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New Tool Calculates Dairy Farm Carbon Footprint

April 22, 2013

Source: Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® today announced new science-based resources available for dairy producers, processors, industry partners and stakeholders. The resources help the industry act on the unprecedented scientific research commissioned as part of the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment — a collective effort of the dairy value chain to measure and improve the sustainability of U.S. dairy from farm to table. The Innovation Center, established under the leadership of dairy producers, launched the Sustainability Commitment in 2008.

As part of this commitment, the dairy industry initiated a series of scientific life cycle assessments (LCA) of fluid milk, cheese and whey. With this body of work, the U.S. dairy industry is striving to create the most transparent and documented dairy LCA database available. Due in part to its rigorous science-based approach, it was chosen to be the pilot industry participating in the National Agricultural Library of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide an open-access, prototype LCA database and tools.

"We are very glad to have the dairy industry’s leadership," said Dr. Simon Liu, director of the National Agricultural Library at the USDA. "The goal is to continue to expand the data in the National Agricultural Library so that we can advance the science and meet the growing demand for quantitative data that helps to identify opportunities for innovation and improvement."

The dairy industry is already using the findings to improve sustainability and provide consumers with credible information about where their food comes from and how it is made. "These science-based resources are powerful examples of our industry’s vision to sustainably deliver nutrient-rich dairy foods and beverages to the table, starting with the dairy farmer and continuing through the dairy supply chain," said Barbara O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

The three new resources available include:

• U.S. Dairy’s Environmental Footprint, a quick reference guide that taps into the public’s interest in learning about the foods they eat and the environmental impact of their choices. The book features:

• Easy-to-read information and graphics explaining LCAs and the journey of a gallon of milk from the beginning of the life cycle when crops are grown to feed cows and milk is produced, through processing, packaging, distribution and finally to the purchase, consumption and packaging disposal of a gallon of milk by the consumer

• Background on the dairy nutrient cycle, dairy’s contribution to health and nutrition and its role in the global food system

• LCA key findings on U.S. dairy’s carbon and water footprint as well as best management practices on farms, in dairy processing plants, and for transportation of dairy foods and beverages

A scientific publication, a special issue of the International Dairy Journal, which features 10 peer-reviewed articles highlighting findings from the fluid milk LCAs (April 2013 issue).

Farm Smart™, an online tool currently in development, which combines key learning from the research with engineering and best management practices to help dairy producers calculate their environmental footprints.

The goal of Farm Smart, available at USDairy.com/FarmSmart, is to integrate scientific analysis with farm-specific data to provide powerful, yet easy-to-use decision-making tools for dairy producers. It is currently focused on voluntary self-assessment in four environmental areas: energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and water use. Future versions of the tool will help producers identify and assess management practices in order to be as cost-efficient and productive as possible.

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