Climate balance in agriculture: large versus small in a CO2 comparison

Climate balance in agriculture: large versus small in a CO2 comparison


Organic farmer Franz Bauer has a dairy farm in Upper Bavaria. His young cows graze on alpine meadows. This is how dairy cows should be kept if this is what many consumers want. Bauer’s 27 cows give an average of 6,500 liters of milk a year.

With farmer Armin Nürnberger from Middle Franconia, who keeps 600 cows, the milk yield is almost twice as high. His favorite cow “Africa” ​​has 11,000 liters. A high-performance breed of the Holstein Friesian breed – while Simmental cattle graze on the organic farm. Which company has the better climate balance?

More and more dairies are offering climate calculators

In many federal states there are already climate check offers from the agricultural offices and authorities for farmers. In addition, individual dairies have already pushed ahead on the subject, says agricultural scientist Monika Zehetmeier from the Bavarian State Institute for Agriculture (LfL).

In fact, dairies like Arla and Hochland offer PC programs designed to help farmers reduce their carbon footprint. In Lower Saxony there is the “Climate Platform Milk”: a joint database of the Lower Saxony dairies, in which the data of the CO2 balancing tool “Agricultural Climate Check” is fed. Using the climate calculator that Zehetmeier developed for the LfL, she compared the two very different Bavarian dairy farms.

The “big one” scores with sophisticated technology

The climate check does not only depend on the milk yield – here, of course, the large farm with the high-performance cows has a clear advantage. The fodder, which Armin Nürnberger obtains for the most part from the region, is also important. His soy comes from the EU and not from South America.

Also positive for the climate balance: the conventional farmer uses residues that are left over from food production – for example sugar beet pulp. Two-thirds of the forage consists of grass. And the liquid manure goes to the biogas plant, where special nitrogen fertilizer is extracted.

Farmer Armin Nürnberger relies on sophisticated technology and perfect feed management.

The small organic farm relies on “low input”

Franz Bauer tries to keep the effort as low as possible on his small organic farm in Upper Bavaria. His strategy: low input. He does not farm, and the diet of his 27 cows is very clear: They eat 95 percent grass – whether from the pasture, as silage or hay.

There are also circuits on his farm that bring plus points in the climate calculator: The manure from his 900 laying hens goes into the manure pit – so he has more nitrogen fertilizer available and also phosphorus, both of which are often scarce in organic farming. No points in the climate calculator, but added value in terms of environmental protection: the young cows are used on the alpine pastures as landscapers.

Organic farmer Franz Bauer relies on “low input”: he wants to make a good living with as little effort as possible.

The big company wins – but only just

High-tech versus low input: In the climate check of the State Institute for Agriculture, the organic farmer has a climate footprint of almost 1.1 kilos of CO2 equivalents, for meat it is 8.65 kilos. His competitor, the large farmer from Franconia, ended up with even lower and therefore better values ​​- albeit only just: 1.04 kilos for milk and 8.28 for meat.

The big one beats the small one. In the end, both farmers are satisfied – because both have achieved above-average results.

300 cows and a biogas plant: Armin Nürnberger’s large-scale operation in Middle Franconia.

Very good values ​​- in international Comparison

Expert Monika Zehetmeier from the Bavarian State Institute for Agriculture also praises the very good values ​​of both farms – especially when it comes to meat. “Internationally, we are between 24 and 30 kilograms of CO2 equivalents for beef and eight here.” In this respect, both companies have done everything right – in line with their size and location.

The decisive factor is the willingness to think about how greenhouse gases can be saved in agriculture – after all, cattle farming is responsible for a large part of the emissions in this area. However, most farms in Germany have not yet carried out a climate check.


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