Pasture helps reduce greenhouse gas

July 12, 2024 | 5 Min read
Researchers from the University of Sydney have found that 8 kg of the total carbon dioxide emitted each day by the average cow was immediately taken up by a hectare of dairy pasture system.

Researchers from the University of Sydney have found that 8 kg of the total carbon dioxide emitted each day by the average cow was immediately taken up by a hectare of dairy pasture system. These 8 kg represent 73 percent of the production from each cow. 

These findings are part of a Dairy UP and NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) partnership project investigating greenhouse gases (GHG) on NSW dairy farms and identifying and evaluating options for carbon neutral dairy production.

Dairy UP project leader, professor Luciano Gonzalez, said dairy customers and the broader community want dairy to have the least impact on the environment. He said that these findings are very encouraging but need more detailed understandings of the full benefit. 

“To reduce emissions, the industry needs to accurately understand the production and removal of GHG and how different management practices and farming systems affect output and carbon sequestration,” Mr Gonzalez said.

“This project will help NSW dairy meet industry emissions reduction targets and also fill knowledge gaps within the industry, to enable dairy farmers to estimate their farm’s emissions with increased accuracy, while providing practical ways to decrease emissions and increase carbon uptake.”

This project is using the Australian Dairy Carbon Calculator and the Dairy Greenhouse Gas Accounting Framework and has included a global literature review – examining studies from across the world – as well as on-farm trials and monitoring studies.

Trials at the University of Sydney Camden research farm are measuring the flows of GHG from different pasture types and management practices. 

The GHG are measured using eight chambers and a greenhouse gas analyser. 

Their findings indicate that dairy cows emit about 11 kg CO2e cow/day, mainly as methane. Of this, the early results indicate that every hectare of pasture, on average, was taking up about 8 kg CO2e cow/day from the atmosphere. The uptake may be in additional pasture growth or sequestered in the roots and then soil. 

“We want to test the idea that the 73% of the carbon dioxide emitted from a cow each day is part of a carbon cycle and taken up by the pastures.” 

Further evidence for the cycle comes from studies of the soil carbon. The Dairy UP project is collecting up to 120 soil samples per farm from 10 participant farms to analyse soil organic carbon. 

He said this data will tell dairy farmers and researchers about the carbon capital stored in the soil which will help establish a greenhouse gas emission baseline and provide insight into how different pastures, crops, and management practices affect soil carbon.

Initial findings from the University of Sydney Camden farm showed native pasture had the highest soil organic carbon at 4.8 per cent. This contrasts with findings from the soil and landscape grid of Australia maps which estimated the native pastures would have the lowest soil organic carbon.

“The analysis showed the lowest soil organic carbon area at the Camden property was the cropping paddocks at 1.2 per cent.

“The ryegrass and Kikuyu pastures sat at about 3 per cent soil organic carbon.”

Diets of dairy cattle have also been examined, as part of this project, to understand how this affects the production of GHG from feed. 

Dairy Australia has pledged to reduce the emissions intensity of the Australian dairy industry to 30 per cent less than 2015 levels by 2030.

Mr Gonzalez said these results are encouraging but there will be more findings to come that should help us meet those goals. 




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