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Improving production efficiency as a strategy to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions on pastoral dairy farms in New Zealand

Beukes, P.C., Gregorini, P., Romera, A.J., Levy, G., Waghorn, G.C.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2010 v.136 no.3-4 pp. 358-365
climate, computers, corn silage, cows, dairies, dairy farming, electricity, farms, forage production, fuels, genetic merit, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, life cycle assessment, manufacturing, mechanistic models, metabolizable energy, methane, milk production, nitrification inhibitors, nitrogen, nitrogen fertilizers, pasture management, pastures, profitability, profits and margins, replacement rate, risk reduction, stocking rate, New Zealand
New Zealand's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol requires agriculture, including dairy farming, to reduce current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by about 20% by 2012. A modeling exercise to explore the cumulative impact of dairy management decisions on GHG emissions and profitability is reported. The objective was to maintain production, but reduce GHG emissions per unit of land and product by improving production efficiency. A farm-scale computer model that includes a mechanistic cow model was used to model an average, pasture-based New Zealand farm over different climate years. A mitigation strategy based on reduced replacement rates was first added to this baseline farm and modeled over the same years. Three more strategies were added, improved cow efficiency (higher genetic merit), improved pasture management (better pasture quality), and home-grown maize silage [increased total metabolizable energy (ME) yield and reduced nitrogen intake], and modeled to predict milk production, intakes, methane, urinary-nitrogen, and operational profit. Profit was calculated from 2006/2007 economic data, where milksolids (fat+protein) payout was NZ$ 4.09kg⁻¹. A nutrient budget model was used with these scenarios and two more strategies added: cows standing on a loafing pad during wet conditions and application of a nitrification inhibitor to pasture (DCD). The nutrient budget model predicted total GHG emissions in CO₂ equivalents and included some life cycle analysis of emissions from fertilizer manufacturing, fuel and electricity generation. The simulations suggest that implementation of a combination of these strategies could decrease GHG emissions by 27-32% while showing potential to increase profitability on a pasture-based New Zealand dairy farm. Increasing the efficiency of milk production from forage may be achieved by a combination of high (but realistic) reproductive performance leading to low involuntary culling, using crossbred cows with high genetic merit producing 430kg milksolidsyr⁻¹, and pasture management to increase average pasture and silage quality by 1MJMEkgdry matter⁻¹. These efficiency gains could enable stocking rate to be reduced from 3 to 2.3cowsha⁻¹. Nitrogen from fertilizers would be reduced to less than 50kgha⁻¹ yr⁻¹ and include “best practice” application of nitrification inhibitors. Considerable GHG mitigation may be achieved by applying optimal animal management to maximize efficiency, minimize wastage and target N fertilizer use.