The interaction between milk and beef production and emissions from land use change - Critical considerations in life cycle assessment and carbon footprint studies of milk
Journal article, 2012
Two most critical factors to address in environmental system analysis of future milk production are 1) the link between milk and beef production, and 2) the competition for land, possibly leading to land use change (LUC) with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and loss of biodiversity as important implications. Different methodological approaches concerning these factors, in studies on environmental impacts of dairy production, sometimes lead to contradictory results. Increasing milk yield per cow is often one of the solutions discussed in order to reduce GHG emissions from milk production. However, when also accounting for other systems affected (e.g. beef production) it is not certain that an increase in milk yield per cow leads to a reduction in total GHG emissions per kg milk. In the present study the correlation between carbon footprint (CF) of milk and the amount of milk delivered per cow is investigated for 23 dairy farms (both organic and conventional) in Sweden. Use of a fixed allocation factor of 90% (based on economic value) indicates a reduction in CF with increased milk yield, while no correlation can be noted when system expansion is applied. The average CF for two groups of farms, organic and high yielding conventional, is also calculated. When conducting system expansion the CF is somewhat lower for the organic farms (which have a lower milk yield per cow, but more meat per kg milk), but when a 90% allocation factor is used, the CF is somewhat higher for the organic farms compared to the high yielding conventional farms. In analysis of future strategies for milk production, it is suggested that system expansion should be applied, in order to also account for environmental impacts from affected systems. Thus, scenarios for milk and meat production should be analysed in an integrated approach in order to reduce total emissions from the livestock sector. How to account for emissions from LUC is highly debated and there is no current shared consensus. Different LUC methods result in significantly different results. In this study, four different LUC methods are applied, using data for organic milk production and high yielding conventional milk production systems in Sweden. Depending on which LUC method was applied, the organic system showed about 50% higher or 40% lower CF compared to the conventional high yielding system. Thus, when reporting CF numbers, it is important to report LUC-factors separately and clearly explain the underlying assumptions, since the method of accounting for LUC can drastically change the results. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.