Pierre Gerber – Livestock Policy Officer, Livestock Production and Health Division, FAO
Pierre Gerber – Livestock Policy Officer, Livestock Production and Health Division, FAO
Pierre Gerber is a Livestock Policy Officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. He was involved, in collaboration with the IDF, on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the sector.
IDF: How important is the development of this IDF common carbon footprint methodology? What are the advantages, and do you see any disadvantages?
PG: Well, the development of a common methodology is actually crucial. It is essential to be able to compare results, to compare benchmarks, to compare mitigation options, and so on. For the time being, I clearly see a problem in this regard with current LCAs where you use different quantification approaches, different system boundaries, different functional units, and the results are really blurred because of that. Moving towards a commonly accepted and commonly used methodology is actually very important and crucial. I don’t think there are many strong disadvantages – you just have to make sure that you can still adapt a certain methodology to the specific requirement of your assessment. So you don’t use the same methodology to do an assessment at the global level and to do an assessment for a single product on the supermarket shelves. You clearly need two different approaches but you have to make sure that those approaches fit into the same frame so you can still make some comparisons.
How does evaluation of carbon footprints help the dairy sector? What is the value to industry and the environment?
I think this analysis was necessary. The consumer is increasingly aware of the emissions related to the production of animal goods, and for the sector it was imperative to address that concern and to show that it was taking the issue seriously. So I think that was very important for the sector. Also, I think – and increasingly so – that social responsibility is important to some of the producers. So for people involved in animal production – for a growing part of them – not being shown as having a detrimental impact on the environment is becoming more important. It is also part of the acceptance of their activity in local communities. I think those were the two key points really for the sector. But – as we said before – there are also profitability gains associated with improving the sector’s carbon footprint, so that would be a third benefit of this kind of activity.
Do you agree with the statement that engaging with sustainability leads to profitable opportunities, and can you see that sort of impact in the agriculture and dairy sectors?
Yes, I think that there are quite a number of examples of this in the dairy sector. If you look at the productivity range going from about 1,000kg of milk per cow per year to 2,500kg of milk per cow per year, between these two numbers you see that improving productivity, especially looking at genetics and feed, goes with substantial improvements or reductions of GHG emissions. So that is a clear synergy between cow profitability and environmental performance. If you go higher up in the yield you also see quite significant synergies – for example, related to the efficiency of energy use on farms and in the processing plants. With regard to health, too – mastitis, for example, is controlled and reduced – leading to less waste of milk related to mastitis issues. These are examples in the dairy sector, but in the agricultural sector over-fertilization is a key example of potential win-win between the profitability of production and environmental impact.
The credo of sustainability is people, profit and planet – a triple win – do you see that in this dairy initiative?
There are such triple wins but we have to be honest – the fact is that there is a limit to triple wins and there are also important trade-offs between profitability and certain environmental issues. There are clearly trade-offs between profitability and animal welfare issues. And you will also find trade-offs between welfare and environmental sustainability, so yes there are synergies and we should be looking for those and taking advantage of them as much as we can, but we know that not everything can be solved in this way.
An important selling point is that the Guide is based on sound science and robust standards – just how important is that?
To really make sure that the methodology and the Guide are relying on best science and on accepted standards is crucial. It is crucial because you don’t want to waste efforts. You want to make sure that the actions that the sector is going to take upon these recommendations are going to be effective, and you also want to demonstrate or to be very clear that it is not about ‘green washing’, but that you are really trying to get objective assessments and fair recommendations – so this again is very crucial.
What else do you think the global dairy industry needs to do to promote/support sustainability in the future? Can the common approach on carbon footprint LCA development be applied elsewhere?
Well, GHG emissions are only one of the multiple aspects of environmental sustainability. And environmental sustainability is only one aspect of sustainability in general. So it is important to remind ourselves that the step taken on quantifying emissions is only a first step and it does not represent the complete sustainability of the sector. It is very important and obvious to some, but maybe not to all of us. So the next steps – at least on the FAO side – are obviously first to try and incorporate other environmental issues in the LCA.
We are now working on water, on land use – maybe we will be able to include some aspects of biodiversity – anyway, we have to make an effort to include other environmental concerns in the LCA. Then you will have a better grasp of the environmental sustainability of the sector. This is not giving you information on ethical issues, such as welfare, poverty reduction, and so on. And there perhaps LCA is not the right tool for quantifying those impacts – you may want to go towards other tools – we have to see that and maybe for sure this would only be achievable through a broader engagement of different organizations in this regard. So those are really the key next steps.
I think the collaboration between the IDF and FAO on GHG emissions was really successful and maybe in a way an example of how the industry and FAO could work on these topics. There were really three ways or three elements in this collaboration: apart from finance and resources dedicated to the study, there was a part on exchanging information, data, expertise on the sector; and the third one on the outreach of the results towards the general public and also towards the professionals in the sector. So, on those three elements I think we did quite well and we should see how we can continue to collaborate both with the dairy and with other livestock sectors.
What are the main sustainability issues confronting the FAO from the livestock perspective? What are the priorities and how are the issues interrelated?
