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The environmental performance of milk production on a typical Portuguese dairy farm


  • Castanheira, É.G.
  • Dias, A.C.
  • Arroja, L.
  • Amaro, R.


The activities associated with raw milk production on dairy farms require an effective evaluation of their environmental impact. The present study evaluates the global environmental impacts associated with milk production on dairy farms in Portugal and identifies the processes that have the greatest environmental impact by using life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. The main factors involved in milk production were included, namely: the dairy farm, maize silage, ryegrass silage, straw, concentrates, diesel and electricity. The results suggest that the major source of air and water emissions in the life cycle of milk is the production of concentrates. The activities carried out on dairy farms were the major source of nitrous oxides (from fuel combustion), ammonia, and methane (from manure management and enteric fermentation). Nevertheless, dairy farm activities, which include manure management, enteric fermentation and diesel consumption, make the greatest contributions to the categories of impact considered, with the exception of the abiotic depletion category, contributing to over 70% of the total global warming potential (1021.3 kg CO2 eq. per tonne of milk), 84% of the total photochemical oxidation potential (0.2 kg C2H4 eq. per tonne of milk), 70% of the total acidification potential (20.4 kg SO2 eq. per tonne of milk), and 41% of the total eutrophication potential (7.1 kg eq. per tonne of milk). The production of concentrates and maize silage are the major contributors to the abiotic depletion category, accounting for 35% and 28%, respectively, of the overall abiotic depletion potential (1.4 Sb eq. per tonne of milk). Based on this LCA case study, we recommend further work to evaluate some possible opportunities to improve the environmental performance of Portuguese milk production, namely: (i) implementing integrated solutions for manure recovery/treatment (e.g. anaerobic digestion) before its application to the soil as organic fertiliser during maize and ryegrass production; (ii) improving manure nutrient use efficiency in order to decrease the importation of nutrients; (iii) diversifying feeding crops, as the dependence on two annual forage crops is expected to lead to excessive soil mobilisation (and related impacts) and to insignificant carbon dioxide sequestration from the atmosphere; and (iv) changing the concentrate mixtures.

Suggested Citation

  • Castanheira, É.G. & Dias, A.C. & Arroja, L. & Amaro, R., 2010. "The environmental performance of milk production on a typical Portuguese dairy farm," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 103(7), pages 498-507, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:103:y:2010:i:7:p:498-507

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Casey, J.W. & Holden, N.M., 2005. "Analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from the average Irish milk production system," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 86(1), pages 97-114, October.
    2. Thomassen, M.A. & van Calker, K.J. & Smits, M.C.J. & Iepema, G.L. & de Boer, I.J.M., 2008. "Life cycle assessment of conventional and organic milk production in the Netherlands," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 96(1-3), pages 95-107, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Pagani, Marco & Vittuari, Matteo & Johnson, Thomas G. & De Menna, Fabio, 2016. "An assessment of the energy footprint of dairy farms in Missouri and Emilia-Romagna," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 116-126.
    2. repec:eee:energy:v:127:y:2017:i:c:p:768-774 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Lizarralde, Carolina & Picasso, Valentin & Rotz, C. Alan & Cadenazzi, Monica & Astigarraga, Laura, 2014. "Practices to Reduce Milk Carbon Footprint on Grazing Dairy Farms in Southern Uruguay: Case Studies," Sustainable Agriculture Research, Canadian Center of Science and Education, vol. 3(2).


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