Reducing Farm Emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions represent an inefficiency in dairy systems. The loss of methane and nitrous oxide gases into the atmosphere means that energy and nitrogen that could be directed towards production are being lost. Some level of emissions is expected, but there are many opportunities within a typical dairy system to reduce greenhouse gases and achieve efficiency and profitability gains.
Although the carbon footprint of Australian dairying is one of the lowest internationally, there is still scope to improve efficiency. The Australian dairy industry has made a commitment to minimising its environmental footprint, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 30% by 2030.
There is opportunity for the dairy industry – and the wider livestock sector of which it is a part of – to demonstrate its track record in addressing climate change and promote its commitments to being part of the solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on-farm.
The livestock sector has a large potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Many technical options to reduce emissions exist, including feed supplements and feed management, grazing land and manure management, health management and improved animal husbandry practices. These are documented below.
The first step towards reducing emissions is understanding the source of emissions on-farm and then highlighting the most effective options for reducing them.
Opportunities for incentives should also be considered. The Australian Government plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Australia via its Emissions Reduction Fund and renewable energy targets.
Key points in these resources include:
- Agriculture faces the dual challenge of increasing food production while reducing emissions
- It is important to first understand emissions (footprint) to pin-point the most effective options for reductions
- Methane and nitrous oxide are the major on-farm emissions on most dairy farms
- Herd, feed and soil-based strategies can reduce emissions on some dairy farms
- Following current best practice minimises emissions per litre of milk
- Well-managed farms have few options to reduce emissions without significant changes to their farming or feeding system.
Emission sources in dairy
The dairy industry accounts for 12.5% of agricultural emissions, or about 2% of total national greenhouse gas emissions. This may not sound significant, but for a typical dairy farm milking 300 cows producing 6,000 litres per lactation, this amounts to more than 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
Most dairy farm emissions are from methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Methane from enteric fermentation is the biggest source of emissions from dairy farms, producing 57% of emissions on an average Australian dairy farm, followed by methane and nitrous oxide from urine and dung (18%). Nitrogen fertilisers cause emissions (6%) through both their production and application in dairy systems.
Farms also emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide through the on-farm use of fossil fuels and electricity (8.9% combined), purchased feeds and concentrates (7.9%) and purchased fertilisers (3.1%). There is a range of pre and post-farm gate activities that generate their own greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to the dairy industry’s total carbon footprint.
Pre-farm gate emissions: Many inputs brought onto the farm have an embedded carbon footprint and become part of the total dairy industry carbon footprint despite the fact that in the national emissions accounting scheme, they are not reported as dairy farm emissions. These include embedded emissions from bought-in feed and fertiliser, as well as other pre-farm emissions associated with transport, farm chemicals and equipment, but these are very minor.
Post-farm gate emissions: The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions from dairy manufacturing in Australia is around 5% of the total emissions from dairy farms. Most of the dairy manufacturing in Australia occurs in Victoria. The majority of emissions from dairy manufacturing are carbon dioxide due to energy consumption through electricity and on-site energy use.
The most important factor in determining a dairy farm’s emissions is simply the amount of milk produced. On this emissions intensity basis (emissions per tonne of product), dairy farms are relatively low emitters.
Although the carbon footprint of Australian dairying is one of the lowest internationally, there is still scope to improve efficiency. The Australian dairy industry has made a commitment to minimising its environmental footprint, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 30%.
There are many ways greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms can be reduced, which includes via management changes to the herd, the feedbase and the soil.
Identify your carbon footprint
The Australian Dairy Carbon Calculator (previously DGAS) is freely available for dairy farmers to identify their sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) on-farm and benchmark their carbon footprint.
The Australian Dairy Carbon Calculator allows farm managers and other users to calculate the impact of adopting different emissions reduction strategies on their total farm emissions and emissions intensity. It can help them work out the strategies best suited to their farming system.