Yes, they are all interrelated. From an environmental standpoint I think as soon as we are finished with the GHG emissions we would move into water, which I think is the next pressing issue, then the next will be biodiversity – not so much because it is less important than water. Biodiversity is also extremely important, but because of the mere complexity of quantifying biodiversity issues and expressing them in an index that we can compute globally for a variety of systems across different regions, and so on. Land use will also be there. Actually, land use is something that we have already quantified in the current model, but – if you want – land use is not a real environmental issue in itself. It is often an in-between effect that will have an end result on water resources or on biodiversity or on emissions, so I’m not forgetting land use but I think of it more as an intermediary.
Now other groups here are working on animal welfare – it is quite an active group – on positive reduction, the resilience of the systems. This is all part of the picture and eventually these assessments and improvements have to be connected up and worked out together. This is when we enter the complexity of shaping better farming systems. And that’s when you really enter into the dimension where you need to have fairly locally specific options and solutions responding to the different demands that society puts on business: demands from an ethical stance, demands for the product, demands for environmental services, and so on. And that can only be solved when you are at a sufficiently low level. For example, on the watershed, in the county, in the district – maybe some of those things can also be shaped at national level, but you don’t have any universal solution at that stage. That is obvious.
Generally speaking, is best practice best in the developed world? But is it fair to say the need is in the developing world?
Well, the growth is clearly in the developing countries, there is no doubt about it. And as I said, when you are between 1,000 and 2,500 litres of milk per cow per year – going from 1,000 to 2,500 achieves both productivity and growth and reduced emissions intensity. So yes, that is quite an interesting point for all these systems; for example, suburban systems in Africa, Indian systems where you really have scope for growing and reducing emissions. But again, emissions are not the whole thing. And the Netherlands’ systems have other problems, for example, relating to water.
Thank you Pierre
Sophie Bertrand – Environmental Manager for the French Livestock Institute
Sophie Bertrand works for the French Livestock Institute as Environmental Technical Manager and also manages the environmental programme of the French Dairy Federation. Sophie was team leader for the action team who developed the IDF LCA Guide.
IDF: What was your role in the development of the Guide and carbon footprint methodology?
SB: I had to make an exchange between the experts; I had to set the frame for the work and fix some goals as well. I also had input on specific areas of the methodology like the key parameters at farm level and the carbon sequestration section. So, at the same time I was action team leader and also a member of the working team.
In your view, what is the importance of developing this common method?
I think it is very important to develop a common methodology on the LCA because we need to get the carbon footprint of dairy products clear, where we are really being challenged, so we need to know where we are and where and how we could make progress and to be able to evaluate progress. In fact, may be to make it easier to understand. We had a first look at the scientific literature on the issue – we did a literature review in fact. And what we learnt was that: first, there were not a lot of studies on dairy products, and second that all the studies were using Life Cycle Analysis, which is good, but each study was using a different parameter, a different allocation method, a different functional unit, a different coefficient and, as a result, it was just impossible to analyse the results and to conclude anything.
So is it important to be able to compare results from different regions?
Yes, because if you don’t take the same methodological choice you can’t really analyse the results a lot and then you can’t know where the difference comes from anymore. You don’t know if it is because of the different methodology or because of a different system which affects everything.
So inter-comparability is really key? Are there any disadvantages, and is the new IDF methodology different to the method you used before in France?
Yes. The methodology we used was significantly different from the IDF Guide. We used the Life Cycle Analysis methodology and we also had different allocation choices. We didn’t take the same allocation choice for milk and meat and milk products, and we didn’t use the same coefficients because we used specific coefficients adapted to the French sector. So we have to make some calculations again with the new IDF methodology because it is really different. Even if the frame is the same – inside it is really different.
What about new calculations. Which is truer – or is that not the point? Less exact but now comparable – which is more important?
It is one disadvantage but it is a common methodology and we had to make a compromise – to make a compromise, to make it applicable at world level – that can lead to a lack of accuracy compared with specific methodology adapted to a local region, but then the goals are not the same – in fact, we need them both. You need to have your specific calculation at the local level to make progress but you need a calculation on the same basis at the international level in order to compare and have a discussion at the world level within the dairy sector.
To make those global comparisons in the developing world, etc.?
And also to speak with one voice – otherwise it’s really confusing for the public if you see a huge quantity of data being published and none of them are using the same methodology.
How did you find the process of developing the guide?
I would say that the development process was very reassuring because it took over a year in development involving [both] scientists and practitioners from key organizations – so there is an impressive quantity of work behind the Guide. We had over a year of exchange, of writing articles, of phone calls, so it makes the Guide really robust I would say from that point of view. And everybody was really collaborative and very motivated.
What is the importance of the guide to the dairy sector – and to you personally?
The Guide is very important for the dairy sector for two main reasons: first, to support the production of consistent and comparable carbon footprint figures at the world level – that is, to answer the problem of confusion over the quantity of data. And second, it is important to enable the evaluation of dairy products on a consistent basis. So that’s really quite important and at the very end this Guide will support the evolution of efficient and sustainable businesses that are continually reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, because that is really the final goal to really reduce the emissions.
Are you saying if you can’t measure you can’t manage?
Yes, exactly, that is right.
And the Guide gives that consistent basis?
Yes, to allow you to calculate and then to make some progress. And, at the same time, the Guide is important because the industry can demonstrate a credible focus on environmental issues so that it speaks with one voice.
Will you use the Guide to calculate your own [research] organisation’s carbon footprint – is it applicable?
