Fonterra has announced the results of its carbon footprint study, which will be used to drive further efficiencies and help cut greenhouse gases.
The chairman of Fonterra's Sustainability Leadership Team, Barry Harris, said the completion of the 18-month-long project gave the company an accurate picture of the greenhouse gas emissions of its major dairy ingredient and consumer products sourced from New Zealand.
"By measuring the carbon footprint of our products from the cows to our customers, we can understand precisely where the emissions sit in the supply chain and more effectively target our efforts reduce them," said Harris.
Key findings of the research:
- The carbon footprint was 940g of CO2 equivalent per litre of liquid milk.
- Around 85% of the greenhouse gases are emitted on the farm (59% of these are methane, 17% are carbon dioxide and 24% are nitrous oxide).
- Processing/manufacturing accounts for 10% of total emissions.
- Distribution accounts for 5% of total emissions.
- Products requiring larger quantities of milk have a larger carbon footprint.
Harris said completion of the study is also an important step towards getting carbon footprint measuring methodology agreed with key international dairy organisations and producers, so that the global dairy sector can contribute to reducing climate change.
The results were calculated measuring carbon emissions through each stage of the product life cycle, from on-farm and farm-related inputs where raw milk is produced, through to the finished commodity ingredient leaving New Zealand dairy processing sites and its subsequent transport to overseas markets.
Barry Harris said the carbon footprint study had produced a scientifically robust measurement methodology.
"Increasingly, people are asking about where their food is produced and how," he said. "In all forms of food production, there's an environmental impact in providing nutrition. We're taking a world-leading approach to this, first by acknowledging the impact and second by demonstrating we're serious about reducing emissions and measuring progress."
Reducing greenhouse gases
Harris said the research was invaluable to dairying's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions both on-farm and in manufacturing.
"It's well known that New Zealand's greenhouse gas profile is heavily influenced by agricultural emissions and this research confirms that," he said. "It also confirms that our best opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint lie in continued efforts to develop practical tools and techniques for farmers to adopt. That's important because farmers are fast adopters if we put the right tools in their hands; a good example being nutrient budgets that are now being used by 98% of farmers, whereas six years ago only one in five farmers used them.
"Through the NZ Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, Fonterra is working alongside the government and other agricultural groups to research and discover innovative ways to reduce the production of methane and nitrous oxide from agricultural activities. Over recent years, the Consortium has invested in a range of scientific programmes aimed at reducing agricultural greenhouse gases."
The agricultural sector has already managed to achieve reductions in GHG emissions by farming animals more efficiently. Incremental improvements in the quality of New Zealand herds have already reduced on-farm emissions per kg of milk solids produced by about 1% per year since 1990. Possible solutions to further reducing methane production range from changing the mix of microbes in the rumen of cattle, to altering diets and selective livestock breeding.
"In the processing part of the business, carbon has already been reduced through initiatives such as the use of cogeneration facilities, wastewater treatment improvements, heat recovery projects and transportation improvements. New Zealand's largely renewable energy supplies also contribute positively," said Harris.
Fonterra is also working with key international dairy organisations, such as the Sustainable Agricultural Initiative (SAI) and the International Dairy Federation (IDF) on the development of a global carbon footprinting standard for dairy.
"We hope our work will speed efforts to agree a milk product carbon measurement standard that can be used by farmers and dairy companies everywhere to establish baselines for improvement," said Harris. "An agreed standard methodology also means that if people want to make comparisons with other milk products or benchmark their performance, there's a fair and scientifically robust basis for doing so."
Harris said that agreement on global benchmarks was also relevant for Fonterra given its global supply chain through which increasing tonnage of dairy products are sourced and sold internationally.
"A sound, science-based measurement system will also support continued consumer confidence in dairy as an environmentally-efficient source of essential nutrition," he concluded.
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