Milk production: A life-cycle analysis
The Canadian dairy sector operates in a fast evolving environment. Consumers are more and more concerned about the sustainability of food products and expect Canadian companies in the agri-food sector to be responsible corporate citizens. Increasingly, retailers and processors are seeking greater transparency and accountability on environmental sustainability from their suppliers. In an effort to meet these expectations and to clarify the path towards sustainable milk production in Canada, Dairy Farmers of Canada commissioned a Socioeconomic and Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Canadian Milk Production.
LCA is a systematic, quantitative assessment used by organizations to gauge environmental performance. It is guided by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 1404-44) and can evaluate a broad spectrum of environmental impacts.
The Canadian milk life cycle assessment study took place over two years and was funded by the Dairy Research Cluster (Dairy Farmers of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian Dairy Commission). It was conducted with the collaboration of many stakeholders, including provincial associations, researchers and stakeholders in the dairy sector. The study followed ISO standards, as well as the International Dairy Federation (IDF)’s guidelines on LCA and thus assesses the environmental footprint of 1 kg of fat and protein corrected milk (FPCM). The boundaries of the study stopped at processing-plant front gate and a majority of data was sourced from on-farm surveys.
The average carbon footprint (measure of the greenhouses gas—GHG—emissions) of 1 kg of milk in Canada is 1.01 kg CO2e and is mainly caused by CH4 and N2O emissions occurring from enteric fermentation, manure storage and feed production. By referring to comparable studies in other countries, it can be shown that the GHG emissions generated per unit of milk produced in Canada are among the lowest globally. Moreover, due to efficiency gains on farm, GHG emissions from primary milk production within the Canadian dairy industry have steadily and significantly decreased during the last 30 years and now account for less than 2% of the total country’s carbon footprint. The water footprint varies greatly from one farm to another and ranges from 12-318 L/kg FPCM. With only 20% of milk produced in irrigated areas, the overall weighted average amounts to 20 L/kg FPCM. Again, benchmarking shows that the Canadian milk water footprint is one of the lowest globally.
This LCA project was an important milestone for the Canadian dairy industry since it provided: 1) sound, rigorous and representative quantitative data about the environmental and social performance of Canadian milk; 2) a benchmark for performance to help identify and encourage best practices; and 3) identification of potential areas of focus for further improvement. An online interactive tool is currently being developed to help dairy farmers assess and understand the environmental impacts of their own farm and to promote the adoption of best management practices.
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