NFU 2010: Highest milk yield – lowest emissions

Sainsbury’s work monitoring greenhouse gas emissions on 325 dairy farms has shown that the highest yielding herd had the lowest carbon footprint.

Annie Graham, the retailer’s head of brand sustainability, agriculture and health, told NFU delegates on Wednesday (24 February) that the work of their Dairy Development Group had highlighted huge variations in energy efficiency and costs between the farms.

She explained that Sainsbury’s was working with the farmers to properly analyse data and then review and revise practices in each business. A simple traffic-light system was used to identify areas requiring action and benchmarks were set to encourage improvement but no specific targets set.

The dairy producers were using electronic modelling and practical workshops to measure their carbon emissions per cow and per litre of milk. Ms Graham said the learning was useful to the businesses involved, had changed attitudes and would eventually be used to influence future Government policy.

For example, half the dairy farms involved in the project could see they were paying too much for energy in the first place and they were able to go back to their suppliers and renegotiate better deals.

“Year on year, good improvements have been achieved by those embracing these ideas,” said Ms Graham. “But there is a lesson here for the legislators who write the rules. They don’t always take account of nature and yet a number of factors, including the weather, can also influence emissions.”

Sainsbury’s is not keen on using carbon labelling on products but it is expanding the project to include monitoring across its farmer suppliers in beef, sheep, pigs, poultry meat and eggs as well as cheese.

“The reason we led the way was because no one was doing anything about this,” she said. “Sometimes it is just the right thing to do. It is not always about differentiation with competitors.”

Dairy and arable farmer Owen Yeatman shared his experiences in setting up an anaerobic digestion biogas plant on his farm in Dorset in 2008. He is achieving 20% greenhouse gas savings and is generating power with an AD tank that holds 8000t of manure and 3700t of forage on 235 acres with a 400-strong dairy herd.

The development had cost him £1m to set up, excluding grant aid, and would pay back for itself after five years. Mr Yeatman said Germany was well ahead of Britain with 5000 on-farm AD plants and had a thriving renewables industry because its Government had put the right policies and incentives in place.

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