We will use the IDF guide to calculate the carbon footprint of the French dairy sector. We have done it already with the local tool we have built. But we will do it again with the IDF tool so that we can see the difference – if there is one.
How would farmers use the Guide practically – can they?
We didn’t go as far as providing a tool – because it was a little bit too much work – so we decided to start with just writing the Guide and the Guide will give the main direction you have to follow. But it is only one step and the second step could be to build a tool to help farmers to calculate.
The Guide’s robust basis is in science and international standards – how important is that?
Yes, this Guide is really, really based on the best knowledge available at the world level on the issue. We took into account all the current guidelines already existing – I mean ISO, the PAS 2050, IPCC greenhouse gas protocol, the FAO study as well, so it’s absolutely not possible to be more exhaustive than that. And for the result, it makes the Guide really robust I think.
Were there any difficulties in implementation? Is expertise from the IDF necessary to support users?
Yes it is possible and that is why the action team will, in fact, stay in action to be able to answer the questions from potential users of the Guide. Because it is true that it is a complicated area, so some people may have difficulties to understand everything and to apply it to their sector. And at the same time the other difficulty that I can see as well is that the science on the issue is evolving and so we have to monitor this rapidly developing area to ensure the guidance remains at the cutting-edge of the methodological development. And so that is why we need again that small action team to constantly review the Guide and update it.
Can the experience of working to develop the carbon footprint methodology be applied in other areas of concern for sustainability?
Yes. The thing that is important to say as well as the Guide is that we chose to focus on the carbon footprint to start with because that is where we were really challenged, but we are all aware that the carbon footprint is only one issue of the sustainability problem. You also have the water issue and the biodiversity issue that are very important so we will definitely have to take those into account. So again our carbon footprint methodology is the first step; in fact it will work as a base for the next work on water and biodiversity. And it is the same with the FAO because we worked a lot with the FAO on the carbon footprint and we will use our experience on that to work with them on water and biodiversity and other issues as well because there are a lot of other issues. So it is really a start… because we need to be global. The carbon footprint is only a focus on one impact, but if we really want to support sustainability we want to have a global look at other vital issues.
So the guide is not just a basis for its specific focus – that is, the carbon footprint – but it is actually a working framework for other issue areas?
Exactly. For the other issues we will use the same methodology, that is a life-cycle methodology. It will be the same but we will just use it for different issues such as water or biodiversity.
Thank you Sophie
John Hutchings – General Manager Sustainability for Fonterra, Jim Barnett – Environment Strategy and Development Manager at Fonterra, Stewart Ledgard – Ag Research, one of New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes
John Hutchings (JH) is General Manager Sustainability for Fonterra, the New Zealand multinational dairy company, and is based in Wellington. He worked with the Fonterra Carbon Footprint Project team, mostly from the on-farm perspective, and acted as a ‘bit of glue’ to get the project going and moving forward.
Jim Barnett (JB) is the Environment Strategy and Development Manager at Fonterra. He is also a member of the IDF Science Programme Coordinating Committee.
Stewart Ledgard (SL) is from Ag Research, one of New Zealand’s Crown Research Institutes. He was involved with the Fonterra project on the development of a carbon footprint methodology.
IDF: What are the main sustainability challenges facing the New Zealand dairy sector today? Can sustainability trigger economic benefits?
JH: Interesting for New Zealand – where probably 2.6% of New Zealand’s GDP is off the back of dairy and dairy contributes 25% of our export receipts – is posting the fundamental importance of dairy to the New Zealand economy. And arising from that of course is the fundamental responsibility to mitigate environmental risk associated with our dairy-based, pastoral-based economy.
JB: Well, while climate change is important in New Zealand, water quantity isn’t as important, but water quality is, and nutrients are an issue.
JH: Yes. Optimizing nutrient use and ensuring all the nutrients contributed to the farm are used as optimally as possible is the challenge – although there are limits. The heady ideal would be to achieve a closed-system approach.
JB: And in manufacturing. I mean our major issue at present is reducing nutrients in our discharge of wastewater to waterways. And you asked about economic benefit – well one way we can do that is to reduce the losses from the manufacturing plants – having better cleaning procedures, so everything ends up in a product rather than in the wastewater.
SL: It’s the same on-farm also. Recent research indicates that practices looking particularly to reduce nitrogen loss into the waterways are also reducing nitrous oxide emissions and the carbon footprint. So you get a double benefit from practices in terms of reducing multiple environmental emissions.
You had done quite a bit of work on carbon footprint assessment in New Zealand before the IDF initiative was launched?
JB: It was very useful that we had done that work. Because then we had answers to one of the major issues in this whole IDF carbon footprint challenge which is how you allocate the carbon between – I guess – milk and meat on-farm, and between different products in the manufacturing sector. And the fact that we’d done it with our experts from first principle allowed us to robustly defend that within the industry.
SL: Yes, at the farm stage we used biophysical allocation between milk and meat, which we believe is scientifically more defendable and, being based on energy and fed intake partitioning, it is aligned more closely with the major methane and nitrous oxide emissions. While there was some quite robust discussion on how the final methodology was developed, I think it was actually an excellent process where there was active discussion with industry and researchers so that the final result was scientifically robust but was also quite practical in terms of its application.
