Simulation of carbon dioxide emissions from dairy farms to assess greenhouse gas reduction strategies

D. S. Chianese, C. A. Rotz, T. L. Richard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Farming practices can have a large impact on the soil carbon cycle and the resulting net emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide (CO 2), methane, and nitrous oxide. Primary sources of CO 2 emission on dairy farms are soil, plant, and animal respiration, with smaller contributions from microbial respiration in manure. Strategies designed to reduce emissions from one source can cause an increase in emissions from another source. Therefore, a comprehensive whole-farm evaluation is needed, which can be cost-effectively met through computer simulation. The Integrated Farm System Model (IFSM), a process-based whole-farm model, was extended to simulate the carbon cycle. Relationships were added to represent photosynthetic fixation, soil and plant respiration, animal respiration, and emissions from manure storage and barn floors. The new module was verified to predict the mass of carbon present in soil pools at the end of annual simulations and to predict CO 2 emissions within expected emission ranges for both specific sources and overall farm emissions. A farm-level carbon balance was used to further verify that predicted emissions were reasonable across a variety of production strategies. Farm simulations illustrated that changes in cropping practices affected emissions from all farm sources, with a primary effect on the assimilation of CO 2 in feed production. For a representative farm in central Pennsylvania, use of more alfalfa in place of corn production caused a 6% increase in net farm greenhouse gas emission in CO 2-equivalent units, while replacing non-permanent grassland with corn production reduced the net emission by 16%. Changing from a Holstein herd to Jersey animals with animal numbers increased to produce the same amount of milk affected most emission sources, with a net impact of increasing the net greenhouse gas emission by 20%. Incorporation of greenhouse gas emission modules in IFSM provides a more comprehensive tool for evaluating the overall farm-level environmental and economic impacts of management scenarios used to reduce emissions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1301-1312
Number of pages12
JournalTransactions of the ASABE
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Food Science
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science


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