Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems

Research Papers

Greenhouse gas emissions from selected Austrian dairy production systems—model calculations considering the effects of land use change

S. Hörtenhubera1a2 c1, T. Lindenthala2, B. Amona3, T. Markuta2, L. Kirnera4 and W. Zollitscha1

a1 Division of Livestock Sciences, Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna, Gregor-Mendel-Straße 33, A-1180 Vienna, Austria.

a2 Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) Austria, Seidengasse 33-35/13, A-1070 Vienna, Austria.

a3 Division of Agricultural Engineering, Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna, Peter Jordan Straße 82, A-1190 Vienna, Austria.

a4 Federal Institute of Agricultural Economics, Marxergasse 2, A-1030 Vienna, Austria.


The aim of this study was to analyze various Austrian dairy production systems (PS) concerning their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) in a life-cycle chain, including effects of land-use change (LUC). Models of eight PS that differ, on the one hand, in their regional location (alpine, uplands and lowlands) and, on the other hand, in their production method (conventional versus organic, including traditional and recently emerging pasture-based dairy farming) were designed.

In general, the GHGE-reducing effect of a higher milk yield per cow and year in conventional dairy farming cannot compensate for the advantages of organic dairy production which requires lower inputs. This is shown both for GHGE per kg of milk and GHGE per ha and year of farmland. Especially when (imported) concentrates were fed, which had been grown on former forests or grassland, e.g. soybean meal and rapeseed cake, GHGE of conventional dairy farming rose due to the effects of LUC.

GHGE per kg milk varied from 0.90 to 1.17 kg CO2-eq for conventional PS, while organic PS on average emitted 11% less greenhouse gases (GHGs), the values ranging from 0.81 to 1.02 CO2-eq per kg milk. Within each production method, PS with a higher milk output generally showed better results for GHGE per kg of milk produced than PS with a lower milk output. Nevertheless the latter showed clearly better results for GHGE per ha of land used, ranging from 5.2 to 7.6 Mg CO2-eq per ha and year for conventional PS and from 4.2 to 6.2 Mg CO2-eq per ha and year for organic PS. The results of this study emphasize the importance of a complete life-cycle assessment in the evaluation of impacts that dairy PS have on the climate.

(Accepted January 04 2010)

(Online publication February 12 2010)

Key Words:

  • dairy cow;
  • milk;
  • greenhouse gas emissions;
  • land-use change;
  • mitigation


c1 Corresponding author: