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Greenhouse gas emissions and potential mitigation options for the Australian dairy industry

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Christie, KM ORCID: 0000-0003-1469-8748 2019 , 'Greenhouse gas emissions and potential mitigation options for the Australian dairy industry', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

One of the biggest challenges facing the world today is how we feed an ever-increasing population while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are contributing to global warming. Unquestionably, the livestock sector represents a significant source of emissions, generating carbon dioxide (CO\(_2\)), methane (CH\(_4\)) and nitrous oxide (N\(_2\)O).
In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to prepare a comprehensive review and recommendations concerning to the state of the science of climate change, the social and economic impact of climate change, and possible response strategies and elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on climate. The first assessment report of the IPCC served as the basis for negotiating the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Via the IPCC, a series of algorithms and emission factors (EFs) were developed to calculate GHG emissions that conform to the UNFCCC, thus allowing individual countries to calculate their GHG emissions.
The Australian Federal Government began accounting and reporting the nation’s GHG emissions in 1990 according to the UNFCCC rules. Currently, agriculture is responsible for 13% of Australia’s GHG emissions and is the primary source of CH\(_4\) and N\(_2\)O emissions. The national accounting of GHG emissions adopts a large-scale approach. As such, it does not estimate individual farm GHG emission profiles, nor identify potential mitigation strategies to reduce total farm emissions.
The purpose of this thesis was to determine the GHG emissions of Australian dairy farms using the Australian GHG methodology and examine potential mitigation options to reduce on-farm GHG emissions attributed to milk production. To ascertain GHG emissions, a localised focus within one region was explored, where the milking herd grazed pastures year-round with supplementary feeding occurring either in the dairy parlour or grazed paddocks. Sixty dairy farms\(_2\)2e)/annum. A metric of emissions intensity (EI) of milk production, defined as kg CO\(_2\)e/kg fat and protein-corrected milk (FPCM), was calculated to allow comparison between farms. The mean EI was 1.04 kg CO\(_2\)e/kg FPCM, with individual farms varying between 0.83 and 1.39 kg CO\(_2\)e/kg FPCM. Linear regression analysis showed that 93% of the difference in total farm GHG emissions could be explained by annual milk production. The study also found that 60% of the difference in the EI of milk production between farms was explained by differences in feed conversion efficiency (FCE; kg FPCM/kg dry matter intake (DMI)) and nitrogen (N) fertiliser application rates (kg N/ha.annum).
This on-farm evaluation at a local level (Tasmania) was expanded nationally to 41 Australian dairy farms. Farms varied between grazing pastures with supplementary feed delivered in the dairy parlour and paddocks through to farms where, in addition to grazing and supplements delivered in the dairy, cows spent a proportion of their time off paddock consuming partial mixed rations. Individual farm total GHG emissions varied between 411 and 9,416 t CO\(_2\)e/annum. The Australia-wide mean was estimated as 1.04 kg CO\(_2\)e/kg FPCM, with individual farms varying between 0.76 and 1.68 kg CO\(_2\)e/kg FPCM. Linear regression analysis showed that 95% of the difference in total farm GHG emissions was explained by annual milk production. Milk production per cow (kg FPCM/cow.lactation) explained 70% of the difference in EI between farms. Farms were grouped according to their farming system (FS), indicative of the level of grain feeding and supplementary feeding management. The mean EI of milk production for FS1 farms (refers to grain feeding of < 1 t dry matter (DM)/cow.lactation) was 1.23 kg CO\(_2\)e/kg FPCM. This was significantly (P < 0.05) greater than the mean EI for FS2 and FS3 farms, at 0.98 and 0.97 kg CO\(_2\)e/kg FPCM, respectively. FS2 farms refers to grain feeding of > 1 t DM/cow.lactation with supplementary forage fed in the paddock while FS3 farms refers to grain feeding of > 1 t DM/cow.lactation and the incorporation of supplementary feeding into a partial mixed ration delivered on a feedpad.
The Australian inventory methodology for calculating GHG emissions is an estimation method based on current science. As new science pertaining to GHG emissions emerges, the inventory is updated, with the most recent occurring in 2015. An assessment was undertaken to ascertain the consequence of the updated methodology on the EI of milk production utilising the same 41 Australian dairy farm case studies. Mean EI increased by 3% to 1.07 kg CO\(_2\)e/kg FPCM (ranged between 0.84 and 1.54 kg CO\(_2\)e/kg FPCM). Annual milk production remained a strong determinant, with 96% of total farm GHG emissions explained by this. A Concordance Correlation Coefficient analysis was undertaken to estimate the extent of agreement between the two methodologies. There was moderate agreement between methodologies for estimating individual farm EI of milk production. However, primarily due to a regional variation in an emission factor (EF) for manure management, there was poor agreement between methodologies for estimating regional EIs. This study reaffirmed that while enteric CH\(_4\) emissions remains the largest component of on-farm GHG emissions, waste CH\(_4\) emissions has emerged as a more substantial source of on-farm GHG emissions.
The need to identify mitigation options that are considered ‘win:win’ options in reducing the on-farm GHG emissions while maintaining or improving productivity and/or profitability are critical to meeting the need to reduce ruminant livestock GHG emissions. In addition, win:win strategies may be more readily implemented by farmers, as opposed to mitigation strategies that erode productivity or profitability, in the pursuit of reducing GHG emissions. This thesis explored the GHG emissions reduction potential of two mitigation options applicable for Australian dairy farms;
(i) evaluating dietary and breeding approaches for improving animal N use efficiency (NUE);
(ii) improving feed quality to increase liveweight gain (LWG) promoting earlier mating of dairy heifers.
Reducing the overall diet N concentration was found to be a more effective means to improving NUE and reduce N\(_2\)O losses than increasing the concentration of N in milk of lactating cows when modelled across three climatic regions. Nitrous oxide emissions were reduced by 50 to 57% when the supplementary feed was reduced from 4% to 1% N (total diet N concentration of 4.1 and 2.5%, respectively). In contrast, when the N concentration of milk was increased from 0.50 to 0.65%, reflecting 3.1% and 4.1% milk protein, N\(_2\)O emissions were only reduced by 7 to 11%. This was an important finding, highlighting that reducing the source of N intake in the diet resulted in a more significant reduction in emissions compared to increasing the sink of N into milk. In addition, manipulation of dietary N would be a much easier mitigation option to implement than manipulation of N concentration in milk through breeding. This is a currently available mitigation option for all Australian dairy farmers to consider implementing, especially for those farms currently feeding a high protein diet.
Low quality diets, such as found in the subtropics, has resulted in a delay in heifers reaching mating liveweight (LW) to calve at two years of age. Improving the feed quality of the heifer diet from 9.5 to 10.9 megajoules of metabolisable energy/kg DM reduced the time heifers required to reach target LW for mating by 5 to 7 months. Enteric CH\(_4\) emissions over the period between weaning and mating were reduced by 0.4 to 0.5 t CO\(_2\)/head. Collectively, increasing LWG, lowering enteric CH\(_4\) emissions and earlier calving all contribute to reducing lifetime total emissions and thus the EI of milk production.
A Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) analysis was also undertaken, examining seven currently available mitigation options, across four representative Australian dairy farms, to ascertain the profitability of implementing mitigation options that reduce GHG emissions. The EI of milk production declined for all four farms across all seven mitigations (with only one exception for one farm when implementing one of the mitigation options explored), varying by between 0.01 and 0.05 kg CO\(_2\)e/kg FPCM depending on the farm and the mitigation option examined. When this decrease in EI was multiplied by the corresponding milk production, the decline in total farm GHG emissions varied between 5 and 233 t CO\(_2\)e/annum. The cost-effectiveness of each mitigation option, defined as the cost of implementation divided by the amount of CO\(_2\)e abated, found three of the seven mitigation options were profitable across all four farms, thus a triple win in terms of reducing emissions while increasing farm productivity and profitability. In addition, one other mitigation option was potentially profitable, but for only one of the four farms examined. The MACC analysis highlights the importance of reviewing inefficiencies on farm to determine which combination of mitigation options delivers the greatest reduction in total farm GHG emissions.
Benchmarking the GHG emissions of the Australian dairy industry has established that the industry EI average is comparative to those from other developed world nations. The breadth of variation in EI across the farms examined in this thesis has illustrated that there is scope for reducing the EI of milk production, both on individual farms and as a national average. While all seven mitigation options examined in the MACC analysis delivered a reduction in EI, six of these mitigation options also delivered a net reduction in GHG emissions. This is an imperative characteristic for the uptake required to lower GHG emissions from food production as part of the movement towards global carbon neutrality. While there is currently no pressure on individual dairy farms, or the national industry at large, to reduce their EI of milk production, global pressure and policy is progressing towards monitoring and reporting EI of milk production, with an increased focus on reducing net emissions. Farmers will need to adopt a range of additive and complementary mitigation options that reduce net emissions, with the residual, unavoidable emissions offset through other avenues such as sequestration.

