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29 Sep 2021, 13:27
Edgar Meza

Milk’s environmental balance: pasture-based dairy farming beats indoor production

Clean Energy Wire

Organically produced milk derived from pasture-fed cows is more environmentally friendly than milk from conventional farms that keep cows in stalls due mainly to forage cultivation, according to a new study commissioned by the German Environment Agency (UBA). The study analysed the environmental effects of various milk production systems in Germany and calculated their environmental damage costs. These ranged between 21 and 34 cents per kilogram of milk. Organic farms with grazing cows caused the lowest environmental damage, while conventional farms that only use stables generated the highest costs.

Feed production is particularly significant for the overall environmental impact: In conventional milk production, the provision of feed is responsible for 18 to 34 percent of total potential greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of milk, in organic production it is only six to 20 percent. If more domestic fodder such as field beans were used instead of soya imported from overseas, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced, the authors say. In organic dairy farming it is the direct emissions, especially methane from the animals' digestion, that cause the most greenhouse gases: about 50 percent of the greenhouse gas potential per kilogramme of milk comes from organic farming systems - on conventional farms it is only about 30 percent. The reason: in organic dairy farming, the cows give less milk per unit of feed. However, this effect is compensated for by the aforementioned additional emissions due to the provision of feed for enclosed living animals. "Overall, organic and pasture-based milk production has advantages for environmental protection and no disadvantages can be identified from the point of view of climate protection either," concluded Jenny Teufel from the Institute for Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut).

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