Opportunities for reducing environmental emissions from forage-based dairy farms
Modern dairy production is inevitably associated with impacts to the environment and the challenge for the industry today is to increase production to meet growing global demand while minimising emissions to the environment. Negative environmental impacts include gaseous emissions to the atmosphere, of ammonia from livestock manure and fertiliser use, of methane from enteric fermentation and manure management, and of nitrous oxide from nitrogen applications to soils and from manure management. Emissions to water include nitrate, ammonium, phosphorus, sediment, pathogens and organic matter, deriving from nutrient applications to forage crops and/or the management of grazing livestock. This paper reviews the sources and impacts of such emissions in the context of a forage-based dairy farm and considers a number of potential mitigation strategies, giving some examples using the farm-scale model SIMSDAIRY. Most of the mitigation measures discussed are associated with systemic improvements in the efficiency of production in dairy systems. Important examples of mitigations include: improvements to dairy herd fertility, that can reduce methane and ammonia emissions by up to 24 and 17%, respectively; diet modification such as the use of high sugar grasses for grazing, which are associated with reductions in cattle N excretion of up to 20% (and therefore lower N losses to the environment) and potentially lower methane emissions, or reducing the crude protein content of the dairy cow diet through use of maize silage to reduce N excretion and methane emissions; the use of nitrification inhibitors with fertiliser and slurry applications to reduce nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate leaching by up to 50%. Much can also be achieved through attention to the quantity, timing and method of application of nutrients to forage crops and utilising advances made through genetic improvements.