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Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

It’s All about Dairy Efficiency

Sep 28, 2010

Last week’s announcement that fluid milk’s carbon footprint is a miniscule 17.6 lb. of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per gallon is good news for the dairy industry.

Extrapolated, that means dairy’s contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States is a paltry 2%, with dairy production accounting for three-fourths of that. The rest comes from processors and consumers.

When Greg Thoma, a University of Arkansas chemical engineer who specializes in GHG modelling started the study three years ago, he thought herd size and region of the country would be big factors in dairies’ carbon footprints.

“As we did the analyses, those became a weak hypothesis,” he says. “What we really discovered is that how a farm is managed is much more critical than where it is located or how big it is.”

The critical finding of the study is the large variability among farms, says Erin Fitzgerald, VP of sustainability for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. (The Center funded the study.) The wide range in feed efficiency and manure management offer ways to improve both emissions and often the bottom line. As feed efficiency increases, less land, energy and fertilizer are needed to produce each gallon of milk while less manure and enteric methane is produced.

Dairies which graze animals for much of their feed intake do have slightly higher carbon footprints. But there is large variability, with the most efficient graziers having fewer emissions than the lowest efficiency confinement operations.

And this brings us here to World Dairy Expo this week. Expo is the largest concentration of dairy technology at one show at one time in the world.

Dairy vendors from around the globe are here to showcase their wares, be it semen from Italy or robotic milkers from Sweden or new, high yielding forage varieties from the United States.  Commercial dairy producers have the opportunity to learn about new technologies that can improve product productivity and profits while reducing costs and carbon footprints. Graziers have their own Grazing Pavillion, where the latest in grazing technology and forage varieties are showcased. Here at Expo, everybody wins when everybody learns from each other.

If you can’t make it to Expo, Catherine Merlo and I will be your eyes and ears. We’ll be covering the show from dawn to dusk each day, attending seminars on lowering feed costs, managing manure digesters and getting the most out of genomics in sire selection. We’ll also be going on virtual farm tours that highlight new dairy facilities and use technology to manage reproduction and new software to track transition cow performance.

We also have some two dozen meetings set up with dairy companies and trade associations to learn more about new product announcements and new policy development.

To get this latest information, simply check your e-mail each morning for your World Dairy Expo Special Edition e-newsletter. We’ll bring you the latest news plus video from the seminars, press conferences and reactions from dairy producers themselves.

If we don’t see you at Expo, we’ll see you virtually here through this newsletter. World Dairy Expo is all about doing dairy better. Better for the cows. Better for the consumer. Better for the globe.

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