How dairy farms contribute to greenhouse gas emissions

Jul 19, 2011

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists have produced the first detailed data on how large-scale dairy facilities contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases. This research was conducted by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at the ARS Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory in Kimberly, Idaho.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and these studies support the USDA priority of responding to climate change.

ARS soil scientist April Leytem led the year-long project, which involved monitoring the of ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane and from a commercial dairy with 10,000 milk cows in southern Idaho. The facility had 20 open-lot pens, two milking parlors, a hospital barn, a maternity barn, a manure solid separator, a 25-acre wastewater storage pond and a 25-acre compost yard.

Concentration data was collected continuously for two to three days each month, along with air temperature, barometric pressure, wind direction and wind speed. After this data was collected, Leytem's team calculated the average daily emissions for each source area for each month.

The results indicated that, on average, the facility generated 3,575 pounds of ammonia, 33,092 pounds of methane and 409 pounds of nitrous oxide every day. The open lot areas generated 78 percent of the facility's ammonia, 57 percent of its nitrous oxide and 74 percent of the facility's during the spring.

In general, the emission of ammonia and nitrous oxide from the open lots were lower during the late evening and early morning, and then increased throughout the day to peak late in the day.

These daily fluctuations paralleled patterns in wind speed, air temperature and livestock activity, all of which generally increased during the day. Emissions of and methane from the wastewater pond and the compost were also lower in the late evening and early morning and increased during the day.

Explore further: Pact with devil? California farmers use oil firms' water

More information: Results from the study were published in the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Related Stories

Digging deep for ways to curb ammonia emissions

Sep 28, 2010

Dairy farmers can greatly reduce ammonia emissions from their production facilities by injecting liquid manure into crop fields below the soil surface, according to research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Reducing Agriculture's Climate Change Footprint

Nov 04, 2009

( -- Curbing greenhouse gas emissions from cultivated fields may require going beyond cutting back on nitrogen fertilizer and changing crop rotation cycles, according to research by Agricultural ...

Studying Fertilizers to Cut Greenhouse Gases

Nov 18, 2009

( -- Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have found that using alternative types of fertilizers can cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, at least in one part of the country. They are ...

Greenhouse gases from forest soils

Apr 12, 2011

Reactive nitrogen compounds from agriculture, transport, and industry lead to increased emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) from forests in Europe. Nitrous oxide emission from forest soils is at least twice ...

Recommended for you

Gimmicks and technology: California learns to save water

20 hours ago

Billboards and TV commercials, living room visits, guess-your-water-use booths, and awards for water stinginess—a wealthy swath of Orange County that once had one of the worst records for water conservation ...

Cities, regions call for 'robust' world climate pact

21 hours ago

Thousands of cities, provinces and states from around the world urged national governments on Thursday to deliver a "robust, binding, equitable and universal" planet-saving climate pact in December.

Will climate change put mussels off the menu?

21 hours ago

Climate change models predict that sea temperatures will rise significantly, including in the tropics. In these areas, rainfall is also predicted to increase, reducing the salt concentration of the surface ...

As nations dither, cities pick up climate slack

Jul 02, 2015

Their national governments hamstrung by domestic politics, stretched budgets and diplomatic inertia, many cities and provinces have taken a leading role—driven by necessity—in efforts to arrest galloping ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.5 / 5 (4) Jul 20, 2011
ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and these studies support the USDA priority of responding to climate change.

Thanks for the explanation.

There may be no USDA priority of responding to climate change when the new budget is adopted.

Earth's climate has always changed.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
not rated yet Jul 20, 2011
How much milk was produced? Kind of important.....
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 20, 2011
I urge U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists read and consider the implications of comments posted on the unfolding climate scandal and the certain demise of politically-motivated consensus science:

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
NASA NGR 26-003-057
not rated yet Jul 21, 2011
I don't disagree that climate change is a definite reality, (sorry Oliver but I do disagree that it is due the Neutron star at the core of our sun.....if you turn out to be correct congrats though) But implicating dairy farms which perform a neccessary ( and as a milk and milk product lover much appreciated) function is absolutely rediculous.....try calculating the amount of green house gas emitted (in tonnes) to stage an NFL football game, taking ALL the variables into account. Then multiply it by 15, then again by the number of teams......I'm gonna guestimate you've got about 3 fully functioning dairy farms that are providing a beneficial service. Major league baseball, hockey, much GHG is generated so that we can be entertained in this manner? (sorry if this has already been done....i didn't google it). The point is, if were going to attempt to cut emmissions, start with things called "NON ESSENTIAL SERVICES"....not freakin farms!
1 / 5 (1) Jul 21, 2011
Let me first openly admit and get out of the way the fact that I am an AGW denier. Resoundingly so.

Now, that aside (because my personal views really aren't relevant to the question I want to ask, and would still ask even if I was an "AGW believer"), is there any data on what level of greenhouse gasses would be produced if these hay-burners (cows) weren't consuming so much vegetable material? I mean it has got to go somewhere... whether it rots in the fields, or is composted, or what-have-you... the hay, straw, grains, corn (don't get me started on ethanol!), etc., will likely be consumed by *something* be it bacteria, bug, or wildfire.

Since the stuff that makes up "Cow Chow (tm)" isn't itself otherwise intrinsically immortal, I think it a tad unfair to blame its metabolic conversion into waste products on just the cows. It was going to be converted by something at some future time anyway.

I seriously doubt that anyone is advocating destroying all pastures to save the Earth..

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.