JB: What we at Fonterra did was this: we went through our carbon footprint for our five products and then put the project on ‘pause’ until there was a globally accepted method for dairy products, before we started up again. This is why Fonterra – and New Zealand – have been quite active in working with IDF to promote and get the group together to come up with this common methodology. And I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but the Australian industry is about to start a carbon footprint evaluation of about 12 products which they will base on the IDF methodology.
So obviously there has been a lot of work put into this. How does it affect Fonterra’s operation? How important is this project to Fonterra both from an economic point of view and how the business moves forward?
JH: Let me make a start on that. The critical issue is the benchmark of performance as a mechanism to monitor progress going forward. If you aren’t measuring you certainly can’t manage. Second, having understood very clearly, as a result of the work, exactly where in the supply chain which inputs actually have the highest carbon contribution, and which then lend themselves to having carbon stripped, we are able to focus our ongoing investment on reducing our carbon footprint. So it’s fundamental work to focus our carbon-reduction programme. Third, it was about informing customers, and indeed our dairy farmer suppliers, about the carbon footprint of our products – noting that we are predominantly a supplier of commodities and ingredients rather than of consumer products – so all of our dried milk products and our milk protein concentrates are used as input for other products that are more often directly consumed by customers – so they wanted a number and we provided them with a robust number.
And I guess the other big driver for us was that so often, hand-in-hand with sustainability gains, are efficiency gains and associated financial gains – you have got a question later on that asks about that. But one of the big gains, particularly in processing, is simply to acknowledge the importance of energy and thereby reinvigorate our ongoing focus on energy efficiency and, as a result, achieve more gains, more cost reductions.
JB: Energy reduction or energy use in manufacturing and the programmes we have are quite important and the carbon footprint does drive quite a lot of that.
JH: Another factor to note is that New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to have a price-based climate change legislative regime that is all gases, all sectors. And while agricultural gases will not enter our scheme until 2015, what the legislation did was – because there was a price to pay if you cannot reduce your carbon footprint – give us the incentive to look very quickly and very hard at our supply chain to see where we should focus our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.
That is a stiff financial incentive in the medium term?
JH: Well, the regime in total has had the government adopt an emission credit approach. This means we will transition from what was required in July this year  when there was a price set at the margin – not the total price – for electricity and fuel, towards the all-gases and all-sectors approach from 2015.
JB: It is driving quite a bit of research into reducing on-farm emissions.
JH: Well, that is the other point to note: 85% of dairy emissions are on-farm, 10% in processing and 5% in other parts of the supply chain. You know that with 85% on-farm and no easy solutions at the fingertips, it certainly reinforces the need for deep research into options on-farm for carbon reduction. I’ve got some numbers here. We have a pastoral greenhouse gas research consortium that works with government and other parts of the agricultural sector in New Zealand. There has been 27.5 million NZ$ spent since 2002 and another 12 million is committed in the next two years to find answers, or rather low-hanging carbon fruit, within the on-farm scene. It has also given rise to the global collaborative research platform that New Zealand leads around agricultural gas reduction. That certainly helped us focus very clearly on ‘future proofing’ our operations – finding solutions for tomorrow.
Which gases: methane, CO2, etc.?
JB: It’s methane and nitrous oxide for us as the priority gases for attention. I mean in New Zealand because we are a pastoral-based economy with our cows on grass most of the time – so CO2 is the minor one on-farm.
JH: Yes, that is the case. I’ve got the numbers here actually. CO2 is at 17% of the on-farm footprint and of course that takes into account … if you look at that 17%, a third of it is land-use change – so we’ve adopted the PAS 2050 approach which requires in their method that land-use change be taken into account. Of the rest of the CO2, a fair chunk comes from fertilizer and lime and the like, and a surprisingly small amount from fuel and electricity. It’s those other aspects that count.
SL: Yes. We differ quite a lot from the European farming system with our outdoor grazing all year round on permanent grass systems so that we have low fuel use compared to European farms where there is high use of cutting and carrying feed, winter housing of cows, which may also be heated, and so on. So our fuel and electricity use and associated CO2 emissions are small compared to, say, the northern European scene.
What are the advantages of the new IDF common carbon footprint methodology? Can you foresee any disadvantages?
JB: I don’t think there is any disadvantage but the advantage is that the global industry is working with the same methodology and we can compare our products together. One of the things that I kept saying during this process was that we should all be working together, not fighting each other on this, because our challenge is posed by other food producers. And if we can all work together, have one methodology, then we are all on the same page going forward and, by having one methodology, the aim is to get accepted into the ISO standard as the agreed carbon footprint method for dairy products.
Having developed that – it does give us a strong position in my view – with what other industries end up doing, because they look to see what we have done and have got established and in some ways they become a follower rather than a leader.
So the dairy sector is ahead of the game with this initiative?
SL: Yes. I am also involved with some work with the lamb industry in New Zealand, and they are now looking at what is happening with this project to see if there is a good framework for the lamb sector internationally in terms of trying to get a common methodology. It also helps a lot in terms of transparency, so that people using the same methodology, and who know what the main components are, can try to understand the reasons for different published estimates. They are aware that it’s based on a common approach.
JB: There are experts from at least four countries – if not five – who were developing their methodology and came together and all had input into this IDF methodology. So you’ve had experts working independently, coming together and then coming up with this common methodology.
And that gives it its strength through collaboration and sound science?
