Reducing carbon footprint in the dairy industry: part 1 – Farming

carbon footprint farming

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The dairy industry is comprised of three main areas, farming, milk transportation and processing and they can all emit carbon into the atmosphere. There are many ways those in the dairy industry can reduce their carbon footprint or become carbon neutral. 

In our 3 part series of “Reducing carbon footprint in the dairy industry” we will firstly focus on Farming. 

A farm’s carbon footprint can be from a range of sources, from energy use to where their animal feed is sourced. The chart below shows where a farm will produce the most amount of carbon over its lifetime both directly and indirectly.

Farm Carbon Spend

Sustainability knowledge within the industry

There is consistent innovations and scientific research happening in dairy farming. The industry understands that providing farms with the information and education it needs to operate more sustainability is key to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in farming.

The programs aimed at farms range from college courses, consultancy, government programs, initiatives from representative bodies and many more. Farmers are responding very enthusiastically to these initiatives. More and more farms are achieving sustainability accreditations and awards through their continued efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

Applying best practices for land management

Utilising modern operational methods that have come out of heavy scientific research, means farms operate with a lower carbon footprint. 

One such area where best practices have changed due our understanding of the land and something that might surprise some readers is that the land holds carbon.

Breaking the land in any way releases carbon. In fact, if we look at a small country like Ireland, the estimated amount of carbon stored in mineral soils in Ireland under grass and tillage crops is equivalent to 30 years worth of emissions from the whole Irish economy. Even irrigation leads to significantly higher soil organic carbon contents in arid soils and deserts than in non-irrigated conditions. So understanding correct land management will greatly reduce a farm’s carbon footprint. Dairy farmers who are aware of best practices for sustainable land management will reduce carbon spills. 

Protecting and growing hedges, trees and borders

Keeping as much green on farms positively impacts the environment and greatly improves the farms carbon footprint. Trees, hedgeways and grass margins all add to carbon reduction as well as providing habitats for animals and high activity areas for pollinating insects and help mitigate the risk of flooding.

Investing in equipment, tools and supplies

But, there is only so much the farmer can do to reduce their carbon footprint alone. Science and innovation also has a role to play. Providing farms with more efficient tools, equipment and sustainable supplies is essential. 

  • Farm equipment that uses less fuel or energy. 
  • Animal housing and turnout solutions 
  • Development in manure management systems and techniques. 
  • Animal food that is produced more sustainably. 
  • Research on land management techniques.

There are approximately 150 million dairy farmers worldwide. All the supplies and equipment needed by each farm are becoming more sustainable, helping farmers reduce their overall carbon footprint. For example,

  • Milking machines are under continuous improvement to use less electricity and less water for washing. 
  • Manure management is using more sustainable materials in its production, but their newer designs and efficiencies lower the carbon footprint of farms when implemented. 
  • Plate coolers for milk cooling reduces energy consumption for cooling and storing milk. 
  • Heat recovery solutions provide a comfortable winter housing environment for animals 
  • Vacuum pumping systems are more energy friendly
  • Solar panels will provide some or sometimes all of the electricity needed by the farm. 
  • Investing in sustainably produced feed and feed that works better with the animals digestive system.

Utilising new technologies and modern equipment and supplies is not only good for the environment but can provide a big return on investment for the farmer. It also enhances the farm’s attractiveness to prospective produce procurement teams. 


Reducing a farm’s carbon footprint is not a single item approach and it is not a “do it once” situation either. As research, science and innovations improve, the industry will be constantly developing and adapting. Patience, understanding and time is needed to allow for the industry to adapt and implement the sustainability program that is right for them. The important thing is that the investment continues in science and research to ensure farms are supported with educational material on best practices, and economically viable and practically applicable solutions to lower their carbon footprint.

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