Editor's Note: ‘Farm Smart’ will be demonstrated at Dairy Today’s Elite Producer Business Conference in Las Vegas Nov. 11 – 13.
In the not-too-distant future, grocery brands might demand carbon footprint information from your farm.
Unilever, for example, has developed a 78-page questionnaire that likely will take hours to complete. And it’s just one of many such surveys being developed by all the major food brands to get carbon footprint data from farms and food suppliers.
The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy is hoping to head off this avalanche of farm paperwork at the pass. It is introducing an easy-to-use Internet tool that will help you quickly get an estimate of your dairy farm’s carbon footprint.
The tool, Farm Smart, is a proactive approach to the carbon footprint issue, says Roberta Osborne, manager of the Farm Smart project.
The driving force behind Farm Smart is to develop an easy-to-use tool that gives an accurate estimate of a farm’s carbon footprint that doesn’t take hours to complete, is comparable farm-to-farm and establishes a benchmark for the dairy industry. Then, as farms improve their energy efficiency over time, the industry can document the progress being made.
The Farm Smart checklist asks eight easy-to-answer questions regarding your farm’s location, herd size, production, farming and feeding practices, manure storage and energy use. Algorithms built into the tool then estimate your farm’s carbon footprint score.
By doing so, you’ll be able to benchmark your farm’s carbon footprint against the national average. You’ll also be able to gauge whether your farm might benefit from an energy audit. That, in turn, could lead to thousands of dollars in annual energy and fuel savings.
Dan Rice, who partners with three neighbors, completed the Farm Smart checklist in about 30 minutes. Prairieland Dairy near Firth, Neb., milks 1,600 cows, processes its own fluid milk and has a composting operation that sells soil amendments to consumers and landscapers. (See "Neighbor, Partners, Entrepreneurs" on page 14.)
"We market our own milk, and we have thousands of customers tour our farm and processing plant each year," Rice says. "We get sustainability questions every day from these folks, so it’s really important that we start this conversation.
"If we don’t define what sustainability in the dairy industry is, the retailer will," he says.
By using the Farm Smart tool, he was able to establish a baseline carbon footprint for the Prairieland Dairy operation. He also completed an energy audit, which identified areas of low-hanging fruit where energy savings could be grabbed quickly.
For example, by switching to low-temperature detergent for his milk equipment wash, he was able to eliminate the need for one water heater. He also replaced a diesel engine on his manure irrigation pump with an electric motor. And he’s replacing lights with higher efficiency bulbs as the old bulbs burn out.
All told, he realized $18,700 per year in annual energy cost savings, decreased electrical use by nearly 100,000 kwh and reduced his carbon footprint by 75 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Not bad results for starting with a 30-minute, eight-question survey.
Jim Dickrell, Editor