Abatement strategies modelled by the calculator fall into four categories; herd management, feeding management, soil management and farm intensification. Modelling shows that any farm efficiency improvement will lower GHG emissions per tonne of milk solids produced.
Learn how Shawn and Tanya Robbins (Boorcan, VIC) have used the Australian Dairy Carbon Calculator (formerly called DGAS) to identify opportunities for reducing emissions on-farm.
Reducing methane emissions
Understanding methane sources in dairy
Cows produce and release methane courtesy of their rumen microbes. The methane produced by fermentation in the rumen is largely belched and breathed out by the animal. As a ruminant-based industry, this is something that is hard to avoid.
However, as methane is a high energy source (see Table 1), this represents a significant loss of energy from the production system, with 8% to 10% of gross energy intake lost as methane. Some of this energy can and should be redirected back into production (Eckard 2011).
Table 1: Typical ranges in methane emissions, energy lost as methane and effective annual grazing days lost from three classes of ruminants. Source: Eckard 2011.Update from May 2011 on greenhouse gas research, mitigation options and policy developments in agriculture for the Future Ready Dairy Systems Project.
Methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its global warming potential. That potency –combined with the fact that a dairy cow belches about 600 litres of methane each day – make the annual emissions of a cow similar to a family car in terms of its effect on global warming. More information on this is available in an article published by The Age. It is estimated that a quarter of human-caused methane emissions are due to enteric (rumen) fermentation.
Methane production in the rumen of dairy cows is strongly associated with the digestion of forages, so high energy supplements such as grain or the use of total mixed rations reduces methane per litre of milk. As a result, there is roughly 30% difference in emissions intensity between the two extremes of dairy systems. Fully pasture-based systems produce roughly 17.5 tonnes of CO2-equivalent per tonne of milk solids. Fully lot-fed systems produce roughly 12.5 tonnes of CO2-equivalent per tonne of milk solids.
The proportion of an animal’s intake that is converted into methane is dependent on both the amount of feed eaten and the characteristics of the animal and the feed.
Reducing methane emissions in dairy
Currently, well-managed dairy farms have few options to reduce methane emissions without significant changes to their farming or feeding system. Making changes to reduce emissions would require analysis of the impacts on productivity and profit. For example, if grain supplementation is increased then three things tend to happen concurrently:
- Pasture consumption per cow goes down
- Milk production per cow goes up
- Stocking rate is increased to take advantage of the extra pasture
In this example, while methane per litre of milk almost certainly falls, methane per cow and per farm can rise. This means that reducing emissions intensity (emissions per litre of milk) is potentially a win:win for the dairy industry. Any improvement in productivity and/or production efficiency is likely to give an associated reduction in emissions per litre of milk.
Possible options for reducing methane on dairy farms include:
- Herd-based strategies, such as reducing herd size, reducing the number of unproductive animals, animal breeding and/or rumen manipulation
- Feed-based strategies, such as maximising diet quality/digestibility, pasture breeding and diet (feeding fats, oils and tannins)
Reducing nitrous oxide emissions
Understanding nitrous oxide sources in dairy
Nitrous oxide (NO2) emissions on dairy farms can be up to 25% of total farm emissions. However, three distinctly different processes contribute to this total:
- Indirect emissions which the farmer has little or no influence over. These include NO2 emissions associated with the production of farm inputs such as nitrogen fertiliser or purchased grain, silage or hay. Other than for feedlots, this indirect source of NO2 is usually the largest on dairy farms, accounting for up to 50% of total NO2 emissions. Options for dairy farmers to reduce these indirect emissions are very limited.
- Direct emissions from dung and urine, including those NO2 emissions from deposition of dung and urine on pastures and those associated with effluent management systems. Options to reduce NO2 emissions from these sources, beyond what would currently be included as normal best practice, are relatively limited but are the subject of current research.
