Greenhouse gas, water, and land footprint per unit of production of the California dairy industry over 50 years

A. Naranjo, A. Johnson, H. Rossow, E. Kebreab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Food production including dairy has been associated with environmental impacts and resource use that has been steadily improving when adjusted per unit of product. The objective of this study was to conduct a cradle-to-farm gate environmental impact analysis and resource inventory of the California dairy production system to estimate the change in greenhouse gas emissions and water and land use over the 50-yr period between 1964 and 2014. Using a life cycle assessment according to international standards and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations guidelines, we analyzed contributions from dairy production in California to global environmental change. Production of 1 kg of energy- and protein-corrected milk (ECM) in California emitted 1.12 to 1.16 kg of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) in 2014 compared with 2.11 kg of CO2e in 1964, a reduction of 45.0 to 46.9% over the last 50 yr, depending on the model used. Greater reductions in enteric methane intensity (i.e., methane production per kilogram of ECM) were observed (reduction of 54.1 to 55.7%) compared with manure GHG (reduction of 8.73 to 11.9%) in 2014 compared with 1964. This was mainly because manure management in the state relies on lagoons for storage, which has a greater methane conversion factor than solid manure storage. Water use intensity was reduced by 88.1 to 89.9%, with water reductions of 88.7 to 90.5% in crop production, 55.3 to 59.2% in housing and milking, and 52.4 to 54% in free water intake. Improved crop genetics and management have contributed to large efficiencies in water utilization. Land requirements for crop production were reduced by 89.4 to 89.7% in 2014 compared with 1964. This was mainly due to dramatic increases in crop yields in the last 50 yr. The increases in milk production per cow through genetic improvements and better nutrition and animal care have contributed to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and land and water usage when calculated per unit of production (intensity) basis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3760-3773
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • dairy
  • environment
  • greenhouse gas
  • life cycle assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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