The simulated environmental impact of incorporating white clover into pasture-based dairy production systems
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AbstractWhite clover (WC) offers an alternative source of nitrogen (N) for pasture-based systems. Substituting energy- and carbon-intensive synthetic N fertilizers with N derived from biological fixation by WC has been highlighted as a promising environmental mitigation strategy through the omission of emissions, pollutants, and energy usage during the production and application of synthetic fertilizer. Therefore, the objective was to investigate the effect of the inclusion of WC in perennial ryegrass (PRG) swards on the environmental impact of pasture-based dairy systems. Cradle-to-farm gate life cycle assessment of 3 pasture-based dairy systems were conducted: (1) a PRG–WC sward receiving 150 kg of N/ha per year (CL150), (2) a PRG–WC sward receiving 250 kg of N/ha per year (CL250), and (3) a PRG-only sward receiving 250 kg of N/ha per year (GR250). A dairy environmental model was updated with country-specific N excretion equations and recently developed N2O, NH3, and NO3− emission factors. The environmental impact categories assessed were global warming potential, nonrenewable energy, acidification potential, and eutrophication potential (marine and freshwater). Impact categories were expressed using 2 functional units: per hectare and per metric tonne of fat- and protein-corrected milk. The GR250 system had the lowest milk production and highest global warming potential, nonrenewable energy, and acidification potential per tonne of fat- and protein-corrected milk for all systems. The CL250 system produced the most milk and had the highest environmental impact across all categories when expressed on an area basis. It also had the highest marine eutrophication potential for both functional units. The impact category freshwater eutrophication potential did not differ across the 3 systems. The CL150 system had the lowest environmental impact across all categories and functional units. This life cycle assessment study demonstrates that the substitution of synthetic N fertilizer with atmospheric N fixed by WC has potential to reduce the environmental impact of intensive pasture-based dairy systems in temperate regions, not only through improvement in animal performance but also through the reduction in total emissions and pollutants contributing to the environmental indicators assessed.
FunderTeagasc Walsh Scholarship Scheme; Irish Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine stimulus fund; Irish Dairy Levy
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