- Direct emissions from the use of nitrogen fertiliser. This is the smallest contributor to dairy farm NO2 emissions, often less than 20%. Because of the cost, farmers are already focused on minimising the losses from nitrogen fertiliser, so current best practice is delivering most of the available emission reductions. However, if the use of nitrification inhibitors proves to be effective under Australian conditions, then blanket application of nitrification inhibitors to all nitrogen fertilisers during production may be a viable option. If this strategy reduced NO2 emissions from fertiliser by 30% annually, then total dairy farm emissions would be reduced by approximately 1.5%.
Reducing nitrous oxide emissions in dairy
Current farming systems that are operating at or near best practice management of cows and pastures already minimise nitrogen losses and maximise dairy production. If nitrous oxide is to be significantly reduced, new options and strategies will need to be developed and tested.
Possible options for reducing nitrous oxide emissions on dairy farms include:
- Herd and feeding strategies, such as feed conversion efficiency, nitrification inhibitors, diet and effluent management
- Soil-based strategies, such as improved drainage and irrigation and fertiliser management
Using effluent to offset fertiliser use can result in significant savings. Each tonne of nitrogen fertiliser applied to pastures emits 1.9 tonnes of CO2 equivalent directly and 2.3 tonnes of CO2 equivalent indirectly. In addition, the manufacture of fertiliser (urea) emits 1.9 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Therefore a one-tonne reduction in the use of nitrogen fertiliser will reduce emissions by 6.1 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
Similarly, reducing phosphorous and potassium fertiliser use by one tonne would save 4.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent and 0.3 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, respectively, due to the reduction in emissions from manufacturing.
In an average farm system, reducing the time spent in the dairy and yard by 10%, with cows instead spending this time on pastures, would reduce emissions by around 10 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum.
The extent to which financial incentives via the Emissions Reductions Fund offered to farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may change the economics of any of these options remains to be determined.
Practices to reduce nitrous oxide through nitrogen management
Nitrogen fertiliser use is essential in most dairy systems but the low efficiency of its use means that more than 60% of nitrogen added to pasture systems is lost to the environment.
With nitrogen efficiency often below optimum in dairy systems, there are a number of practical ways farmers can better match their nitrogen fertiliser applications with pasture demand, other inputs and prevailing conditions, thereby reducing input costs.
Practical advice on soil and fertiliser management is available via the Fert$mart website.
Key points to consider in nitrogen management:
- Poor nitrogen fertiliser management increases greenhouse gas emissions and wastes money
- Strategic use of nitrogen – when plants will respond and when extra feed is needed – saves money, time and emissions
- Poor irrigation and soil management practices will lead to loss of nitrogen from the system, including some as nitrous oxide
Suggested practices for nutrient management:
In this video we discover some of the secrets to growing high quality kikuyu pasture.This factsheet explains the financial and environmental benefits of high-quality kikuyu as a pasture.This factsheet is part of the Profitable Dairying series - farm and business management strategies to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.Tips for managing nitrogen fertiliser to improve efficiency, increase profit and reduce emissions.
- Use best practice nitrogen fertiliser management to reduce nitrogen loss and improve nitrogen use efficiency and therefore profitability of nitrogen use
- Avoid high rates of nitrogen fertiliser, especially when soils are warm and close to field capacity
- Use best practice soil and irrigation management practices to make the best use of water, reduce soil inundation and minimise loss of nitrogen from the soil
- Reduce grazing on wet soils when urine patches will be most likely to emit nitrous oxide
- Nitrification inhibitors on fertiliser, fed to cows, or applied to pastures as a spray can reduce soil nitrogen loss as nitrous oxide
Reproduction efficiency to reduce emissions
Applying best practice management to improve herd longevity, fertility, transition cow management and health can have major effects on lifetime cow productivity, and therefore profitability and farm emissions intensity.
