The agricultural sector and climate change are strongly interlinked. On the one hand, climate change has a significant impact on the quality and quantity of agricultural production and related revenues while, on the other hand, agricultural practices generate considerable amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to global warming. According to the European Commission Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050, EU Member States should reduce GHG emissions by 80-95% compared to 1990 levels. The agricultural sector should contribute to this objective by reducing its emissions by around half. Moreover, by 2021, Member States should prepare and maintain annual accounts that accurately reflect all emissions and removals resulting from agricultural activities on their territory, including croplands and pasturelands (Decision 529/2013).
The LIFE+FORAGE4CLIMATE project aimed to demonstrate that agricultural systems connected to milk production can contribute to climate change mitigation through:
- The adoption of good practices to reduce emissions, and maintain or increase the carbon stock in soil used to produce forage for ruminants; and
- The development and dissemination of tools for the evaluation of the carbon stock and GHG emissions resulting from activities relating to land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) within the forage systems of two European climatic macro-areas: continental (for cow’s milk) and Mediterranean (for sheep’s and goat’s milk).
The project have increased the awareness of farmers of the role played by agriculture in the preservation of the environment and the climate through the development of tools that can be used by producers and legislators to quantify GHG emissions sources and carbon sinks. It would also highlight the real benefits at farm level, both in terms of climate change mitigation and economic sustainability, of good practices that do not require reduced production levels.
The LIFE Forage4Climate project achieved the set objectives, demonstrating how the selection of optimised foraging systems and farm management practices could reduce the GHG emissions from the dairy sector while increasing soil carbon in agricultural lands.
The project team surveyed 87 dairy farms, collecting data on agronomic, land use, economic and management aspects. A total of 366 soil analyses on the selected farms enabled an assessment of carbon sequestration potentials and the development of a simplified methodology (NIRS - Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy) for the determination of organic carbon in soil with reduced costs, time and environmental footprint. In addition, the project team conducted detailed in-vivo and in-vitro analyses of animal diets' digestibility and related enteric emissions.
A total of 23 mitigation measures were identified, which were then tested on 36 pilot farms (20 for cows and 16 for sheep/goats), confirming environmental benefits in terms of GHG emissions and soil carbon stock.
The project team developed a set of tools for calculating, at farm level, methane emissions, other GHG emissions, carbon sink, and a benchmark for environmental sustainability of the dairy sector (cows, sheep and goats). They also developed detailed correlation curves and algorithms for the calculation of GHG emissions and carbon soil content, allowing the definition of tier 3 models (as defined in IPCC, 2006) applicable at local level.
Dissemination, demonstration and training activities secured the sustainability of project results. There was confirmation of a continuation of mitigation measures on pilot farms and their replication on new farms not initially involved in project activities.
The project activities resulted in direct environmental benefits. A reduction of GHG emissions from dairy farms ranging from 6% to above 20% was recorded, with a total reduction of about 4 000 tonnes CO2 eq/year from cow farms and 1 500 tonnes CO2 eq/year from sheep/goat farms. Soil carbon content increased by 1 tonne/ha per year on average.
Considering the environmental benefits achieved, the project can contribute to meeting the objectives of the following policy areas: Decision 529/2013/EU ‘LULUCF GHG emissions and removals accounting’; COP21 Paris Agreement; and the EU Rural Development programme. The models and tools developed by the project are aligned with the ‘New Delivery Model’ foreseen in the post-2020 CAP, with mitigation strategies in line with the agricultural and husbandry practices that eco-schemes could support within the European Green Deal. The project also contributed to the revision of the Italian Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2018, by sharing its results on cow diet composition and digestibility from the Italian pilot farms.
Foreseen socio-economic benefits include increased profits from milk production due to efficient management of forage and diets; improved life quality (reduced emissions and pollution) near farms and barns; and the creation of new jobs.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).