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How the UK can cut dairy emissions without cutting down on dairy consumption

24 September 2020


Reducing the number of dairy cows across the UK doesn't have to mean less milk, cheese and yoghurt on grocery shelves.

Reducing the world’s population of dairy cows would dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and land demands of milk and dairy production.

However, consumers won’t necessarily need to curb their love of all things dairy, as fewer cows doesn’t have to mean less milk, cheese and yoghurt.

AHDB analysis of FAOSTAT data reveals UK dairy cows are world class, producing over 200 per cent more milk than the global average.

Of the top milk producing nations, the UK’s 1.9 million cows are the second most productive in the world, producing 15 billion litres of milk every year.

If average global production rates were to increase from the current 2500 litres per year to those seen in the UK, the global dairy herd could be reduced by up to 70 percent.

AHDB’s Lead Dairy Analyst Chris Gooderham said: “It’s important to note that dairy production differs greatly across the globe, influenced by cattle breeds, environmental constraints such as climate, socio-economics and culture. However, UK cows are showing that it is theoretically possible to produce the same amount of milk from just 83 million cows as opposed to the current 265 million.”

Such dramatic reductions would inevitability have an impact on dairy’s environmental impact, such as methane emissions and land use.

Dr Jonathan Foot, Head of Environment at AHDB said. “Cutting carbon emissions across all contributing sectors is a priority for national governments, scientists and policy makers alike. But the ever-increasing population and extreme weather present food security and affordability as of equal importance.

“In the UK, our climate allows for some of the most sustainable milk production in the world, as 60 percent of our farm land is grassland – ideal for grazing cows. However, it is also our focus on improving efficiencies and productivity that make it so. This focus is what is, and will be, required globally to drive down emissions while continuing to deliver key staple food groups to billions.”

Over the last 25 years, impressive production rates have contributed to the UK dairy herd shrinking by almost 30 per cent, while UK production has increased by four per cent.

Such successes are primarily due to the industry’s investment in genetics and improvements in cow health, according to AHDB’s Head of Animal Genetics Marco Winters.

“The UK dairy herd has been shaped in recent decades by an increasing emphasis on improved genetics. Genetics allows us to select and breed from healthy and high producing individuals, ensuring consistent and resilient herds. This has enabled us to address both health and fertility concerns, for example we have seen significant improvements in udder health and more recently improved fertility.”

The UK dairy industry continues to identify ways to improve efficiency on farm by optimising resources and reducing waste. The industry is also continually committed to enhancing cow health and welfare.

This article is based on AHDB’s UK milk productivity: The global context.

TheCattleSite News Desk


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