Key points to consider in reproduction efficiency:
- Heifers and unproductive animals cost money to maintain and continue to produce greenhouse gas emissions during their unproductive periods
- Reducing the amount of time that cows are unproductive will reduce farm emissions
- The key ways to reduce unproductive periods are through timely mating, fertility, reducing replacement rates and increasing lifetime cow production
Suggested herd management practices for maximising reproduction efficiency:
- Improve longevity, fertility, time to first calf, transition cow management and herd health to reduce replacement rates, increase lifetime animal productivity and profitability and reduce emissions intensity
- Reduce herd size to minimise total emissions
- Reduce the number of unproductive animals to increase efficiency
- Extended lactations reduces the number of dry cows
- Extended longevity in the herd reduces replacement rates
- Improve feed conversion efficiency to reduce input costs and emissions per litre of milk
- Animal breeding for lower emissions
- Balance crude protein in the diet to reduce urinary nitrogen and nitrous oxide emissions
- Consider rumen manipulation to reduce the abundance of methane producing microbes
Feed efficiency to reduce emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions are at their highest per kilogram of milk solids when cows are fed poor-quality diets. High-quality, high-digestibility feed will maximise milk production and minimise greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of milk solids.
Suggested feeding management practices for feed efficiency:
- Monitor and supplement diets to ensure nutritional requirements are met when pasture quality is low
- Use low-protein, high-energy supplements when pastures are high in nitrogen to improve milk production efficiency, avoid excessive dietary nitrogen and minimise nitrous oxide emissions
- Include fats and oils as feed supplements to increase milk production if dietary fat levels are below 2–3%, to reduce methane emissions
- Maximise diet digestibility to reduce methane production*
- Balance energy and protein contents to minimise nitrous oxide emissions from urine
- Pasture breeding** may offer improvements in feed quality and in rumen methane or urinary nitrogen production.
Effluent management to reduce emissions
Key considerations and recommendations
Although effluent management comprises typically only 8% of total farm greenhouse gas emissions, managing effluent storage and re-use to minimise emissions can provide broader benefits for on-farm efficiency, profitability and the environment. By viewing effluent as a valuable source of nutrients rather than a waste product, there are opportunities to save money on fertiliser, improve soil fertility and condition and minimise the risk of water pollution, as well as reduce emissions.Report on effluent and manure management database across eight elements for the Australian dairy industry.
Key points to consider in effluent management:
- Effluent should be viewed as a valuable source of nutrients which can be recycled into the system to offset fertiliser inputs, save money and reduce emissions
- Reducing effluent volume will significantly reduce methane emissions from ponds
- Methane capture technologies are highly effective at reducing emissions from effluent, but are not currently economically feasible in typical, grazing-based Australian dairy systems
- Management of effluent beyond the pond system will influence nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions and environmental pollution
Key recommendations in effluent management:
- Use effluent and soil tests to match re-use applications with soil fertility deficits and plant requirements
- Spread effluent regularly over large areas of the farm to allow better utilisation of nutrients and minimise the likelihood of nutrient overload and nutrient rich runoff
- Apply best-practice nitrogen management to effluent re-use to minimise nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions and other forms of nitrogen pollution
Visit Dairying for Tomorrow for detailed information on effluent management, including short video clips and fact sheets on the following topics:
This factsheet is part of the Profitable Dairying series - Good business management reduces greenhouse gas emissions.This factsheet provides an overview on how good effluent management on Australian dairy farms can reduce emissions.
- Making the most of effluent
- Avoiding problems with effluent management
- The value of effluent
- Effluent system design
- Minimising effluent volumes
- Managing storage levels
- Planning a new pond
- Constructing a pond – soil testing
- Pond de-sludging
- Managing manure
Storing carbon in trees
There is currently limited opportunity to establish forestry plantings with the intent of gaining a credit for the sequestered carbon. Dairy farms are usually small, intensively managed properties with little of the land class where government modelling indicates that forestry plantings for carbon sequestration may be economic, that being marginal and lowly productive farmland.
On the other hand, many dairy farms have small areas, including riparian zones, where revegetation for conservation purposes is already encouraged and common. An additional benefit from carbon sequestration may be available for existing or new plantings in these spots.
