Utilizing these types of technologies will help producers deal with feed efficiency issues in their herds.
Young says some of those questions that can be addressed include, “What comes in, what goes out, what is being lost, and how can we better recapture the lost resources to help improve profit and reduce environmental footprint.”
The USDA’s Agriculture Research Service also has multiple computer models available to download from its web site. Two of the free programs are the Integrated Farm Systems Model (IFSM) and Dairy Gas Emissions Model (DairyGEM).
Harrison has used DairyGEM to help teach undergraduate students about the type of management changes that can be done to reduce emissions on dairy farms.
IFSM is the more comprehensive of the two models, and is a whole-farm simulation that analyzes dairy, beef and crop production.
Al Rotz, an engineer with USDA-ARS at Pennsylvania State University, created the two computer programs that help producers in determining their environmental impact.
“In terms of IFSM, it is pretty detailed information on the crops grown and some of the parameters for those crops,” says Rotz.
The model looks at the impacts of harvesting, crop storage, feed utilization and fertilizer application in fields, such as nitrogen.
“Once you set those parameters up, you go through the simulation and then it would kick out lots of data,” says Rotz. “Primarily, you’re getting the maximum daily, average daily and total annual emissions of the various gases.”
Gases evaluated in the program include greenhouse gas like methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide levels are also considered. Those gases can then be calculated to look at the environmental footprint of the production cycle.
“You would get the carbon footprint or the total greenhouse gas emissions per unit of milk produced per dairy operation. The energy footprint is the total fossil fuel based energy that goes into producing the milk, expressed as per unit of milk. We give a reactive nitrogen footprint which is a total reactive nitrogen lost to the environment per unit of milk produced. And we give a water footprint which is total water use in producing each unit of milk,” says Rotz.
IFSM also offers producers an economic analysis of their farms, allowing them to measure cost and income from the operation while calculating the overall profitability.
He adds that major performance statistics can be calculated with IFSM, like how much feed is produced, used and sold, along with how much milk is produced.