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Environmental impacts and resource use of milk production on the North China Plain, based on life cycle assessment

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posted on 2023-05-03, 14:22 authored by Xiaoqin Wang, Stewart LedgardStewart Ledgard, Jiafa LuoJiafa Luo, Yongqin Guo, Zhanqin Zhao, Liang Guo, Song Liu, Nannan Zhang, Xueqin Duan, Lin Ma
Life cycle assessment methodology was used to quantify the environmental impacts and resource use of milk production on the North China Plain, the largest milk production area in China. Variation in environmental burden caused by cow productivity was evaluated, as well as scenario analysis of the effects of improvement practices. The results indicated that the average environmental impact potential and resource use for producing 1 kg of fat and protein corrected milk was 1.34 kg CO2eq., 9.27 g PO43 − eq., 19.5 g SO2eq., 4.91 MJ, 1.83 m2 and 266 L for global warming potential (GWP), eutrophication potential (EP), acidification potential (AP), non-renewable energy use (NREU), land use (LU) and blue water use (BWU; i.e. water withdrawal), respectively. Feed production was a significant determinant of GWP, NREU, LU and BWU, while AP and EP were mainly affected by manure management. Scenario analysis showed that reducing use of concentrates and substituting with alfalfa hay decreased GWP, EP, AP, NREU and LU (by 1.0%–5.5%), but caused a significant increase of BWU (by 17.2%). Using imported soybean instead of locally-grown soybean decreased LU by 2.6%, but significantly increased GWP and NREU by 20% and 6.9%, respectively. There was no single perfect manure management system, with variable effects from different management practices. The environmental burden shifting observed in this study illustrates the importance of assessing a wide range of impact categories instead of single or limited indicators for formulating environmental policies, and the necessity of combining multiple measures to decrease the environmental burden. For the North China Plain, improving milking cow productivity and herd structure (i.e. increased proportion of milking cows), combining various manure management systems, and encouraging dairy farmers to return manure to nearby crop lands are promising measures to decrease multiple environmental impacts.


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Journal title

Science of the Total Environment




Wang, X., Ledgard, S., Luo, J., Guo, Y., Zhao, Z., Guo, L., … Ma, L. (2018). Environmental impacts and resource use of milk production on the North China Plain, based on life cycle assessment. Science of the Total Environment, 625, 486–495. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.12.259

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