Shelter belts also provide a good opportunity to reduce the farm greenhouse gas footprint.
Storing carbon in the soil
What is soil carbon sequestration?
Soil carbon sequestration is the process of transferring carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide into plant material, some of which is added to the soil carbon store as dead plant material or animal waste.
Soil is a complex mixture of organic compounds at different stages of decomposition. Soil organic carbon is divided into different ‘pools’ that are classified according to their rate of decomposition, as shown in Figure 1 below.
The amount of carbon in the soil depends on:
- The climate and soil fertility: fertile soils in high-rainfall zones or under irrigation can support high levels of plant growth and therefore have the potential to return large amounts of organic matter to the soil. The proportion of organic matter returned to the soil that is used for respiration by soil organisms depends on the soil temperature (higher temperatures, more respiration) and soil water content. The climate and soil therefore set the upper limit for soil carbon sequestration.
- The agricultural production system: more carbon tends to build up under pastures than under crops.
- Management: When soils are ploughed or otherwise disturbed, soil carbon previously protected from microbial action is decomposed rapidly. Systems that encourage the addition of plant litter to the soil, such as stubble retention or lax grazing, have some potential to increase the soil organic matter pool and eventually the soil carbon content, but the rates of change are slow.
Opportunities in dairy systems to sequester soil carbon
Dairy farmers have no control over their climate, little effective control over their soil fertility (most dairy soils are already highly fertile) and have a production system based on grazed pastures. Management is therefore the only significant option if dairy farmers wish to increase soil carbon.
- Well-managed dairy pastures are generally regarded to be close to their physical storage capacity, so significant permanent addition is unlikely
- Australian soils are relatively dry and warm, which significantly limits the ability to build carbon content in the soil
- Soil carbon can be increased by growing additional dry matter or, for already high-producing pastures, by allowing more pasture to decompose. Adding carbon such as biochar is also possible, but that would be a cost to dairy farmers
- Raising soil carbon in the top 10 centimetres of soil by 1% over five years would require adding more than 10 tonnes of dry matter per hectare to the soil above current levels, which is clearly impossible even for dairy pastures
- The potential price of carbon would need to be very high (over $200 per tonne) to deliver a better return as soil carbon compared to using it for feed in milk production
- Building soil carbon requires significant nutrient inputs, particularly nitrogen, phosphorous and sulphur. If these have to be applied to raise soil carbon, the fertiliser cost must be taken into account in any analysis
- Under certain climate conditions, soil carbon increases could lead to higher emissions of nitrous oxide – another powerful greenhouse gas. This could see greenhouse emissions from participating farms increase
- It is expensive to accurately measure soil carbon with current technology and if the farmer has to pay for this verification then cheaper methods would need to be developed
- Soil carbon can change significantly with changes in weather, soil moisture and land use. This raises the question of what the risk is for farmers claiming credits at one point in time if they are audited later under different climate/land use and have to repay
- The requirement to retain claimed carbon in soil for at least 100 years has implications for long-term land use options, the value of land and the passing of obligations across generations. For example, a shift from perennial pasture to annual cropping in response to other factors such as water availability, temperature and markets can reduce soil carbon and hence may lead to an obligation on farmers to re-purchase carbon permits for claimed carbon credits that are subsequently lost
Management practices that might increase soil carbon on dairy farms
The magnitude and rate of soil organic carbon decomposition and sequestration depends on a range of soil and environmental factors.
To boost organic carbon concentrations in soil, two main options are available:
- Reduce the decomposition
- Improve the rate of addition of organic materials
In theory, any management practice that increases pasture production should lead to increased soil carbon because of the associated increase in plant material and animal dung. Practices such as fertiliser application, improved rotational grazing, irrigation and improved pasture species all have the potential to increase pasture production and thus soil carbon, though the impacts can be small and slow. Application of dairy effluent and sludge to pasture will also provide additional carbon inputs to the system.
