Arla Foods aims for carbon net zero dairy

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6 min
11 March 2019
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Arla Foods and its 10,300 farmer owners launch their most ambitious targets so far to accelerate the transition to sustainable dairy production with intensified focus on the farms. The main target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent per kilo of milk over the next decade and to work towards carbon net zero by 2050.

With a new climate ambition towards 2050, Arla takes the next big steps towards sustainable dairy production and carbon net zero dairy.

“We want to leverage our position as the leading international farming cooperative with 10,300 farmers and perhaps the most comprehensive understanding of dairy farming and production in Northern Europe to accelerate the transition to sustainable dairy production. We have worked towards sustainable farming for years and we need to go further and faster, not least to help fight climate change, which affects everyone on the planet, especially us farmers,” says dairy farmer and chairman of Arla Foods, Jan Toft Nørgaard.

The new strategy covers the whole value chain from cow to consumer and addresses the areas climate, air, water and nature. The main target is to reduce Arla’s total CO2 emissions by 30 per cent per kilo of milk by 2030 and work towards carbon net zero by 2050.

“With our farmers’ further commitment, we are in a strong position to ensure that people maintain confidence in dairy as part of a healthy and sustainable diet for the future. Dairy is enjoyed across the world and plays an important role in providing nourishment to a growing world population – from a basic glass of fresh school milk to advanced whey proteins used in optimised medical nutrition,” says Peder Tuborgh.

The target is set for all markets in Arla, however, some countries might reach the target sooner based on local conditions.

“We don’t have all the answers yet, but we call on our farmers, not least the younger generation of farmers, and we call on the industry, academic institutions and governments for collaboration and ideas that will support the transition to more sustainable farming and food production,” says Jan Toft Nørgaard.

The business will also explore commercial opportunities in the market to help drive the change, explains Arla Foods’ CEO Peder Tuborgh.

“We believe that a growing number of consumers are willing to reward the most sustainable dairy farmers by paying a little more for their milk in the same way as we have seen with organic dairy. From today we are starting to work with a group of progressive farmers in both Denmark and Sweden to be able to offer more sustainable conventional and organic fresh milks leading the way on climate, animal welfare and farm management. We will bring their milk to market this year with our leading Arla® 24 brand in Denmark and Arla Ko® brand in Sweden. And we will further explore every commercial opportunity that enables Arla farmers to push the frontier in our markets,” says Peder Tuborgh.

Tools and knowledge to drive reductions on farms
The lion’s share of the total emissions from a dairy value chain comes from the farms. For obvious reasons it’s not possible to reduce a cow’s methane emissions completely, but it can be significantly reduced, for example through optimised feed composition, which is a research area that Arla is investing in. To counteract the emissions, an important part of the strategy is working with Arla farmers to quantify and increase the carbon captured and stored in the soil as part of increasing their positive contribution.

For the farmer, a key enabler is to understand where the farm’s main climate impact is and how it can be reduced. Since 2013, almost 700 on-farm meetings have been conducted to educate groups of farmers on sustainability measures and more than 5,000 climate assessments have been conducted on Arla farms.

“The climate assessment is highly motivating, because it identifies your farms’ potential for CO2 reductions, which will often lead to cost savings”, says Jan Toft Nørgaard, who has used the tool on his own farm.

During 2018, Arla has established a digital documentation database called Arlagården® Plus to help Arla and the individual farmer to systematically measure and benchmark the farm performance. So far, Arla farmers are registering data from 96% of Arla’s milk pool in the system on a quarterly basis, e.g. about their herd, milking system, feed, grazing, land use and animal welfare. It’s one of the largest dairy farm benchmarking datasets in Europe.

“A next step is to include parameters that will indicate the farm’s impact on climate and environment. This will give us an opportunity to see in which areas we have the biggest potential, to identify best practice farms that we can learn from across our cooperative,” says Jan Toft Nørgaard.

Since 1990, Arla farmers have reduced emissions per kilo of milk by 24 per cent. The CO2 reduction from Arla’s operations, including packaging and transport, has been 22 per cent since 2005 – even though Arla’s milk intake since then has grown by over 40 per cent.

“Arla farmers are excellent and progressive farm managers and Arla will support them as much as possible with tools, new technology and new knowledge from scientists and experts. As a business we are also stepping up our transformation to more sustainable operations using non-fossil fuels, renewable energy, sustainable packaging and less waste with a wide range of new initiatives that we will unfold during 2019 and onwards,” says Peder Tuborgh.

According to a recent analysis from UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the global milk production continues to become more efficient and sustainable with a global average of 2,5 kg CO2 per kilo of milk. Arla farmers contribute to this result with an average emission in-tensity of 1,15 kg CO2 per kilo of milk, about half of the global average.

Supportive facts

Arla’s environmental goals towards 2050:

Better Climate: Carbon Net Zero

Clean Air and Water: Nitrogen and Phosphorus Cycles in Balance

More Nature: Increase Biodiversity and Access to Nature

Principles used:

  • From fossil to renewable
  • Circular Economy
  • Collaboration in the value chain

Targets: Arla’s climate ambitions has been defined using inputs from university researchers and NGO’s in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the UK and is guided by Science Based Targets to set the goals necessary to contribute to the Paris agreement.

Arla has applied for approval of the targets by the Science Based Targets initiative, which is a collaboration between CDP, World Resources Institute (WRI), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC).

C02 measurement on farms: Arla follows the internationally recognized methodology for carbon footprint calculations at farm level, developed by the International Dairy Federation. We have developed a farm carbon assessment tool and to date it has been used more than 5,000 times on Arla farms.

How a dairy farmer reduces carbon emissions

The cow’s feed: When the cow digests the feed, the natural gas methane is produced and is released through burps. Changing the feed composition can make the cow less gassy.

Feed production: Efficient feed production ensures that there is just the right amount of nutrients to grow the crops and it minimises the nutrients lost during storage, handling and usage in the fields. This not only reduces the climate impact but also improves profitability on the farm.

Manure handling: Manure used for biogas production reduces emissions and produces renewable energy. When manure is used in the fields, it should be incorporated into the soil as fast as possible to reduce the loss of nitrogen.

Renewable energy: The farm can produce renewable energy through solar panels, biogas or wind turbines. Currently the electricity produced on Arla farms equals 61% of their total electricity usage.

Animal welfare: As the cow doesn’t produce milk the first two years of its life, the total emissions per kilo of milk during its lifetime are reduced the longer it lives and the more milk it produces. It is a proven fact that better animal welfare improves a cow’s milk yield and life-span

Fuel: The machinery, tractors etc. on farm can be changed to models using less fuel and more non-fossil fuels. Farmers can practice eco-driving to reduce mileage and fuel usage per kilometer.

Carbon sequestration: Carbon sequestration (capturing and storing carbon in the soil) can increase, particularly when growing grass and using manure.

Trees and plants: The farmer can plant more trees, bushes, hedges and flowers on his land, which will not only help absorb CO2 but also improve biodiversity.

Arla Foods is an international dairy company owned by more than 8,400 farmers from Denmark, Sweden, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Arla Foods is one of the leading players in the international dairy arena with well-known brands like Arla®, Lurpak®, Puck® and Castello®. Arla Foods is focused on providing good dairy nourishment from sustainable farming and operations and is also the world's largest manufacturer of organic dairy products.

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