We have a world-class dairy industry here. It is time those who seek to do us down on the back of climate change realise what we have, how good we are and how we can contribute to achieving the very aims they want without resorting to a dramatic reduction in the size of our industry and a corresponding increase in the size of a far more carbon-inefficient one elsewhere
The recent UNFAO report 'Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector' should help put to bed many of the myths surrounding dairy cow emissions and their impact on climate change.
Global milk production, processing and transportation contribute just 2.7% to the world's total man-made greenhouse gas emissions and just 4% when emissions relating to meat production from dairy-related cattle are included. The global average GHG emissions per kg of milk and related milk products is estimated at 2.4 kg CO2 equivalent.
But the figure is much lower for milk produced in efficient milk-producing countries these countries have a carbon footprint averaging 1.5 kg of CO2 per kg of milk produced. It gets even better for efficient UK producers!
Our monitoring of carbon outputs for Asda, through Arla suppliers, and the Wiseman producer group, puts the average at 1.2kg, with some of the most efficient milk producers at 0.8 CO2 per kg of milk. We are thus producing milk with half the carbon than the world average, with our more efficient producers doing so at a third of the rate.
And we're not resting on our laurels. The onus is on to reduce outputs further. If we can increase cow yields by 2% per year for a decade and take average yields from 7,000 to more than 8,000 litres per cow, then our carbon figure per litre would fall by more than 20%. Plenty of farmers are achieving these yield gains.
And what a great, positive story all of this is for UK dairying! That's because if we are to reduce carbon outputs on food then more of the world's milk should be produced here and in other efficient countries. If the government reduces the UK's own carbon reduction target, then less efficient farmers will produce the milk and dairy products in other parts of the world and overall carbon outputs will be greater.
Politically, of course, it would be hard to discourage production in countries with the highest carbon outputs per litres of milk such as India, Africa and Asia for a number of reasons. The hot weather does not suit modern high-yielding dairy cows, and power and transport infrastructures are inferior. But this again presents an opportunity for skilled dairy personnel to help these countries improve their carbon efficiency using our knowhow.
Far from killing cows to save the planet we should be taking the cows we have and making more of them.We have exportable skills and technologies to sell to all over the world that can be adapted to suit the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and other fast-growing economies.
Therefore by using our knowledge and skills we could be reducing the global environmental impact of dairy, producing valuable food and also growing an industry in the UK a win-win scenario. In reality, we are some way from getting our heads around ideas such as these but tough times should be making us think outside the box.
John Allen is a managing partner at Kite Consulting LLP.