JB: Yes. It has helped to have that because, from my point of view, this has been a long process. It has taken over a year to get to where we are. At every stage, the science, the people have been able to justify where we are going but it has taken time because we are all in different continents, different countries, keeping everything moving, but we’ve had the baseline behind it and it has moved forward.
And will it have a palpable effect on your business?
JB: Yes. And it also leads into the next work that the IDF is doing which is on water footprinting. So it’s a basis for further work on sustainability within the IDF. I think we have involved other global organizations within the dairy sector, such as SAI (Sustainable Agricultural Initiative) and the Global Dairy Platform which have all been involved with this development. To me, when we sat down we saw the IDF as the ideal organization to lead this because it was global, it was a central platform, it had a lot of members and this, in my view, is something where IDF can really step up with a leadership role in this global sustainability world.
How should the sector be promoting and supporting the Guidelines?
JH: One of the key take-homes for me with the team having done the carbon footprint work was to realize that if you are thinking sustainability you actually need a multi-variable index because carbon, while very important, is still partial. So our long focus has to be around the concept of nutritional efficiency which I see as having two domains: what are the nutritional needs of the people of planet Earth, and how are they satisfied with least environmental footprint? And where does milk sit within that equation. That is the longer focus. The multiple environmental parameters against essential nutritional needs is the domain that all of us across a wide spectrum need to move towards. That implies a need for certainty about method, as was the case with the carbon footprint work, around the metrics to actually define nutritional need – and to define (with the right balance) all of the variables that make up the environmental footprint accurately and honestly within a method that, globally, we are prepared to adopt. That is the long game as I see it.
JB: I see the IDF providing the tools and the science to ensure that we can measure our sustainability going forward. Providing the information to the individual countries and the dairy companies so they know how they can reduce their footprints and improve their sustainability.
SL: When the methodology is established it can be used to define where you are currently and it can then be used at the different stages, too, whether it is on-farm or in processing, to look at the opportunities for environmental footprint reduction and how they can be implemented most cost-effectively.
JB: And you ask how the IDF can promote this carbon footprint method. They have to actively promote the methodology and publicize the uptake of it. This could be done through the Global Dairy Agenda for Action on Climate Change which is recording what various companies and countries are doing to reduce their footprint. I see it as a major bit of work done by the IDF where it will be recording how the global dairy sector is reducing its carbon footprint with time.
JH: The frame created by the Global Dairy Agenda for Action on Climate Change is superb for keeping the global dairy sector honest and on-task. We now have a method. Our need now is to publicly disclose our commitment to applying the method and reducing our environmental, or particularly our carbon footprint, globally.
How will the methodology be implemented on the farm?
SL: In New Zealand, the methodology that we had developed here is now being integrated into a nutrient-budgeting model which is used on over 95% of dairy farms in this country. So they are now getting that same information in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions and also using it to look at practices and changes that they can make in terms of how they will influence the greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint for milk produced at the farm level.
JH: This model focuses on nutrient optimization but it also provides a really good base for quite simple calculations of on-farm greenhouse gas emissions. We are doing some more work to look at the ‘bell’ curve of performance within regions and between regions in New Zealand. This will help us better understand the reasons why variations might exist and/or better understand what action can be taken on-farm to reduce the carbon footprint of the farm.
Any final thoughts?
JH: It is all about global dairy collaborating, its pre-competitive, and its in all of our interests. Quite frankly, I think the sector has stepped up very nobly in this domain and has provided excellent ground for moving forward on future challenges, most of which Jim mentioned: water, biodiversity and the broader spectrum of nutritional density efficiency versus environmental footprint comparative work that we need to head towards.
JB: All I would say is that in the discussions that I’ve had in the IDF with other countries and other companies in the area of sustainability I think we have agreed to work together, whereas in other areas it’s very competitive. We work together on determining the carbon footprint but companies will still keep very confidential how they can lower their carbon footprint in the manufacturing sense. In terms of sustainability issues, particularly doing the carbon footprint and the water footprint work, there is good will for global co-operation.
SL: I think that global co-operation is happening at a number of levels – even at the research level there is evidence from the current work with a joint PhD student looking at common carbon footprint methodology issues in detail to add to this whole process, which is being supported by Fonterra and ARLA.
Many thanks, gentlemen
Dr Theun Vellinga – Wageningen UR Livestock Research
Theun Vellinga is a researcher working at Wageningen UR Livestock Research – the contract research organisation of the Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. He is a senior scientist working on livestock systems with an emphasis on dairy systems.
IDF: What was your role in the development of the new IDF LCA methodology and guide?
TV: I had an input. I joined discussions a number of times. And for that I was especially emphasising simple and robust methods because good data availability is not always the case everywhere [in the world].
What is the importance of having this Guide available globally? And are there any disadvantages?
When you really come to specialists they always tell you that a common, general methodology it is not detailed enough for the detail they are looking at. But in general I think there are many more advantages; because you have a common methodology it means that you have a uniform approach that results from the one country, and the others are comparable because we calculated them in the same way, and then you can say that emissions are higher in this country when compared to another country and what is the reason. The reason is not that it is calculated in a different way but it really has something to do with the livestock system so it’s very helpful in analysing. When you go to the farm itself it might be useful to have a more detailed model but at that moment you also have other data available on the farm itself. So, for comparison between systems, between countries and between regions it is very useful to have a common methodology.
