How Arla farmers reduce dairy's carbon footprint

Dairy can be part of a healthy and sustainable diet due to its nutrient density. And, as is the case for all food production, it comes with a carbon cost.

As one of the world's largest dairy cooperatives, we have a great responsibility - and at the same time a great opportunity – to do something about it.  

Since 2015, our farmer owners have reduced emissions per kilo of milk by 12 per cent. Our most recent FarmAhead™ Check data shows that Arla farmers' average carbon footprint is 1.08 kg of CO2e per kilo of milk.

But we're not there yet! Our target for 2030 is a 30 per cent reduction, which means our carbon footprint at our owners' farms needs to be 0.9 kg of CO2e per kilo of milk.

With help from Arla’s FarmAhead™ Check, our farmer owners now have a clear blueprint for how they can accelerate reductions on their farms during this decade.

Read on to find out how.

Data-driven climate action

In Arla, we have one of the world’s largest externally validated climate data sets from dairy farms.

7,986 Arla farmers from seven European countries have assessed and submitted data to 203 questions about their herd, feed production, energy usage etc. through our FarmAhead™ Check tool.

Their data has been verified by an external climate advisor, who has also helped create a personalised action plan for the farmer to further climate reductions based on their individual data.  

Dairy emissions vary from farm to farm, and what is particularly interesting is to learn from the high-performers who show huge potential to reduce dairy’s carbon footprint.

The data has revealed five effective climate action areas that all Arla farmers can work with to lower their farm’s carbon footprint.

You can read a lot more about them below.

Data-driven climate action

The 5 most effective climate actions on farm

More milk per feed
More milk per feed

A cow’s feed has a big influence on how much milk it produces. If farmers manage to maximise the milk per feed ratio and minimise feed waste, the milk will be more climate efficient.

Feeding precise protein amounts
Feeding precise protein amounts

Cows need protein to stay healthy and produce milk but, like humans, cows excrete unnecessary protein. Carefully measuring feed with the right protein levels means less nitrogen, a greenhouse gas, in the manure.

Healthy and happy cows
Healthy and happy cows

Cows that live a long and healthy life will produce more milk over their lifetime. A longer lifespan means the cow produces milk for a larger part of her life, which improves climate efficiency.

Just the right amount of fertiliser
Just the right amount of fertiliser

Crops grow better if they’re fertilised, but fertilisers emits greenhouse gasses. So, matching precisely the amount of fertiliser with the plants’ needs and using different methods to spread the muck can improve the yield per carbon emissions ratio.

Better feed crop yield
Better feed crop yield

A lot of our farmer owners produce feed for their cows, which is great, because imported feed – for example soy from South America – carries a higher carbon footprint. However, feed yield can also be optimised to increase climate efficiency.

Our full climate catalogue, which you can download free of charge here, contains 20 concrete actions for dairy farmers who want to become more climate efficient.

Download Arla's full climate action catalogue
Our 2030 climate ambition

Reducing CO2e emissions per kilo milk by 30%

Rewarding farmers for climate activities

From August 2023, Arla farmers who are taking action to reduce their carbon footprint will be rewarded through FarmAhead™ Incentive.

Together with our farmer owners, we’ve committed to reducing on-farm CO2e emissions per kilo milk by 30 per cent by 2030. Rewarding farmers for their climate activities is an important milestone towards accelerating CO2e reductions on farm. 

In total, 500 million euro will be earmarked to motivating and rewarding Arla farmers for their climate action (based on our current milk pool).

Learn more by watching the video.

Rewarding farmers for climate activities

How we measure the carbon footprint of dairy farming

Arla’s FarmAhead™ Check is a tool developed specifically for our cooperative farmer owners to identify their carbon footprint and reduce emissions from dairy farming effectively.  

The farmers submit data about their:

  • Feed composition
  • Use of fertilizer
  • Number of animals
  • Manure handling
  • Crop production
  • Use of electricity, fuel and renewable energy

FarmAhead™ Checks are done every year and enable the farmers to follow their own progression and to benchmark against data from other Arla farms. 

The insights from the compiled data is also shared with politicians, research partners and industry stakeholders to help drive an effective transition for the whole dairy industry.

How Arla’s Climate Checks work

Working towards Carbon Net Zero by 2050