Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Northern Ireland Dairy Farm Sector

Date published: 11 January 2017

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A statistical report relating to greenhouse gas emissions on Northern Ireland dairy farms has been released today by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

DARD report

This statistical report presents findings from a carbon footprint time series study that was undertaken for Northern Ireland’s dairy farm sector.    

Carbon footprints as shown in the report refer to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions per unit of product and thereby allow assessments at that level. Within the report, they are measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of energy corrected milk (CO2e/kg ECM).

In addition, the Department also publishes annual statistical releases with results from the UK GHG inventory. Results within these releases relate to total emissions at either the UK, regional or sectoral level. Carbon footprints can be considered supplementary as they present emissions on per unit of product basis.

The statistical report on the carbon footprint study is available on the DAERA website.

The key points are:

  • For the period 1990 to 2014, the carbon foot printing study shows that while the agriculture sector has made relatively modest progress in reducing total GHG emissions (i.e. a reduction of 5.2% since 1990), dairy farming has made substantial progress in reducing its emissions on a per unit of production basis (i.e. a 30.7% reduction since 1990). The reason for this improvement is that Northern Ireland has experienced continual growth in its total milk production over the period (i.e. a 67% increase since 1990) which was driven primarily through increases in milk yield per cow. This growth has spread the emissions burden associated with each dairy cow over a greater volume of production. 
  • In terms of inter-farm variability, the emissions intensity of production for 2014 (i.e. the final year in the series) was found to vary between 0.91 and 2.06 kilograms of CO2e/kg ECM (excluding sequestration.) with an average of 1.32. The main factor causing variation in carbon footprint between individual dairy farms was milk yield per cow. This factor was found to have an inverse relationship with carbon footprint levels – as yield per cow increases, GHG emissions per litre fall.
  • Another factor identified as causing variation in carbon footprint levels between individual dairy farms was the proportion of their total stock that were lactating dairy cows. This factor was also found to have an inverse relationship with carbon footprint levels. The reasoning for this is that as the number of dairy replacements increases, their associated emissions have to be spread over the milk produced. From a GHG perspective, this highlights the importance of minimising replacement rates and meeting target calving ages. 
  • Additionally, there will be factors unmeasured in this study that will influence carbon footprint levels via their impact on milk yields and herd replacement rates. These factors will include land quality, management capabilities and genetic potential of the herd.

Further Information

The statistical report containing more detail can be accessed via the DAERA website.

Notes to editors: 

  1. This report was prepared by Statistics and Analytical Services Branch, CAP Policy, Economics and Statistics Division of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Dundonald House, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, BT4 3SB.
  2. The UK Climate Change Act commits the UK to an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050 from 1990 baseline levels. The UK GHG inventory charts annual emission levels from 1990 at the UK, regional, and sectoral levels. The inventory shows that by 2014, Northern Ireland reduced its emissions by 17.4% from 1990 levels whereas its agriculture sector only achieved a 5.2% reduction.
  3. In addition to the inventory, carbon footprints can be considered as a supplementary approach that typically present emissions per unit of product and thereby allow assessments at that level. These carbon footprints add to the knowledge on emissions and assist in developing appropriate reduction strategies for the associated sector.  
  4. Within the carbon footprint time series study reported, the BovIS Dairy Greenhouse Gas (GHG) calculator developed by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) was used to determine individual carbon footprints for those dairy farms within the Farm Business Survey (FBS). Following this, annual average carbon footprints for the NI dairy farm sector were determined for the years between 1990 and 2014.
  5. The Farm Business Survey is an annual survey undertaken by the Department. It monitors the physical and financial performance of farms in Northern Ireland. 
  6. These statistics are released according to the Statement of Compliance with the Pre-release access to Official Statistics Order (NI) 2009.
  7. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or email: pressoffice.group@daera-ni.gov.uk. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07623 974 383 and your call will be returned.

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