Climate change, loss of biodiversity and population growth are major challenges for food production. In the future, more food will be produced on less hectares of arable land than today. At the same time, the environmental and climate impacts of food production must be significantly decreased. We want to be part of the solution to the challenges: We are aware of our environmental and climate impacts, and we are actively reducing them.
Food production is premised on the resources nature provides us, and we must know how to use them wisely. Milk producers and agriculture play a key role in mitigating climate change, in solving environmental problems and in stopping biodiversity loss.
We are reducing emissions, growing carbon sinks, creating circular economy solutions, taking care of biodiversity and improving animal welfare.
On top of all this, our goal every day is to produce healthy food to enjoy and to fuel everyday life.
All food production generates emissions. Emissions come from crops, animals, transportation, factories, packaging, etc. In the future, these emissions must be decreased significantly.
Carbon-neutral milk by 2035 means that at least the same amount of emissions is reduced and removed from the atmosphere as is generated on dairy farms, in transportation, at factories, in the manufacturing of packaging, and elsewhere along milk’s journey. In calculating the carbon footprint, greenhouse gases (e.g. methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide) are converted into a common format, i.e. carbon dioxide equivalent.
Valio’s ambitious climate programme consists of concrete actions to cut milk’s carbon footprint to zero by 2035. We have listed the actions, timelines and targets by which the same amount of greenhouse gases generated in milk production are sequestered by 2035.
Smart farming can help fields to absorb more carbon. In April 2019, we held the first carbon farmer course in cooperation with the Baltic Sea Action Group. Already 1400 milk producers have participated in the training.
One of our greatest challenges is related to the larger volume of emissions in fields that are on dried peatlands. In December 2019, we held a hackathon to find new ideas for reducing emissions. Farmers, start-up companies, agriculture students and researchers were invited to take part. In summer 2020, new pilot projects started at the farms.
Since February 2019, Valio Luomu™ milk is transported from the farm to the dairy under the power of liquid biogas, or LBG. This biogas truck reduces the carbon footprint of milk collection and is the perfect example of the circular economy: Biogas is, after all, made from Valio plant waste. There are already five biogas milk trucks en route.
Roughly one third of the energy in the grass cows eat is made into manure. It’s possible to use the manure to make biogas to replace fossil fuels. Manure also contains valuable nutrients that plants need: nitrogen and phosphorus. We have developed technology to recycle the dairy farms’ nutrients to, for instance, organic grain farms. We are currently planning to implement practical manure recycling.
Food production is impossible without a high level of biodiversity. Having an abundance of species is good, as different plants tolerate cold, dry, and heat in different ways. Biodiversity is given much consideration in the guidelines for good Valio milk production. Valio’s dairy farms in Finland do not use soy in feed. We aim to increase the biodiversity-friendly activities at farms and to reduce negative impacts.
There are two paths to cutting food’s carbon footprint, a fast one and a slow one. “We have chosen the longer path, as we believe that only by challenging ourselves and the entire milk chain can we make permanent, sustainable change and reach carbon neutrality for milk by 2035,” says Juha Nousiainen.
This goal is only achievable through cooperation. Our climate related partnership network is specifically focusing on studying carbon sequestration for grass. Participants include the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the Natural Resources Institute Luke, the University of Helsinki, Yara, and Atria Tuottajat. We have also engaged various smaller companies and research groups.
Yoghurt manufacturing at Riihimäki’s Herajoki began in 1968. The 50-year-old plant got a new companion in 2017 in the form of a new snack plant. The energy-efficient plant also manages its waste well: “For many years now, we have not sent any waste to the landfill. Production side flows that we can’t use end up, for example, as raw material for biofuel,” says shift supervisor Minna Ranta.
Cows convert the energy in grass into milk. This is called rumination, and its price is methane, generated in the animal’s rumen. The second largest part of milk's carbon footprint is in feed production. “Carbon footprint calculations are required to verify and guide emission reductions. What’s more important than individual figures are the acts that can reduce climate impacts.” Researcher Aleksi Astaptsev’s job is to calculate milk’s carbon footprint.
Tuuli Hakala has spent her whole life advocating for the wellbeing of animals, nature and people, and would prefer to figure out new things than to be always right.
“It’s great that so many people are thinking about their diet’s climate impact. Nutrition is something you should always consider when looking at the climate impacts. That makes it easier to compare different products to each other,” says nutrition specialist and researcher Tuula Tuure.
“Our plants manufacture thousands of tonnes of different products every day. Most of the power is needed for cooling and cold storage. Milk pasteurising requires first heat, and then cold immediately after. The share of renewable fuels is already close to 60 percent,” says Energy Manager Peter Fabritius.
We develop continuously our packaging to be better in line with circular economy and to have as minimal climate impact as possible. At its best, climate-smart packaging is circular economy-ready and made from renewable or recycled materials.
While a lot of land in our northern conditions isn’t directly suitable for the production of food for people, it can be a source of nutritious fodder for ruminants like cows (Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO). As the world’s population continues to grow, we need also grasslands and ruminants alongside crop production. Milk and beef are produced most sustainably in areas with sufficient water resources and where cows feed on grass. Cows in Finland eat grass, not soy. Their nutrition is supplemented with domestic grains and, e.g., with plant parts that are left over from the production of canola and rapeseed oil. In winter, cows are fed with grass silage. Finland’s soy-free milk production is exceptional also internationally. Cutting down rain forests that act as the earth’s carbon sinks to cultivate soy is a negative choice for the climate.
Like the forest, multi-species, perennial grasslands also act as a carbon sink. Grasslands are renewed approximately every four years, so the photosynthesis of plants and the sequestering of carbon into the soil start as soon as the snow has melted. This also means there are no emissions generated from tilling, unlike potato and grain fields, which are ploughed and sown every year. Grasses are needed also in crop rotation: growing grass in a grain field during the rotational years keeps the soil fertile.
We often think about the significance of individual food products, when instead we should look at the whole diet. Each of us can put together a nutritious diet in many different ways. Dairy products are an easy way to get the kinds of good nutrients our bodies need.
FoodMinimum, a joint project of the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and Natural Resources Institute Finland, studied the kinds of diets that can reduce food’s climate impacts and, at the same time, ensure that we get all the nutrients our bodies need. One climate-friendly and nutritious diet option included a lot of fish and dairy products, in line with current nutritional recommendations.
It is clear that our current food production model is inadequate to accommodate the growing population. In fact, plant-based products and new ways of producing food will play an important role in food production of the future. We are part of this change: in 2018 we launched the plant-based product family Oddlygood®.
*Grasslands of the world. Plant Production and Protection Series No. 34. Toim. Suttie, Reynolds and C. Batello. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2005. Are grasslands under threat? Brief analysis of FAO statistical data on pasture and fodder crops, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.