Greenhouse gas emissions: Eyes on the entire value-added chain
The Uelzena Group is continually working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in production. To reduce emissions all the way along the value-added chain, it is essential to focus on the upstream processes – specifically milk production. With the specific aim of decreasing avoidable emissions in this area, Uelzena is participating in a regional project in Lower Saxony, which enables a large-scale investigation into the carbon footprint at dairy farm level. The objective is to gain an overview of greenhouse gas emissions from milk production and to devise possible strategies to reduce these emissions.
In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions along the entire value-added chain and therefore contribute to climate protection, it is important for Uelzena to first ascertain where the emissions actually come from. This requires an examination of the entire value-added chain, not just processing. According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the emissions are subdivided into three categories. The first two items, called Scope 1 and 2, include all direct emissions caused by processing in the sites and are associated with bought-in energy. Scope 3 categorises indirect emissions from upstream and downstream processes. This includes purchased ingredients, materials, and services as well as waste disposal at the end of the supply chain. A large portion of the greenhouse gas emissions of the Uelzena Group can be traced back to the upstream process of milk production. With the aim of bringing transparency to the impact of the entire value-added chain on the environment and climate, and specifically lower emissions, Uelzena is currently implementing a method to establish the greenhouse gas emissions of their individual products and processes.
At an international level, dairy farming in Germany is currently in a good position due to the favourable development of its greenhouse gas emissions. The greenhouse gas emissions per litre of raw milk produced in Germany are 1.1 kg CO2 equivalent less on average than in most other countries and are well below half of the global average. However, as this relates to the production of high-quality food, there is an inevitable base level of emissions in milk production. For instance, methane released as part of the cows’ digestive process is responsible for a large proportion of these unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions.
Nevertheless, as part of a pilot project, Uelzena has had carbon footprints created for selected dairy farms to identify strategies to help reduce the milk's carbon footprint in the future. Initial results indicate that the carbon footprint of Uelzena’s member dairies is better than the average for Germany. The “Dairy climate platform” (Klimaplattform Milch) provides a collaborative approach to record and render comparable the greenhouse gas emissions from milk production across the dairy farms.
Healthy cows that live a long life and produce high milk yields have an especially positive effect on the greenhouse gas balance. The same goes for a good quality staple feed and for concentrated feed with a lower proportion of imported content. Gas-tight storage of the farm manure is another relevant adjustment. Using renewable energies and an energy-saving milking technology also have a positive influence on the milk’s climate footprint. However, the scope for improvement here is much less than for the other factors. The results from the pilot project show that the milk-producing companies are already reducing emissions in several ways and are therefore well positioned for the future. We will continue to work together to reduce avoidable greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy-efficient milk collection
Transporting raw milk in a way that conserves resources from the producing companies to Uelzena sites for processing also plays its part in saving greenhouse gas emissions along the value-added chain. Consequently, some of the milk collection vehicles have already been equipped with battery-powered electric pumps that charge during the journey. As a result, there are no emissions or noise when siphoning off the approximately 900 litres of milk per minute. This also delivers substantial fuel savings. In addition, an instrument has been fitted in vehicles that analyses driving behaviour and fuel consumption. This also paves the way for a sustainable way of driving, i.e. gentle on the vehicle and a more efficient use of fuel and is in addition to the Eco travel mode used exclusively in new tractors. A critical part of conserving resources when collecting milk is the continuous adjustment required when planning trips with the aim of minimising distances travelled by the vehicles, which are collecting approximately 24,000 litres of milk.
At its four production sites, the Uelzena Group continually invests in energy-efficient processes and environmentally friendly technologies. This improves the use of energy and resources per unit of product and causes fewer emissions overall. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 1 and 2) based on the production volume have already been reduced by about 50 percent compared with 2012. This has been achieved by implementing sustainable and innovative measures such as the cogeneration units at the Uelzen and Bismark sites. Heat, steam, and power is generated extremely efficiently and is then fed into our own production circuit. Heat recovery systems, electric motors and LED lighting are used to conserve resources and energy throughout the entire production process. Since 2014, the Uelzena Group has published the associated environmental performance indicators and many other indicators in its annual sustainability report in compliance with GRI Guidelines.
Options to reduce greenhouse gases in milk production
- Minimise feed losses
- Optimum feed use by adjusting rations to needs
- Decrease in imports of protein feeds, thereby avoiding changes in land use
Fertiliser management, storage and spreading of farm manure
- Good nutrient balance
- Gas-tight manure store
- Use of manure in biogas plants
- Adapted application techniques (close to the ground, quick incorporation)
- Reduce the use of fossil energy sources
- Increase the use of renewable energy e.g. wind energy, photovoltaics, biofuel
- Energy-saving milking technology
Animal health and husbandry
- Optimise animal welfare measures that help increase milk yield as fewer cows are needed to produce a certain volume of milk.
- Increase lifespan yield as breeding more dairy cows generates greenhouse gases