So is this new Guide a significant development for the sector?
Indeed, I think they are, because that is also what we faced at the FAO. Here and there were some calculations about GHG emissions from dairy systems or from other livestock systems, but they all used different calculations or rules or different starting points for the calculations so they were not comparable.
So now with the Guide you can take like for like in a developing country and compare systems with a developed country?
Yes. The problem is of course that you can develop such a figure and you do it in a similar way. And – ok – it’s very helpful when looking at the systems. But the other way is what do you do with [the figure], but that is sometimes more a policy discussion than a discussion of calculation. Because the calculations are correct, they are comparable but you see that there are big differences between developing and developed countries. Ok, now we know that the next question is: what should we do about it?
So then it is the policy-makers’ role to take the data and do something?
Yes, I think mitigation in developing countries is in part [new] technique but sometimes, very often, existing techniques. The question is much more will we make sure that this technique is applied in practice? It has much more to do with policy than with technical research.
Does the methodology differ significantly from previous methodologies?
Well, maybe in some details I think so, but the main part – how nutrition is calculated, how emissions are calculated – they are all based on the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) because when we started I emphasised that when we want uniformity we shouldn’t start with inventing our own calculation rules but should use already existing calculation rules from the IPCC. I also used them in my work, so from that point of view there are some tiny differences but most of them are quite similar.
The Guide took over a year to develop through a very consultative process – how did you find the way of working?
I think it was a good exercise. It was not easy because you had people from all over the world. But what you saw was everybody was willing to develop a uniform approach. So everybody was really positive in thinking and helpful in how to find solutions. So this was a good process, and yes I’m quite satisfied with it.
The Guide is based on very robust science. Is that a key part of the Guide in your view?
Yes. It is traceable. You can trace it back to where it comes from and a lot of experts have been involved, which means that you have a good scientific basis under it; you also see this in the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the IPCC. It is very important to have a good scientific basis so that there will be no debate on: ‘well this is not calculated in the right way’. It is calculated in the right way so the only question is ‘does it bother you or not?’. But it is calculated in the way it should be calculated. And you can say here when you follow this calculation you have a good approach.
Have you got any views on usability? Is it accessible to an ordinary farmer? Will they need expertise help?
The point is that now we have a set of guidelines and when farmers want to use it – in fact, you should convert it into a quite user-friendly simple model where you can fill in ‘this is the number of cows I have’, ‘this is the volume of milk production’, ‘this is the fertiliser I use’, ‘this is what I do with manure’, etc. and then it can be calculated and he can use it by himself. He [the farmer] can download it from the internet, he can buy it on a CD, or whatever. But translating the set of guidelines into a calculation programme, well that is not really a farmer’s job.
You know it is always very helpful that these calculations are done in co-operation with an extension worker, with an accountant, or someone who is used to it because when you have the results on your table then now is it good? Is it bad? Should I improve my management or where can I improve my management? You still have a lot of questions so it is always good to do it in combination with an extension worker. You can do it on your own if you like, but it is good to do it together.
And at this moment we are also working on a project on carbon footprinting of animal nutrition where, in fact, we want to expand the activities of the IDF Guidelines to a feed database and come to uniform calculation rules for emissions, too. One of the first questions that came from the private sector, but also from farmers, and from the ministry, is that we want to have a tool, and this tool should also be applicable on individual farms. So that is what they really want and we will build in the years to come.
What else is needed for the dairy sector to promote and support sustainability? Where else would a common approach like this be useful?
I think that also for the other livestock sectors the development of a common approach is very important because then you can spend your energy on comparing systems – and not on – well, what is the right calculation or we have figures but they are not comparable so what can we do with it? And you can spend your energy on what in fact is the final purpose, which is to improve sustainability. Because when you see the calculations, 2.7% of the anthropogenic emissions come from milk from dairy cattle – and another 1.3% comes from the meat production that is related to dairy systems. Ok, it’s 4% – but that is still 96% coming from others but, on the other hand, you can ask: could it be less? Because we expect milk production to increase in the world and we have to reduce GHG emissions as a whole, dairy livestock should take its responsibilities as well and try to reduce it. So the next step now is how do we reduce emissions? Well, the knowledge gives the information but the next step is let’s make it work in practice.
Have you any thoughts on how the Guide will be disseminated, especially in the developing world?
I think that really is an issue. And not a simple one because what you also see is that the institutional infrastructure in developing countries is not always optimal. This means that dissemination of these Guidelines – but also dissemination of techniques and management to reduce GHG emissions – is not easy. What we saw in dairy is that most of the emissions take place in the developing world so it is really worthwhile to put effort into mitigation in the developing countries, and you can also combine it with food security and livelihoods for many smallholders. So, from that point of view I think it is good to put effort into it. And I have the impression that the IDF is willing to do so although it is not the easiest part of the job.
So from your point of view the Guide is a very positive development?
Yes, it also gives people energy. You say, the dairy sector already realised a common approach based on the willingness to mitigate emissions. This positive energy is always quite good to make progress.
What, in your view, are the main sustainability challenges facing the global dairy sector?
Well at the moment there is a lot of emphasis on GHG emissions but I think that depending on the region where you are we should not forget the other environmental issues. And when I look at the country I come from – the Netherlands – then we see that due to the high stocking density, nitrate and ammonia are also real problems, and due to the high imports of soy and other concentrate stuffs, phosphorus accumulation is also becoming a problem.
