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Aiming for a carbon neutral food chain – Valio, Atria, and Natural Resources Institute Finland are creating a national model to calculate the carbon footprint of milk and beef production

Lehmät laitumella

Valio, Atria, and Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) are working together to create a national model to calculate the carbon footprint of cattle farms. The model is based on Valio’s previously developed Lypsikki LCA modelling*, which can be used to verify the differences between production farms and the impacts that measures implemented at the farm level have on the milk carbon footprint. The end result of the collaboration will be a national calculation model that takes into consideration the special characteristics of Finnish production in calculating the carbon footprint of milk and beef production. Atria’s goal is to introduce a product-specific carbon footprint label on consumer packages of beef.

Climate change is the biggest global challenge of our time and has broad implications also for Finland and the Finnish people. Through our own actions, however, we can reduce food production emissions. Atria, Valio, and Luke are now working together on the development of a globally unique calculation model for milk and beef production.

“Comparable carbon footprint calculations are needed to verify and guide emission reductions in food production. But even more important than individual figures are the concrete actions that slow climate change and adequately accelerate the reduction in emissions,” notes Aleksi Astaptsev, the Valio scientist who has developed the carbon footprint calculation.

“There are many different carbon footprint calculation models used around the world, but none of them take into consideration the special characteristics related to Finnish milk and beef production. We are now bringing together Valio’s long-term efforts in carbon footprint calculation development, Luke’s scientific research, and Atria’s strong vision of carbon-neutral beef production,” says Sinikka Hassinen Director of Beef Procurement at Atria.

The Lypsikki LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) calculation model developed by Valio uses the most accurate calculation methods available, and it is based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) formulas. The calculation includes all variables, such as fertilisers used in farming, the number of cattle, the size of the arable land, and the fuel used at the farm. Based on the calculation model, Valio has developed for its own dairy farms the CARBO® environmental calculator, which has Carbon Trust certification. By further developing the calculation model, also the actual climate impacts of beef production can be measured – in addition to greenhouse emissions from milk production.

“A farm-specific calculator makes it possible to measure the carbon balance efficiently and reliably; using those measurements, the correct actions that reduce environmental impacts can be implemented at the farm level. Changes might be related to how the cows are fed, how the fields are conditioned, how the crops are cultivated, or how the manure is handled. Valio’s goal is to cut milk’s carbon footprint to zero by 2035,” says, Aleksi Astaptsev.

“This cooperation brings together the research and food chain insights gained about Finnish milk and beef production processes over a couple of decades to form the calculation models. With these models, it’s possible to model the climate impacts of production,” notes Anu Kaukovirta, Vice President, Production Systems at Luke. 

“The models are never complete, but it is really inspiring that constantly evolving research knowledge enables them to be further developed and enhanced. Luke is researching the topic very intensively at the Jokioinen, Maaninka and Ruukki research sites, and the aim is to feed the information that those sites produce into the models as quickly as possible to support the entire food chain’s climate work,” Kaukovirta continues.

Farm-specific carbon footprint calculation helps cattle farms to accurately target climate actions

Since autumn 2020, dairy farms have been able to use the Valio-developed CARBO® environmental calculator to calculate their own climate impacts and to determine the most effective measures to reduce them. So far, nearly 700 Valio dairy farms have calculated the carbon footprint of the milk they produce.

Atria has more than 1,200 contract farms that are specialised in beef production. In 2022 Atria will create a calculator for these farms that will help the producers make their production more sustainable – both financially and environmentally.

“Atria’s goal is to introduce a product-specific carbon footprint label for consumer packages of beef. Finnish consumers are increasingly conscious of the environmental impacts of food, and a carbon footprint label is one way to serve consumers even better,” says Sinikka Hassinen.

*The Lypsikki LCA model is based on the Lypsikki dairy farm model developed in 2006-2018 by Juha Nousiainen, Senior Vice President, Carbon-neutral Milk Chain at Valio, and Professor Pekka Huhtanen (MTT/SLU/Luke). ProAgria applied it as the basis for its CowCompass tool in 2010, so the model is widely used in dairy farm production planning.

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