Focus topic 2019

Climate change: Challenges for milk production

Climate change presents agriculture with major challenges. Milk production is affected by climate change in two respects. Firstly, milk producers are affected by the effects of climate change such as increasing drought, and secondly, they are helping to reduce greenhouse gases to achieve climate goals.

.In 2019, the European Commission announced the European Green Deal, which includes binding goals for reducing CO2. The objective is to have a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. The new agricultural strategy Farm to Fork aims for a green and healthier agricultural system. The deal also includes plans to significantly reduce the use of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics.

Climate protection – binding targets for agriculture

In 2019, the German federal government launched its Climate Action Programme 2030 in order to achieve the climate goals. The programme is based on the commitment according to the Paris Agreement, to limit the increase in global warming to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and, if possible, limit the increase to 1.5 °C. Key aspects are putting a price on climate-damaging CO2 emissions, together with funding measures and statutory standards for greater innovation and investment. By 2030, Germany wants to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent compared to 1990 levels. The climate protection plan provides for a reduction by 31–34 percent for agriculture. From 2030, the agricultural sector is permitted to emit 61 million tonnes of CO2 per year maximum.

.Impact of climate change on milk production

The impact of climate change on agriculture is considerable. Since 1961 the number of hot days with temperatures measuring over 30 °C has increased. Germany’s National Meteorological Service believes that the number of hot summer days may quadruple by 2099. The growing season is starting a little earlier every year and the number of dry days is also increasing, which results in dried-out soil. In recent years, extreme weather phenomena have also seen an increase in heavy rain.

Effects of dry summers

The agricultural sector experienced a “catastrophic summer” in 2018 with harvest statistics recording substantial losses, especially in northern and eastern Germany. Crops had already suffered from the extremely wet autumn/winter in 2017. Arable farmers were hit particularly hard and, in some cases, could only generate a quarter of the usual feed volume. It was not uncommon for animals to be slaughtered prematurely or herds reduced to relieve the feed situation. 2019, with an average temperature of 10.3 °C, was the second hottest year (joint with 2014) since weather records began. 11 out of 12 months were too hot, 5 months were too wet and 7 months too dry. Extreme weather such as heavy snowfall or storms with torrential and prolonged rain made the situation even more difficult.

Securing the feed supply

The tougher weather conditions in 2018/19 caused feed supplies in many businesses to be used up, the quality was inferior and feed had to be bought in more often than usual. To close the feed gaps, the basic feed was supplemented with straw and hay as well as concentrated feed. By-products such as beet pulp, potato pulp or brewer’s spent grains were also used more often. It is possible to use varieties that offer increased resistance to heat and drought and help with the cultivation of catch crops and for humus production. In the long term, soil management plays a key role in mitigating climate extremes and extreme weather conditions such as droughts or heavy rain. Healthy soil performs a range of functions that are highly important for agriculture and the climate.

.Environmental impact of milk production

While agriculture does not generate the most emissions compared to other sectors in Germany – just 7 percent – it is responsible for a share of climate gases with high global warming potential (CO2 equivalent). Nitrous oxide and methane are the main issues, CO2 emissions are marginal.

Dairy cattle farming in Germany can already point to success in greenhouse gas development and it is in a good position when compared internationally. The CO2 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 below half of the global average. The foundations for a sustainable future have already been laid. There are different sources of greenhouse gas emissions during milk production, such as those produced via feed cultivation or cow digestion. This provides various ways of reducing greenhouse gases.

.Uelzena’s responsibility for the entire value-added chain

Uelzena customers increasingly require documentation of sustainable processes at all levels of the supply chain – even with regard to achieving their own climate objectives. Uelzena bears the responsibility for the entire value-added chain. This concerns all the environmental impact caused by milk production, transport and processing in dairies. As a “milk user” of its cooperative members, an economic milk payout price for milk producers in the long term is the top priority of the Uelzena Group. This is the only way to guarantee sustainable milk production. The sustainability module milk has recorded the complex interrelationships of sustainability (animal welfare, ecology etc.) in milk-producing companies since 2017 and strives to create an industry-wide standard for sustainability reporting. Following the pilot phase, Uelzena considers it important to continue with the project, as sustainability will continue to be a key part of company competitiveness in the future.

Resource-efficient processing

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical, both at the level of milk production and at the processing level. This includes the regional sourcing of milk raw materials, resource-efficient processing and the use of environmentally friendly packaging materials. By investing in energy-efficient processes, environmentally friendly technologies and reducing energy consumption, the Uelzena Group has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 52 percent compared with the volume produced in 2012. In addition to reducing emissions, the prudent use of water and waste reduction are also important. These and many other key figures have been recorded transparently by the Uelzena Group in its sustainability report since 2014 in accordance with the GRI Guidelines: key figures.

 

DIALOGUE WITH A MILK PRODUCER

 

Options to reduce greenhouse gases in milk production

Feed optimisation

  • 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)

Energy use

  • 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.
  • Increase lifespan yield.

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