Research shows NZ dairy the world’s most emissions efficient

27 January 2020

New research shows New Zealand dairy farmers have the world’s lowest carbon footprint – at half the emissions of other international producers.

AgResearch analysis released today confirms New Zealand retains its outstanding position in low-emission dairy milk production, with an on-farm carbon footprint 46 percent less than the average of 18 countries studied.

Commissioned by DairyNZ, the study was independently produced by AgResearch and peer-reviewed by an international specialist in Ireland.

The research analysed 55 percent of global milk production, including major milk producing countries.

New Zealand is the most efficient producer at 0.74 kg CO2e per kg FPCM (fat and protein corrected milk) – which is 46 percent less than the average of the countries studied. The average is 1.37 kg CO2e per kg FPCM.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said the research plays a key part in understanding how New Zealand dairy farms stack up and informs how our farmers can be even more efficient.

“New Zealand’s dairy sector is committed to remaining the most efficient producer of low emissions milk in the world. Our focus as a sector is sustaining our success as consumers and communities increasingly seek sustainably produced food,” said Dr Mackle.

Dr Mackle said there is a huge amount of work underway to support farmers to reduce emissions.

“New Zealand dairy farmers’ hard work and investment over decades has contributed to this world-leading status. Our grass-based, outdoor grazing system is unique globally and is critical to our success.

“Because we are already so efficient, there is no silver bullet to even greater efficiency. Significant investment in research and development is needed to find solutions.

“Our sector is committed and has research underway. We need Government support as we adopt new knowledge, practices and technology.”

At 0.74 kg CO2e per kg FPCM, New Zealand was followed by Uruguay at 0.85, Portugal at 0.86, Denmark at 0.9 and Sweden at 1. Peru clocks in as the highest emissions producer among the countries studied, at 3.29 kg CO2e per kg FPCM. Peru is followed by Costa Rica at 2.96 and Kenya at 2.54.

Climate Change Ambassador, George Moss

The carbon footprint is measured in total greenhouse (GHG) emissions per kg of product.

The research compares carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions per kilogram of milk (fat and protein corrected milk – the nutritional content recognised in the study as CO2e per kg FPCM). This is an internationally recognised method.

The countries selected had published research that enabled a like-for-like comparison.

AgResearch scientists Andre Mazzetto and Stewart Ledgard led the research, following methodology in line with International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) standards.

Dr Mazzetto said it is always challenging to compare carbon footprinting studies, due to different methods in each scientific paper.

“Here, we reviewed international studies and recalculated their footprints in a systematic way, using methods accepted internationally to provide a fair and robust comparison between different countries,” said Dr Mazzetto.

“Bearing in mind, countries may have different emission profiles and different ways of calculating their footprints for milk production, we believe we have reached the best possible comparison from the data available.

“New Zealand is known internationally for its low carbon footprint of dairy product, which is supported by this research. There is still potential to improve and achieve lower emissions as other countries also advance their dairy sectors.”

Waikato dairy farmer and Climate Change Ambassador George Moss said pasture-based farming and genetic improvement are important components.

“Grass-based farms and sophisticated animal breeding are key components to our low carbon footprint but there is more we need to do as we play our part in addressing climate change,” said Mr Moss.

“We are world-leading at emissions efficient milk production, but we must continue to adapt and adopt new technology and knowledge. Our global competitors are never far behind, plus we know it is the right thing to do for our environment, our consumers and humanity as a whole.”

Read the AgResearch report here:
Mapping the carbon footprint of milk for dairy cows

More information on the DairyNZ website:
Climate change

– ENDS –


– The study compares the carbon footprint of dairy cow milk from New Zealand with that from different countries or major regions globally.

– The carbon footprint measured is the the total greenhouse (GHG) emissions per kg or product.

– The literature review is of 25 papers from 18 countries and compares carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions per kilogram or milk (fat and protein corrected milk) – the nutritional content recognised in the study as CO2e per kg FPCM).

– This study does not include land use change emissions due to the unavailability of international data to enable a direct comparison between countries. Accounting for sector level land use change, such as previous conversion of land from plantain forest to dairy pasture, would result in a slight increase in New Zealand’s carbon footprint.

– In practice, if other countries were to include emissions from land use change it would be based on national statistics. Accounting for land use change using national statistics (looking at change across all sectors) would not impact New Zealand’s carbon footprint, as there has been net afforestation over the last 20 years.

– The research encompasses milk production on-farm but does not include transport or milk processing. On-farm emissions represent around 85 percent of total emissions from milk production.

Background: Dairy farmers reducing greenhouse gas emissions
– New Zealand’s dairy sector is committed to remaining the most efficient producer of low emissions milk in the world. We are driving our emissions down through science, innovation and hard work.

– For more than a decade, DairyNZ has invested heavily in research and development to support farmers to reduce their environmental footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.

– DairyNZ invests approximately $1 million a year into climate change emissions reduction research, mainly through the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium. PGgRc conducts research on behalf of eight New Zealand agricultural sector partners, with government support, to find ways to reduce methane emissions through animal and forage breeding programmes, use of methane inhibitors and looking for potential vaccines to reduce methane emissions.

– Through its Step Change programme, DairyNZ is passing on research, tools and knowledge to farmers, to reduce environmental impact while improving profitability.

– Over 90 percent of dairy farmers are now receiving unique emissions reports from dairy companies. This provides the estimated biological methane and nitrous oxide emissions per hectare, and emissions by milk produced. This information helps farmers understand their emissions and solutions available to reduce emissions.


Media inquiries:

Ali Tocker

Senior Media Specialist

Phone 027 364 7532

Jarrod Booker

External Communications Manager

Phone 021 832 351