 1.7% fat, while skimmed milk is 0.3% fat, according to Dairy UK’s Nutritional Composition of Dairy Products guide. Dairy is a nutrient-dense food, providing energy, protein, and a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

But there does need to be an emphasis on meeting emission-reduction targets throughout the UK dairy industry. The first step might be support for farms in understanding what their carbon footprint is and where it comes from. Measuring on-farm emissions is important and there are various carbon calculators available to help.

Most calculators have been designed to be simple to use and will give a good indication of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, in some cases, carbon sequestration on your farm. The important thing is to use these tools – If you don’t measure you can’t make improvements.

Raising awareness

The three main GHG emissions in agriculture are nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide. It’s worth remembering that soils are the third largest storers of carbon in the world, and the amount of carbon retained in farm soils can be vast.

The long-term sustainability of the UK dairy industry is achievable, but several improved practices should be implemented to help reach this goal. The use of feed additives like seaweed extract, a reduction in the use of nitrogen fertiliser, and more efficient management of animals are just three examples of potential steps forward.

The key is to raise awareness of the issues and make a start towards a positive, sustainable future for the industry.

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