Dairy cows in a pasture in Canada

How We're Reducing Emissions

The carbon footprint of producing a litre of milk on Canadian farms is less than half the global average for producing a litre of milk – and it's going down each year. Find out what dairy farmers are doing to continually reduce emissions, become more efficient and do more for the environment.

Dairy’s carbon footprint in context

Thanks to Canadian dairy farmers’ continual efficiency and innovation, our carbon footprint is small and decreasing. Today, dairy production in Canada represents around 1% of our country's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – and this figure represents all aspects of dairy farming, including crop production and transportation to processing plants. To put that number in context, all agricultural activity in Canada – most of which is crop production – makes up about 8% of Canada's emissions. Compare this with sectors like transportation, power generation, and industrial activity, which combined account for nearly 90% of Canada's carbon footprint. ¹

Infographic about the carbon footprint of milk

Among the best in the world

Emissions related to the production of one litre of Canadian milk are less than half the global average footprint of a litre of milk. In fact, our emissions from milk production are among the lowest in the world, similar or lower than producing milk in countries like the U.S., France, and New Zealand. ²

Trending in the right direction

The Canadian dairy sector's carbon footprint has been decreasing for years, as farming practices become more high-tech and efficient. From 1990 to 2016, the carbon footprint of a litre of Canadian milk decreased by 23%. 

What's driving this change? 

Learn more about some of the techniques Canadian dairy farmers are using to reduce emissions and become more efficient.

Increased efficiency of production

Thanks to gains in efficiency from factors like cow health and comfort, improved diets and genetics, and advances in technology, the simple fact is that fewer cows are needed to produce the same amount of milk – and fewer cows generally mean fewer emissions overall. Today, the average healthy Canadian dairy cow produces three times more milk than 50 years ago. 

Improved diets and crops

Dairy cattle diets are specially formulated to improve their digestion and rumination. Farmers work with nutritionists to develop diets that work best for their cows, leveraging crops grown locally on that farm.

Manure Management

Managing manure is another important factor in reducing dairy emissions. Using manure to fertilize crops reduces the need for petroleum-based fertilizers. Research has also shown that the timing of manure application on fields can make a difference. Other practices, such as fully emptying manure storage and covering liquid manure with straw, can also significantly reduce methane emissions. ³

A biodigester on a Canadian dairy farm
Some Canadian dairy farmers use biodigestors to transform methane from cow manure into electricity.

Turning methane into fuel with Biodigesters 

Some Canadian dairy farmers have invested in biodigesters, which capture methane emissions from manure and combust it as a form of biofuel – a win-win that reduces emissions and generates renewable energy. A typical farm’s biodigester can produce enough electricity for 11 houses! Other farmers have installed solar power and/or wind turbines on their farms.

Carbon sequestration in the soil

Canadian farms, with their millions of acres of crops, grasses, and woodlands, are part of the climate solution, as they actively sequester carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, where it's converted back into natural resources and food that humans and cows consume.
 

Sources

(1)    Environment and Climate Change Canada. Greenhouse gas sources and sinks: executive summary 2020. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/climate-change/greenhouse-gas-emissions/sources-sinks-executive-summary-2020.html
(2)    FAO (2019). Climate change and the global dairy cattle sector. available at: http://www.fao.org/3/CA2929EN/ca2929en.pdf
(3)    https://www.dairyresearch.ca/userfiles/files/Fact%20Sheet_Manure%20Management%20Practices%20to%20Mitigate%20GHG_May%202020-1.pdf

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