Valio introduces environmental calculator for dairy farms

Published: 24-Jan-2022

In 2021, more than a thousand dairy farms (about a quarter of all Valio dairy farms) calculated the carbon footprint of the milk they produce

Valio has introduced the Carbo environmental calculator, which the company is using to promote sustainable dairy production.

The calculator, developed for the Finnish climate and conditions, is used in monitoring the carbon balance of its dairy farms. In 2021, more than a thousand dairy farms (about a quarter of all Valio dairy farms) calculated the carbon footprint of the milk they produce. The calculated average carbon footprint of the milk produced at Valio dairy farms, i.e. raw milk, is 1.06 kilograms CO2e per litre, which compares to a global average figure of 2.5 CO2e per litre, according to the company.

The goal of its climate programme is to ensure the carbon footprint of milk’s value chain is zero by 2035. The biggest emissions reductions can reportedly be achieved at dairy farms because about 85-95% of all the climate impacts of milk are generated in primary production. The company also aims to significantly reduce emissions in its own production, i.e. in its factories, transports, and packaging.

More than anything, the carbon footprint is a tool and a means for monitoring success in reducing emissions. However, the company says, this figure doesn’t necessarily give a good indication of the climate impacts of individual products.

Valio Development Manager Aleksi Astaptsev said: “A carbon footprint calculation can be done in many different ways, and the result depends on the method of calculation. Likewise, the production conditions at farms also impact the carbon footprint of milk. The carbon footprint of the milk transported to Valio’s dairies typically varies between 0.7–1.4 CO2e per litre. We make the calculation at the most accurate level possible and with the actual figures of each farm, rather than using figures based on estimates.”

In addition to different methods of calculation, soil impacts, i.e. how much the soil binds or releases carbon, are still missing from the life-cycle assessment of agricultural products. There still isn’t enough research data on how much carbon can be sequestered in mineral soil with year-round grass farming, and how much carbon is emitted from peatland cultivation. The carbon footprint calculation also doesn’t take into account nutritional values. Instead of individual products, the entire meal and its nutrients should be considered.

“We don’t eat kilos; we eat nutrients in an effort to get the most balanced nutrition possible. Comparing completely different kinds of products makes no sense because no one eats, say, a kilo of cheese or a kilo of potatoes a day. It’s the totality that matters,” Astaptsev said.

The company’s environmental calculator is designed to give dairy farmers an overall picture of the environmental impacts of their own farms. The result is comprised of the dairy farm’s activities: the carbon footprint is impacted by the number of arable hectares, the amount of grass farming, the number of cattle, the lifespan and productivity of the cows, the amount of energy and fuel used at the farm, and the forage fed to the cattle.

“Many products carry a label indicating that the product’s carbon emissions have been offset. Offset credits are typically allocated outside the production chain, e.g. to afforestation projects in developing countries. This does not change the actual carbon footprint of the product, and therefore, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines, the offset credits should not be included in the carbon footprint, but should be referred to as carbon offsets. Producers should aim first to avoiding the generation of carbon emissions, then to reducing them, and only then to offsetting them,” Astapsev said.

You may also like