These activities are already best practice on most Australian dairy farms because of the impact increasing soil fertility and pasture production has on farm profit. Therefore, while some farmers may have the option of implementing these management practices, for most the opportunities to significantly boost soil carbon will be limited. Additionally, if they are already considered good or best practice, such sequestration does not meet the requirement for 'additionality'.
For dairy farmers who grow crops and make silage, minimum tillage systems will reduce the rate of soil carbon decline in cropping paddocks. However, minimum tillage is already best practice for most soil types.
What about biochar?
Biochar is a charcoal-like material produced by the pyrolysis (heating to between 350 degrees Celsius to 600°C under limited oxygen) of organic matter. This converts easily-decomposable organic matter into a highly biologically and chemically stable form of carbon that potentially has both soil improvement and carbon sequestration benefits.
Biochar is the solid by-product resulting from bioenergy production (Figure 2). The pyrolysis conditions can be optimised for bioenergy or biochar production.An analysis of greenhouse gas mitigation and carbon biosequestration opportunities from rural land use.
Biomass for biochar production can comprise most urban, agricultural and forestry biomass such as wood chips, saw dust, tree bark, corn stover, rice or peanut hulls, paper mill sludge, animal manure and biosolids.
There are many issues and challenges to overcome before the production of biochar becomes a practical carbon sequestration option for dairy farmers. However, some large dairy farms and feedlots may produce sufficient manure from dairy effluent to make biogas generation from methane an option. For more information on biogas in dairy systems download the Feasibility of biogas technology in the Australian dairy industry fact sheet.
Smarter energy use to reduce emissions
Key characteristics of energy use in Australian dairy farms
- The national average energy use was 48 kilowatt hours (kWh) per kilolitre (kL) of milk, with a range of 31 to 66kWh per kL milk.
- The type of dairy does not affect energy use except for automatic, small rotaries (less than 150 cows) and large walk-throughs ( more than 300 cows), which all have higher energy use compared to others with a similar herd size. However, there is a herd size impact on energy use. Dairies with larger herd sizes have lower energy use per kL milk.
- There is no regional impact per se except that there is a different mix of sizes of dairies captured by energy assessments in the regions.
- Annual energy costs per business were highly variable and ranged from $1,663 to $121,722.
- The three main energy cost components are hot water, milk cooling and milk harvesting. These components make up on average 81% of each business’s energy use. This is equivalent to 40kWh/kL of milk for most dairies and 6okWh/kL for automatic dairies.
On-farm energy assessments have identified that to reduce energy use and consequently lower energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, farmers need to both reduce demand and improve efficiency.
Reducing demand can be realised through implementation of some/all of the following actions:
- Insulation (against heat gain or loss)
- Utilising natural attributes. For example, re-installing the first stage heat exchanger has the potential to save about 5,000kWh and $1,060 per year
- Sizing systems to suit
- Reducing/avoid wasting. For example, turning off lights when not needed
- Utilising renewable energy sources
Improving efficiency can be realised through implementation of new technologies, such as LED lighting and variable speed drive (VSD) pumps, better design, improved maintenance and/or use of high-efficiency motors.
The first step is to start measuring energy use and potential areas of inefficiency. Undertaking an energy audit would provide a good first assessment, as well as identifying goals, for potential energy savings. Alternatively, farmers should consider assessing the costs of the three main cost components – hot water, milk cooling and milk harvesting – against regional benchmarks
Ways to reduce energy use
The most commonly identified savings were associated with:
- Improved functioning of equipment for milk cooling, including function of the plate-cooler and the compressors on the vats and using cooler water sources
- Pre-heating hot water for hot water systems, using heat exchange units (where appropriate) and using correct water temperatures
- Installing VSDs on vacuum pumps
In addition to energy savings, for some farms there were further dollar savings to be made with electricity billing arrangements and changeover to time of use contracts. Although these do not reduce energy use, they can substantially reduce total bills.
