Maintaining production while reducing local and global environmental emissions in dairy farming

Andreas D. Soteriades*, Andreas Foskolos, David Styles, James M. Gibbons

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (SciVal)


While milk is a major agricultural commodity, dairy farming also supports a large share of global beef production. In Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies of dairy farming systems, dairy-beef production is often ignored or ‘allocated off’, which may give a distorted view of production efficiencies. This study combines LCA with Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) to develop an indicator of eco-efficiency for each of 738 UK dairy farms (3624 data points in 15 years) that aggregates multiple burdens and expresses them per unit of milk and dairy-beef produced. Within the DEA framework, the importance (weight) of dairy-beef relative to milk is iteratively increased to quantify the environmental losses from heavily focussing on milk-production, via e.g. higher yields per cow, with consequent lower burdens per unit of milk, yet with lower dairy-beef production levels, where burdens for beef production are externalized. Then, the relationship between DEA eco-efficiency and a series of indicators of dairy farming intensity at animal- and farm-levels was studied with Generalized Additive Models (GAM). For all sets of DEA weights (proportion of deviance explained ranged between 68% and 82%) indicate that milk yield per cow and forage area, and larger dairy herds all have a positive effect on eco-efficiency, while concentrate fed per unit of milk and the forage area both have a negative effect (p < 0.05 for all modelled relationships). These findings suggest that more intensive and consolidated dairy farms can positively impact on eco-efficiency. However, as the DEA weight for dairy-beef relative to milk increases, the relationship between environmental efficiency and farming specialization (expressed as L milk per kg dairy-beef produced) reverses from positive to negative. In conclusion, dairy-beef production is pivotal in determining the wider environmental efficiency of dairy (and ruminant food) systems, and its under-representation in efficiency studies has generated a misleading approach to meeting emission targets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111054
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Early online date16 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020


  • Commercial farm panel data
  • Dairy-beef production
  • Data Envelopment Analysis
  • Generalized Additive Models
  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Production intensity
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Farms
  • Dairying
  • Female
  • Agriculture
  • Milk


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