What other challenges are there – in the Netherlands or elsewhere?
I think that in some other regions too where dairy cattle are highly concentrated, like in Brittany in France, but also in the north of Italy, and I think there are some other parts of Europe where you might also have problems with nitrates. And in general you can say that the water problem – water quantity and quality – can become a worldwide problem as well.
Many thanks Theun
David Homer – Farmer (Wiltshire, UK)
David Homer has been farming, in partnership with his wife Jane, in central southern England for 21 years. They are tenant farmers of the Crown Estate and have 200 milking cows.
IDF: What are the main sustainability challenges facing the sector?
DH: Well, I think there are two main things with sustainability affecting dairy farmers. One is economic sustainability and the other is probably people. And the concern about where are the people coming from who will be prepared to milk cows and look after them in the future, because it is becoming increasingly difficult to find enthusiastic young people to come into the industry. Also, of course, the environmental challenges from the point of view of water availability and potential temperature changes affect cows and possibly their welfare.
Are there any particular environmental sustainability issues in your day-to-day operations?
As a UK dairy farmer, the most recent challenge is ensuring that we are complying with the NVZ (nitrate vulnerable zones) legislation which includes all of our farmland. This means that we have to be very careful about the amounts of nitrogen that we apply to the land in organic and inorganic forms. And also, new legislation about manure handling and storage and closed periods – so it has all added a new dimension to managing our dairy farm.
That is one thing, but we are also in a catchment-sensitive farming area because of the soil type – we are on chalk downland which means that we have an added interest in farm management and we are trying to… you know it is important to reduce any run-off or erosion or those kinds of things. It is not a particular problem on our farm but in the area there have been examples where it hasn’t been very good.
There seems to be a link between sustainability and profitability? Would you agree?
I would agree with that because there are many examples where the improvement in efficiency, which is an environmental or carbon footprint gain, usually means a profitable gain as well. That depends on whether a very large capital investment is required. Sometimes the payback on that is over a very long period which some farmers may not be able to justify. But we have got some examples in our business where we have improved efficiency which is improving the bottom line, so we are using less inorganic fertilizers, particularly nitrogen, because we are making much better use of our manures with practices such as injecting slurry into the soil rather than spreading it over ground.
Does this have a measurable effect on your business and agricultural performance?
Yes, definitely. We have healthier pastures, healthier cows and a healthier bottom line as a result.
If carbon footprint methodology had been available 15 years ago would you see a difference now?
Well, if we had had the information it would have been fascinating to do those calculations because we would have been able to demonstrate a fantastic line on a graph in the 20 years we have been on this farm. The changes in our farming practice – if we could have demonstrated it, if the information, equations or models had been available – we would have been able to demonstrate a really good trend – and I don’t think that is unusual. I think that is probably the case in many farm businesses.
What is the importance of developing this common methodology? What advantages do you see? Are there any disadvantages?
No, I can’t think of any disadvantages. But I think the key word is ‘common’ – trying to make sure that we do have an international guideline. Because over the last probably five to ten years people have been going off in all sorts of different directions over calculating all of this different methodology – which is great as it means lots of work has been done – but we do need to pull it all together now.
Is there any advantage in being able to compare footprints between countries, etc.?
I’m not sure how much benefit there is to compare between nations or between continents – because the situation they have is the situation they have! I think it is more relevant to be able to compare within a geographical region or by state or county, or maybe by farming system.
Will you be using the Guide?
Yes. We are measuring our carbon footprint and as this methodology is introduced into all of the carbon-footprint models then that is how it will reach my farm I hope.
Do you currently have a tool?
Yes, there are several tools available for farmers, for dairy farms to use in the UK. And over the last five years we have used four different tools. It is interesting to see how these tools have been evolving and developing. And with the one that we have done most recently – I haven’t got the answer to the question yet – which relates to what my carbon footprint is right now. As they evolve, people are thinking of more and more questions to ask and more and more calculations that are required as we learn more and more about carbon and its footprint and the requirements needed to calculate them. So the problem is, each time I have done a carbon footprint over the last five years, I know I have improved my farming practice but the tools tell me that my carbon footprint is getting worse not better! And that is purely because I keep putting more information in.
So each successive assessment is more complicated, but not comparable?
Well, that is a big problem. But I think they are more comparable today because they are much closer together now than they were. The problem has been that over the last five years they have been evolving so it looks as though my carbon footprint has been getting worse but it hasn’t – it is because the tools have been getting more accurate in the calculations.
And that is why it is important that we have an international, common methodology, so that as these tools – and as the academics working on these tools – develop them hopefully everyone will be moving in the same direction.
So although you are evaluating carbon footprints and the result is going in the wrong direction they do have an intrinsic value in your operation?
You see the final figure – the actual g [of GHG emissions] per kg or litre of milk produced is obviously the figure that everybody is looking for, but actually what is most useful to me is highlighting opportunities for improving efficiency in different areas of the business. What is important to me is not actually the final figure because the g per kg or litre produced, or fat produced, or whichever way you want to display the result that might be helpful if I want to compare with other farmers. But if I want to actually change things in my own business and improve then it is the breakdown that is important.
So you need to understand where the main carbon output is happening in your system and then what can be done to reduce it?
