Benchmarking the environmental performance of specialized milk production systems

W. Mu*, C.E. van Middelaar, J.M. Bloemhof-Ruwaard, Bastiaan Engel, I.J.M. de Boer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Dairy production across the world contributes to environmental impacts such as eutrophication, acidi-fication, loss of biodiversity, and use of resources, such as land, fossil energy and water. Benchmarkingthe environmental performance of farms can help to reduce these environmental impacts and improveresource use efficiency. Indicators to quantify and benchmark environmental performances are generallyderived from a nutrient balance (NB) or a life cycle assessment (LCA). An NB is relatively easy to quantify,whereas an LCA provides more detailed insight into the type of losses and associated environmentalimpacts. In this study, we explored correlations between NB and LCA indicators, in order to identify aneffective set of indicators that can be used as a proxy for benchmarking the environmental performanceof dairy farms. We selected 55 specialised dairy farms from western European countries and determinedtheir environmental performance based on eight commonly used NB and LCA indicators from cradle-to-farm gate. Indicators included N surplus, P surplus, land use, fossil energy use, global warming potential(GWP), acidification potential (AP), freshwater eutrophication potential (FEP) and marine eutrophicationpotential (MEP) for 2010. All indicators are expressed per kg of fat-and-protein-corrected milk. Pear-son and Spearman Rho’s correlation analyses were performed to determine the correlations betweenthe indicators. Subsequently, multiple regression and canonical correlation analyses were performed toselect the set of indicators to be used as a proxy. Results show that the set of selected indicator, includingN surplus, P surplus, energy use and land use, is strongly correlated with the eliminated set of indicators,including FEP (r = 0.95), MEP (r = 0.91), GWP (r = 0. 83) and AP (r = 0.79). The canonical correlation betweenthe two sets is high as well (r = 0.97). Therefore, N surplus, P surplus, energy use and land use can be usedas a proxy to benchmark the environmental performance of dairy farms, also representing GWP, AP,FEP and MEP. The set of selected indicators can be monitored and collected in a time and cost-effectiveway, and can be interpreted easily by decision makers. Other important environmental impacts, such asbiodiversity and water use, however, should not be overlooked.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-98
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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