Regional analysis of the on-farm energy assessment data was also undertaken and made available in a series that can be found on the Resource Hub.Electricity is a major but unavoidable cost for dairy farms. This booklet presents tips, technologies and ideas for reducing energy use in the dairy.
Stand-alone renewable energy systems
With costs falling and take-up rising of solar and other renewable energy systems, businesses are increasingly interested in storing the energy they produce to maximise its benefit and reduce their bills.
Renewable energy’s main challenge is that its use is restricted to when the renewable resource is available (when the sun shines or the wind blows). Storage allows more of that renewable energy to be retained so it can be used on-site at a later time and further reduce electricity consumption from the mains power grid.
Unfortunately, given the complexity of renewable energy and storage technology, there is no easy or quick way to answer the question of “how much storage do I need at my site and what will it cost?”
The only way to properly answer this question, which maximises the chance of implementing a cost-effective project at any given site, is to undertake a feasibility analysis. This analysis would take into account that site’s specific consumption patterns, electricity tariffs and solar resource.
It is important to note that renewable energy and storage technologies continue to evolve, with storage prices predicted to drop dramatically in the coming decade.
Individual businesses should seek expert advice to see whether renewables and storage is a viable option for that farm.
Feasibility of stand-alone renewable energy systems fact sheet.
Methane digesters (biogas)
Some large dairy farms and feedlots may produce sufficient manure from dairy effluent to make biogas generation from methane an option.
Despite dairy farm waste being a good resource for biogas production, there are currently few working examples of biogas technology in Australia’s dairy sector. Biogas technology not only supplies renewable energy, but in addition the technology can simplify waste management, reduce odour and greenhouse gas emissions and improve fertiliser value of manure and other by-products.
Biogas technology does not have to be complex or difficult to operate, but it does need to be tailored to the specific needs of the farm in terms of farm management, waste characteristics and biogas use.
Before developing methane capture and use projects, the following questions need to be answered:
- What type of anaerobic digester suits the operation?
- How much biogas will it yield?
- How do the costs and benefits compare with conventional alternatives?
Emissions Reduction Fund
Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. Countries have agreed to a collective goal of limiting global average temperature rise to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
In mid-2015, the Australian Government announced its emissions reductions target of 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Australia will meet its 2030 target through the Climate Solutions Fund, which includes incentive payments for emissions reduction activities through the Emissions Reduction Fund.
The Emissions Reduction Fund is a voluntary scheme that aims to provide incentives for a range of organisations and individuals to adopt new practices and technologies to reduce their emissions.
The first Emissions Reduction Fund auction took place in April 2015. In that year, more than 47 million tonnes of carbon abatement was contracted at an average price per tonne of abatement of $13.95. Through that auction, the Government committed $660 million to 144 projects to reduce emissions in Australia. The emissions reductions from those projects will be delivered over 10 years, which means that reductions purchased in the first auction will contribute not just to Australia’s 2020 target, but to the 2030 target. Tracking of Australia's emissions is made publicly available on the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources website.
The Government has published a range of methods that help businesses, communities and landholders to plan and undertake projects. The methods explain how to carry out a project, including how emissions reductions can be measured and the reporting requirements during the life of the project.
There are currently two Emissions Reduction Fund methods relevant to dairy:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by feeding dietary additives to milking cows
- Animal effluent management method
Dairy Australia is working alongside other livestock industries to increase the opportunities for dairy farmer participation in market-based incentives for emissions reduction, such as the Emissions Reduction Fund.
Participation in the Emissions Reduction Fund is voluntary, so there is no pressure on dairy farmers to get involved. Current dairy industry modelling suggests that well-managed dairy farms have few options to profitably reduce emissions of methane and nitrous oxide.
As new methodologies are developed for the dairy industry beyond this project, these too will be incorporated into existing industry tools, such as the Australian Dairy Carbon Calculator, as appropriate.
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