• carbon dioxide;
  • dairy systems;
  • emission accounting;
  • farm management;
  • greenhouse gases;
  • methane;
  • nitrogen policy;
  • nitrous oxide


Dairy systems in Europe contribute to the emissions of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2). In this paper, the effects of improved nitrogen (N) management on GHG emissions from Dutch dairy farms are determined. The GHG emissions are calculated using the panel on climate change (IPCC) methodology for the Netherlands, an updated and refined IPCC methodology, and a full accounting approach.

The changes in dairy farming over the last 20 years, and the consequences for N management are described using detailed farm-level data, collected in 1985, 1997 and 2002. The selected years represent distinct stages in the implementation of N policies. The changes in N management have reduced the GHG emissions. A reduction of the N surplus per kilogram milk with 1 g N reduced the GHG emissions per kilogram milk with approximately 29 g CO2-equivalents. The reduction of the N surpluses was mainly brought about by reduced fertilizer use and reduced grazing time. The use of updated and refined emission factors resulted in higher CH4 emissions and lower N2O emissions. On average, the overall emission was 36% higher with the refined method. Full accounting, including all direct and indirect emissions of CH4, N2O and CO2, increased the emission with 36% compared with the refined IPCC methodology.

We conclude that the N surplus at farm level is a useful indicator of GHG emissions.

A full accounting system as presented in this study may effectively enable farmers to address the issue of emissions of GHGs in their operational management decisions. Both approaches serve their own specific objectives: full accounting at the farm level to explore mitigation options, and the IPCC methods to report changes in GHG emissions at the national level.