Regional carbon footprint analysis of dairy feeds for milk production in the USA

  • Felix Adom
  • Ashley Maes
  • Charles Workman
  • Zara Clayton-Nierderman
  • Greg Thoma
  • David ShonnardEmail author



A greenhouse gas emissions analysis (carbon footprint) was conducted for cultivation, harvesting, and production of common dairy feeds used for the production of dairy milk in the USA. The goal was to determine the carbon footprint (grams CO2 equivalents (gCO2e)/kg of dry feed) in the USA on a regional basis, identify key inputs, and make recommendations for emissions reduction.


Commonly used dairy feeds in the USA, such as soybeans, alfalfa, corn, and others, were identified based on a recent literature review and information from dairy farm surveys. The following input data for the cultivation and harvesting of dairy feeds were collected for five US regions: crop production data, energy input, soil amendments, and crop protection chemicals. Life cycle inventory input data were mainly collected from the US Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistical Service on a state-by-state basis as well as from state extension services forage crop budget estimates. In addition to consulting other life cycle assessment studies and published articles and reports, this cradle-to-farm gate carbon footprint analysis was conducted using the Ecoinvent™ unit processes in SimaPro version 7.1© (PRé Consultants 2009).


The final carbon footprint results (gCO2e/kg of dry dairy feed) varied regionally depending on a number of factors such as lime and fertilizer application rates. The average national US carbon footprint results of the main feeds were: corn grain (390), corn silage (200), dried distillers grains with solubles (910 dry mill, 670 wet mill), oats (850), soybeans (390), soybean meal (410), winter wheat (430), alfalfa hay (170), and forage mix (160).

Conclusions and recommendations

The southeast dairy region generally showed a relatively high level of carbon footprint for most feeds, and this is attributable to the higher application rates of both synthetic fertilizers and lime. The highest contributor to carbon footprint for most regions (apart from soybeans and soybean meal) was due to the application of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer. Efficient transfer of knowledge to farmers with regards to fertilizer best management practices such as precision application of farm nutrients may contribute significantly to reducing regional crop carbon footprints.


Carbon footprint Dairy Feeds Milk production 



The authors would like to thank Zachary Bergmann for crop data analysis. This work was funded by the Innovation Center for US Dairy. Parts of this study were subject to an external critical review by a panel of LCA experts. This manuscript was improved by the comments of anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

11367_2012_386_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.4 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 1,482 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Felix Adom
    • 1
    • 3
  • Ashley Maes
    • 1
  • Charles Workman
    • 1
  • Zara Clayton-Nierderman
    • 4
  • Greg Thoma
    • 2
  • David Shonnard
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringMichigan Technological UniversityHoughtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA
  3. 3.Sustainable Futures InstituteMichigan Technological UniversityHoughtonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological & Agricultural EngineeringUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA

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