The Carbon Cycle

3 May 2023

Carbon is an essential element for all living organisms and is present in various forms in the environment, involving a series of processes that move carbon between different reservoirs. The carbon cycle describes how carbon is exchanged between the Earth's oceans, atmosphere, terrestrial biosphere, and geosphere.

Dairy farming can have an impact on the carbon cycle through several processes, for example:

  • Enteric fermentation: Cows have a digestive system that produces methane, a which is a greenhouse gas (GHG), which is produced naturally during rumination and released into the atmosphere.
  • Manure management: Dairy cows produce a significant amount of manure that can release methane and carbon dioxide during storage and handling.
  • Energy use: Dairy farms may use energy-intensive equipment and machinery, as well as electricity and fossil fuels for heating, cooling, lighting sheds and milking parlours.

We are committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2040 at the latest, with a target to reduce carbon footprint at farm level by 50% by 2030. Alongside a target to sequester 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum on members’ farms by 2025.

Our farmers are playing a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. For example:

  • Carbon sequestration: First Milk members are implementing regenerative practices that increase soil carbon storage, including planting cover crops, minimising soil disturbance, protecting soil surfaces, encouraging plant diversity, maintaining living roots alongside livestock integration.
  • Biodiversity and sequestration interventions: Another important measure of carbon sequestration is the number and type of management received to hedgerows and trees on members’ land and where watercourses are protected from livestock preventing valuable topsoil being transferred into watercourses.
  • Reducing water use: One of our long-term environmental commitments is around reducing water use at our processing sites. We have made good progress in reducing the amount of extracted water we use per tonne of milk. This has mainly been achieved by recovering and reusing water within our processes. Recovered water now represents over 30% of water used.