Integrated set of measures at the sector level can reduce ammonia emissions from the dairy farming sector by 28%

Published on
June 7, 2021

This is what emerged from an analysis carried out by Wageningen University & Research on behalf of LTO Nederland, the Dutch Dairy Association, Rabobank and NAJK. The clients asked for an integrated set of measures to be calculated for the expected reduction of ammonia emissions from the Dutch dairy farming sector, including the associated economic consequences. The calculation is founded on a baseline scenario involving the expected development of the Dutch dairy sector in which the current policy and practice are maintained.

The package of measures are deemed realistic because the changes appear feasible when compared to current average practice, with no fundamental system changes. At the individual company level, more far-reaching measures are certainly conceivable. However, the set of measures is based on the assumption that 100% of the companies will participate. The researchers at Wageningen Economic Research and Wageningen Livestock Research have also concluded that achieving this degree of implementation will require targeted and coordinated management by both government agencies and the business community.

What measures have been included in the calculated package?

  1. Measures on animal housing: all farms present in 2030 have low-emission barns for dairy cows, with an average emission factor of 8.6 kg NH3 per animal place.
  2. Management measures:
    1. Outdoor grazing: the average number of outdoor grazing hours per dairy cow per year at the sector level increased by 11% from 1,056 hours to 1,177 hours.
    2. Manure application: increase in the share of specific low-emission techniques, dilution with 50% water on 100% of the grassland on clay and peat soils and 75% of the grassland on sandy soils.
    3. Diets: the crude protein content of rations (including young livestock) will drop from an average of 169 grams per kg ds to 162 grams per kg dry matter through optimisation within the farm system.
  3. Measures related to farm structure: additional land in use by the farm, on average no further increase in livestock density (cows per hectare) compared to the baseline.

How much ammonia reduction is possible with this?

Implementation of these measures should lead to a 28% reduction in ammonia (NH3) emissions in 2030 compared to 2018. This takes into account, as stated in the baseline scenario, a 7% decrease in the number of dairy cows and a 15% decrease in the number of young stock compared to 2018. The decrease in the number of cows is due to skimming of phosphate rights, the national purchase scheme of phosphate rights, as well as the expected increase in milk production per cow.

What will this cost?

The additional investment calculated for the emission-reducing measures related to stalls, water storage and land will amount to 1.3 billion euro at the sector level. The total impact on the economic result of dairy farms is on average -1.07 euro per 100 kg of milk. This amount is composed of the annual costs of the emission-reducing investments mentioned above (-0.75 euro per 100 kg milk) and a decrease in the balance (-0.32 euro per 100 kg milk). The decline in the balance is a combined effect of emission-reducing management actions and growth of businesses. An important reason for the decline in the balance is that feed costs are rising due to higher milk production per hectare. Given that the margins per kg of milk are slim on average, the total calculated effect on the economic result of dairy farms is substantial.

Better informed view of technical possibilities and consequences

This calculation provides a better substantiated picture of the possibilities for reducing ammonia emissions from the Dutch dairy farming sector if (technical) measures are implemented on a large scale. The analysis also shows the economic consequences.

The study is based on effects as reported in existing literature and calculation models, both for the effects of adapted farm management and modified barns. Different assumptions for effects will give different results. Individual farm cases have been taken into account. This makes measures concrete at the company level and makes it possible to take differences between companies and interactions between measures into account. Due to the study’s limited lead time, no sensitivity analysis was carried out and no bandwidth was charted.