Impact statement
This thesis contains five published research papers from the last eight years that have been drawn on by Australian dairy industry representatives and policy makers in the development of recommendations to reduce on-farm GHG emissions. Examples of this include a combined 66 journal article, book chapter and conference proceedings citations. The incorporation of industry averages from Chapter 4, and subsequent results from Chapter 7, have allowed for effective benchmarking of GHG emissions for the Australian dairy industry, through a range of avenues, including the on-line Dairy Australia DairyBase tool. Other examples include contributions to the Australia Dairy Industry Sustainability Framework and incorporation of benchmark results in a series of videos developed by Dairy Australia focusing on sources of on-farm GHG emission and mitigation options to reduce the carbon footprint of the Australian dairy industry.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Christie, KM
Keywords: greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation options, dairy, farming system, methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2019 the author

Additional Information:

Chapter 3 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Christie, K. M., Rawnsley, R. P., Eckard, R. J., 2011. A whole farm systems analysis of greenhouse gas emissions of 60 Tasmanian dairy farms, Animal feed science and technology, 166-167, 653-662

Chapter 4 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Christie, K. M., Gourley, C. J. P., Rawnsley, R. P., Eckard, R. J., Awty, I. M., 2012. Whole-farm systems analysis of Australian dairy farm greenhouse gas emissions. Animal production science 52(11), 998-1011

Chapter 5 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Christie, K. M., Rawnsley, R. P., Harrison, M. T., Eckard, R. J., 2014. Using a modelling approach to evaluate two options for improving animal nitrogen use efficiency and reducing nitrous oxide emissions on dairy farms in southern Australia, Animal production science, 54(12), 1960-1970

Chapter 6 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Christie, K. M., Harrison, M. T., Trevaskis, L. M., Rawnsley, R. P., Eckard, R. J., 2016. Modelling enteric methane abatement from earlier mating of dairy heifers in subtropical Australia by improving diet quality, Animal production science, 56(3), 565-573

Chapter 7 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Christie, K. M., Rawnsley, R. P., Phelps, C., Eckard, R. J., 2018. Revised greenhouse-gas emissions from Australian dairy farms following application of updated methodology, Animal production science, 58(5), 937-942

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