The dairy industry has unveiled a major initiative to help reduce on-farm expenses while meeting a growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly products. The industrywide effort focuses on the fluid milk value chain — from farm to table. It includes a series of projects that will reduce energy, increase efficiency and help dairy producers tap into new sources of income.
The announcement was made by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an organization bringing together leaders from across the dairy value chain. The industrywide group includes producer organizations, dairy cooperatives, processors and manufacturers such as Hilmar Cheese Company, Leprino Foods, Dairylea Cooperative Inc., Anderson Erickson Dairy, Land O'Lakes and Dairy Farmers of America.
As part of the initiative, 12 project plans were unveiled that offer a range of solutions for operations large and small across all industry segments. Some of these projects take advantage of existing practices, while others are technological innovations that require longer time frames and financial commitments for research and development.
"During these difficult economic times, it is especially important to address both short- and long-term solutions that ensure the health and strength of our industry,” said Thomas P. Gallagher, chief executive officer of the Innovation Center and Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of the nation's dairy producers. "By identifying practical and effective methods to increase business value and reduce dairy's carbon footprint, we ensure the viability and sustainability of U.S. dairy producers and the dairy industry,” he added.
The project plans have the potential to create a conservatively estimated $238 million in business value and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 3.2 million metric tons — equivalent to taking more than half a million cars off the road every year.
Solutions include identifying and implementing energy-saving best practices across all value chain segments, removing barriers to the adoption of methane digesters, and implementing pilot programs to test alternatives to thermal pasteurization for raw milk and reduced-temperature clean-in-place technologies.
"Consumers increasingly demand nutritious dairy products produced in an environmentally sustainable way. The U.S. dairy industry intends to meet their needs,” said Gallagher. "Through this sustainability initiative, the dairy industry continues its legacy of producing high-quality nutritious foods that enrich and sustain life.”
Many modern dairy practices, including on-farm technological advances, have already dramatically reduced dairy's carbon footprint by lowering energy and water use, increasing milk production and developing more efficient nutrient management programs.
"Sustainability isn't a new concept,” said Bob Foster of Foster Brothers Farm in Vermont. "It's about using fewer resources, and using resources that are sustainable. It makes practical business sense.”
Foster has continuously assessed his dairy farm's energy usage and environmental impact for more than 25 years. In that time, he launched a successful composting business that is almost as profitable as his dairy farm, and has implemented technologies that now power his farm.
"The entire industry has long understood the importance of protecting natural resources,” said Jerry Kozak, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). "The effort to further reduce the dairy industry's carbon footprint will not only identify ways to help improve efficiencies on the farm, but also show our commitment to meet consumer demand and be good stewards of the land.”
The Innovation Center engaged the University of Arkansas Applied Sustainability Center to conduct the first-ever comprehensive survey to accurately measure its current carbon footprint. The science-based life cycle assessment (LCA) of GHG emissions across the U.S. fluid milk value chain will be submitted for publication later this year.
"The LCA measures GHG emissions from feed, to milk production and processing systems, to consumption and package disposal,” said Mike McCloskey, who chairs the sustainability initiative for the Innovation Center and is owner and president of Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind. "This process validates dairy's carbon footprint and helps dairy industry stakeholders identify new best management practices to ensure the long-term viability of U.S. dairy.”
The commitment to a reduction in GHG emissions was first announced in the summer of 2008, when more than 250 stakeholders gathered at the first Sustainability Summit to develop a reduction roadmap. Now, more than 500 stakeholders, including producers, processors, manufacturers and retailers, as well as other dairy industry experts, are helping the industry and Innovation Center achieve this sustainability vision. Overall, the industry goal is to reduce fluid milk's GHG emissions by 25 percent by 2020.
"Our goal is to help dairy companies to thrive for generations while increasing the health and well-being of consumers, communities and the planet,” said Connie Tipton, president and chief executive officer of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). "This industrywide sustainability initiative offers an outstanding opportunity for all members of the dairy industry.”