Exactly, so whether it is improving feed efficiency, or keeping my cows alive for longer, or reducing electricity consumption by introducing new vary-speed pumps or heat recovery equipment or these kinds of engineering or technology that are being improved all the time, it is the breakdown that is important. Or it may be checking on the farming system: is the weakness in my system because of the production level per cow or per hectare. These are the things that matter rather than the total figure at the end. That is only helpful when we are comparing business to business.
Will the common methodology give you that but allow for comparison?
Well it will make it more useful from an international comparison point of view so if I wanted to benchmark against my fellow dairy farmers in New Zealand, or California, or Saudi Arabia then hopefully we would be working from a common platform to be able to make fair comparisons.
How important to you is the fact that the Guide is robustly founded on science and international standards?
The credibility of this has got to be very solid indeed. Because one of the reasons for doing it is obviously that we want to demonstrate to the outside world that dairy farming and the dairy industry as a whole is taking this whole business of its impact on the environment and sustainability very seriously. That is why within the IDF we have been working with the FAO. And this is why we organized the 3rd IDF World Dairy Farming Summit in Edinburgh in June 2008 to discuss these very issues about sustainability and our impact on climate change. We want to demonstrate to the outside world that we are concerned about it, and that we are a responsible part of agriculture as a whole. We recognize that we aren’t trying to say to the outside world ‘look, this business about cows producing all this methane is a lot of nonsense’ – what we want to say is ‘this is how much they actually produce and this is what we are doing about trying to reduce it and manage the situation’. So I am very keen that we are able to demonstrate to the outside world that we are taking it seriously and we are a responsible sector.
Do you see any difficulties in implementing the Guide?
No, as long as the people who are designing and managing and running these tools on an everyday basis are going to embrace the common methodology then I don’t think it will be a problem.
Any views on how the global dairy sector should promote and support sustainability in the future, and other areas where the collaborative approach can be used?
Yes, I don’t think anything should be excluded. I think that within the farm management standing committee we are reviewing the Guide to Good Dairy Farming Practices and as part of the review we are going to be including sustainability issues. One of the interesting discussions we are having at the moment is whether economics – farmer profitability, to be crude – should be included in the revised Guide or not, and that is causing some interesting discussion. But it is great that internationally we are having that discussion – that is brilliant!
Many thanks David
Carbon footprint assessment leads to environmental and economic gain
David and Jane Homer farm in central southern England near Marlborough in Wiltshire. They are tenant farmers of the Crown Estate and have 200 milking cows. They rear all their own dairy cow replacements and also grow maize and wheat to feed their animals. The Homers have been farming for 21 years and the business has expanded in terms of both milk production and area over that time, and continues to expand. The husband and wife team need to grow the business as they have two sons and nephew who are already are involved in the farm and are very enthusiastic young farmers.
The farm’s milk production is supplied exclusively to UK supermarket Waitrose, which has contracts with a number of farmers in a dedicated fully integrated supply chain.
David – together with a group of other local farmers – was an early adopter of carbon footprint assessment. And over the last five years he has used four different tools which have all been evolving and developing over this period.
“As they evolve, people are thinking of more and more questions to ask and more and more calculations that are required as we learn more and more about carbon and its footprint and the requirements needed to calculate them,” says David. “So the problem is, each time I have done a carbon footprint over the last five years, I know I have improved my farming practice but the tools tell me that my carbon footprint is getting bigger! And that is purely because I keep having to put more information in!”
This is an important reason to establish an international, common methodology for carbon footprint assessment, so that these tools will all be moving in the same direction.
But, for David, the important result is not necessarily the final figure. He explains: “You see the final figure – the actual grammes of CO2 equivalent per litre of milk produced – is obviously the figure that everybody is looking for, but actually what is most useful to me is highlighting opportunities for improving efficiency in different areas of my business. If I want to actually change things in my own business and improve then it is the breakdown that is important. Whether it is improving feed efficiency, or keeping my cows alive for longer, or reducing electricity consumption by introducing new engineering or technology – it is the breakdown that is important. These are the things that matter to me rather than the total figure at the end. That is only helpful when we are comparing business to business.”
The improvements that David has introduced over the years have had a significant impact on the farm. And improved efficiency has meant improved economic and environmental performance.
“We have got some examples in our business where we have improved efficiency which is improving the bottom line, so we are using less inorganic fertilizers, particularly nitrogen, because we are making much better use of our manures with practices such as injecting slurry into the soil rather than spreading it over ground,” explains David. “This is retaining more of the nitrogen for the crops and the plants and the roots to utilize directly. And, of course, it reduces the volatilization and loss to the atmosphere. We are also growing more clover and getting better at managing clover in our pastures than we were: the clover fixes its own nitrogen so we don’t need to apply inorganic nitrogen. So there are various ways, and these are much more direct and not capital-intensive changes to our business. We’ve been introducing those ideas and improving them over the last 15 years. That must have both an economic and an environmental impact.”
At the same time, the yields per cow have gone from 6,500 litres to over 10,000 litres per cow per year. And their animals live longer too. “Animal health and welfare is important to us,” concludes David. “Obviously, the longer a cow lives, the better your carbon footprint, because it means you need fewer heifers to replace them. We have healthier pastures, healthier cows and a healthier bottom line as a result.”