Environmental impacts of dairy farming in the Czech Republic

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New research suggests that dairy farming may have an important impact on the environment and human health. Although differences in the impact of farming practices across countries have been known for some time, this is the first study to explore the impact of the dairy industry in different regions in the Czech Republic.

Dairy farming in the Czech Republic is commonly large-scale with 500 or more head of cattle typically found in the herds. Management of both the animals and manure depends on the intensity of milk production, the farm structure and the nature of the farmland and varies across the country.

In this study, researchers characterised nine regions based on:

  • the intensity of dairy farming, measured as the number of dairy cows per 100 hectares of agricultural land
  • the sensitivity of ecosystems to acidification and terrestrial eutrophication
  • the percentage of agricultural land sensitive to nitrates, indicated by surface or groundwater polluted by farming activity
  • the size of the human population measured as the number of people per square kilometre

For each of the regions the researchers estimated the emissions produced directly from dairy herds and the manure produced by the animals, as well as the contribution of these emissions to the pollution of the area. Emissions were calculated for:

  • ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen oxides, which cause acidification and terrestrial eutrophication
  • nitrates (NO3) and phosphates (PO4), which cause aquatic eutrophication
  • nitrogen oxides and fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) which have an impact on human health
  • methane and nitrous oxide which contribute to global warming

Overall, the study suggests that emissions from the dairy-farming sector have an important impact on the environment at local, regional and global level, although there is no significant contribution to global warming. The researchers found that ammonia emissions cause most of the acidification and terrestrial eutrophication, with nitrates being the main cause of aquatic eutrophication across all regions. Proportionately, nitrogen oxides have a more significant impact on human health than the fine particles (PM10 and PM2.5).

Intensive dairy farming activity and manure management on relatively small areas of land generated the highest emissions per hectare. The study also suggests that the impact of the emissions on terrestrial eutrophication is greater than the impact caused by acidification. In particular, intensive farming activity contributed significantly to aquatic eutrophication, especially in areas with nitrate vulnerable zones. In addition, greater numbers of people living in rural areas were more exposed to the potential health effects from dairy cattle emissions.

Further research based on the findings of this study could suggest ways to reduce pollution from dairy cattle emissions by targeting the most affected areas in the Czech Republic.

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