Comparison of process-based models to quantify nutrient flows and greenhouse gas emissions associated with milk production

Karin Veltman, Curtis D. Jones, Richard Gaillard, Sebastian Cela, Larry Chase, Benjamin D. Duval, R. César Izaurralde, Quirine M. Ketterings, Changsheng Li, Marty Matlock, Ashwan Reddy, Alan Rotz, William Salas, Peter Vadas, Olivier Jolliet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Assessing and improving the sustainability of dairy production systems is essential to secure future food production. This requires a holistic approach to reveal trade-offs between emissions of the different greenhouse gases (GHG) and nutrient-based pollutants and to ensure that interactions between farm components are taken into account. Process-based models are essential to support whole-farm mass balance accounting. However, since variation between process-based model results can be large, there is a need to compare and better understand the strengths and limitations of various models. Here, we use a whole-farm mass-balance approach to compare five process-based models in terms of predicted carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) flows and potential global warming impact (GWI) associated with milk production at the animal, field and farm-scale. We include two whole-farm models complemented by two field-scale models and one animal-based model. A whole-farm mass-balance framework was used to facilitate model comparison at different scales. GWIs were calculated from predicted emissions of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) and soil C change. Results show that predicted whole-farm GWIs were similar for the two whole farm models, ManureDNDC and IFSM, with a predicted GWI of 9.3 and 10.8 Gg CO2eq. year−1 for ManureDNDC and IFSM, respectively. Enteric CH4 emissions were the single most important source of greenhouse gas emissions contributing 47%–70% of the total farm GWI. Model predictions were comparable, that is, within a factor of 1.5, for most flows related to the animal, barn and manure management system. In contrast, predicted field emissions of N2O and ammonia (NH3) to air, N and P losses to the hydrosphere and soil C change, were highly variable across models. This indicates that there is a need to further our understanding of soil and crop N, P and C flows and that measurement data on nutrient and C flows are particularly needed for the field. In addition, there is a need to further understand how anaerobic digestion influences manure composition and subsequent emissions of N2O and NH3 after application of digestate to the field. Empirical data on manure composition before and after anaerobic digestion are essential for model evaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-44
Number of pages14
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
StatePublished - Jan 16 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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