Check Your Mailbox Survey to define carbon footprint of U.S. milk

January 14, 2009 06:00 PM

By completing a detailed survey, dairy producers can help document the true carbon footprint of a gallon of milk.

Do you feel lucky? In the next few days, you could be one of 5,000 randomly selected U.S. dairy producers asked to fill out a survey to help define the carbon footprint of making one gallon of American milk.

Sharpen your pencils and get a big cup of coffee, because this is one doozy of a survey. Sixteen pages in length, it will ask you to detail everything from feed crop inputs to electrical use to cool your milk.

The survey was commissioned by Dairy Management, Inc. (DMI), and has the full support of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and dairy co-ops across the country.

"Somebody is going to generate a carbon footprint number for milk, and we want it to come from our dairy producers,” explains Rick Naczi, executive vice president of strategic industry analysis and evaluation for DMI. "This survey is being run by dairy producers to make it as dairy-farmer-friendly as possible and still get all the data we need.

"The farm survey is one component of our effort to document the carbon footprint of a gallon of milk,” he adds. "We've already completed the analysis with processors, and we are working with retailers to determine their carbon contributions.”

"We are encouraging our members to participate,” says Ray Cherry, Land O'Lakes director of milk procurement. "The survey should help identify current sustainability practices that most times go unnoticed.”

Most Washington insiders expect the Obama administration and Congress to move ahead with cap-and-trade legislation to restrict carbon emissions, adds Chris Galen, NMPF spokesman. "To the extent we can document how much dairy farms emit, we can then take advantage of offset opportunities.”

Galen, Cherry and Naczi all hope that producers will view the survey as an opportunity to set the record straight. Numerous outside groups, such as the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, have published estimates that animal agriculture contributes 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. "That estimate includes every water buffalo in India, every chicken in South America and every dairy cow in the U.S.,” Galen says. But the estimates are often based on grazing systems that are not typical of intensive U.S. dairy production.

Another goal of the survey is to identify areas of business value, explains David Darr, vice president of sustainability and public affairs for Dairy Farmers of America. For example, the survey might identify farms of a certain size that could see energy savings through the use of variable-speed vacuum pumps.

Identifying the need for such pumps could spur innovation in their development. And through bulk buys, producers might realize true cost savings, Darr says.

Survey responses will be confidential and will be tabulated by University of Arkansas engineers contracted by DMI. Results will be made available later this year.

Bonus content:

Click here to read a Dairy Today article over the global warming debate.

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