Sustainability project aims for net zero climate impact in US Dairy

The US dairy industry has organised an effort to address climate change, water quality, food security and other issues, according to the US Dairy Export Council president and CEO, Tom Vilsack

Vilsack testified in Washington at a hearing on “climate change and the agricultural sector,” before the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

He said: “Dairy farms across the country are increasingly adopting conservation tillage, diverse crop rotations, and cover crops to improve soil health; precision feed management to achieve cow health and production efficiencies; and innovative manure management technologies to produce energy and reduce air and water quality impacts.

“With the exponential increase in scientific and technological discoveries, US dairy is on the cusp of a radical change allowing it to meet this century’s needs. These advancements offer an incredible opportunity to those who are willing and ready to adopt them, and challenges for those who are not.”

Newtrient LLC, a collection of dairy co-operatives which represent about 50% of the US milk supply along with the dairy check-off and dairy co-operative policy organisations, is driving a new initiative, the Net Zero Project, to affect this change, he said.

“The collective efforts of Newtrient, US Dairy Export Council, the Innovation Center for US Dairy, the Global Dairy Platform and the National Milk Producers Federation, will demonstrate that dairy farming is integral to any solution purporting to address climate change, water quality, and water and food security. It will show how US dairy can help feed a projected 9 billion people by 2050 all while minimising its climate impact to net zero.

“Over the last several years, Newtrient and the Innovation Center for US Dairy have worked to establish the scientific and on-the-ground technical knowledge required to voluntarily reduce dairy farms’ environmental footprint. Over the past 10 years, the Innovation Center has brought together the collective action of the entire dairy sector together in a voluntary manner to address environmental and sustainability challenges.

“Newtrient has developed scientific and economic models to quantify the economic and environmental benefits associated with selected dairy farm technologies and practices.

“Further, Newtrient has developed a catalogue that has evaluated the effectiveness, resilience and business prospects of over 200 manure management and handling technologies. The analysis, knowledge, and experience gained through these efforts suggest that the dairy industry could achieve net-zero emissions. The Net Zero Project is a significant step in translating the dairy community’s research into on-the-ground results and achieving this goal.

“The Net Zero Project will use demonstration farms to explore the combined impact of several of the most promising state of the art technologies and management practices.

“The project’s objective is threefold:

  1. To determine the feasibility of achieving a net zero or net positive US milk production carbon footprint.
  2. To analyse dairies’ potential to recycle and prevent the loss of nutrients.
  3. To work toward carbon neutrality and minimised water quality impacts while preserving dairy’s reputation, markets, and profitability.

“The Net Zero Project will address the obstacles—financial, technical or political—standing between the US dairy sector and these goals by harnessing the collective energy of farmers, researchers, and industry. The dairy sector has a long way to go to achieve its aspirations, but this initiative marks a first step. The Net Zero Project demonstration farms will serve as a proof of concept. The research and analysis performed here will under-gird the project’s other enterprise, improving farmer engagement. Through this project, we hope to demonstrate that carbon neutrality and minimised water quality impacts can be profitable for farms, and even monetised through ecosystem service crediting, and lay the groundwork for increased investment in voluntary conservation.

“Our success will not be the result of legislation or regulation, but rather the result of hundreds of thousands of daily, weekly and annual independent, individual decisions made by tens of thousands of dairy producers,” Vilsack concluded.

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