By Stan Ryan
President & CEO
Northwest Dairy Association
In the decades since, we have gone from transporting milk by wagon to shipping ingredients to 33 countries globally. Today, with $2.5 billion in annual sales, dairy comprises the state’s third most valuable farm product after apples and wheat. But the last few months have demonstrated that we can’t ever grow complacent. We must continue to meet the moment, steadily rising to feed a growing population.
We are building on our member-owners’ long legacy and feeding more people using less resources. We are also shoring up our resilience. Our goal as an essential business that delivers wholesome, healthy nutrition to millions is to thrive alongside the communities in which we work, live and play for at least another 100 years. Our ability to do that amid an unpredictable and volatile market will depend in large measure on collaborations with our public, private and industry partners. Together we are stronger and smarter.
Consumers are increasingly sourcing their food from companies that demonstrate their commitment to natural resource stewardship. That’s why the vast majority of dairy producers and processors across the country have come together to collaborate on ways to boost gains made in the last 50 or-so years.
Innovative new practices dairy farmers implemented between 2007 and 2017— whether in cow comfort, improved feed and genetics or on-farm management advances — reduced the carbon footprint of a gallon of milk by about 19 percent. To further build on this progress, Darigold and the Northwest Dairy Association (NDA) in 2018 signed on as founding members of the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment.
This voluntary commitment adopted by 29 dairy companies and representing 70 percent of the U.S. milk production will enable us to collectively advance, track and report progress on social responsibility areas important to consumers, customers and communities.
Darigold recently joined more than 130 member companies and organizations at the fall meeting of the Dairy Sustainability Alliance® and also connected with the other members of the agricultural community for the November Sustainable Agriculture Summit. This diverse cross-section of farmers, dairy companies, retailers, environmental groups and researchers sees value in combining forces to identify solutions that will accelerate progress toward our collective vision of dairy as an environmental solution.
Darigold and NDA pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, consistent with the U.S. Dairy 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals that the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy — representing farmers, dairy companies, brands and other organizations — set earlier this year. Obstacles remain, both fiscal and technical, but by aggressively pursuing new strategies to optimize natural resource use and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, we are certain we can achieve our goal.
Already, many of our award-winning member-owners are advancing new processes and technologies, opening potential new markets while boosting farm productivity and profitability. And we are striving to keep pace on the processing side by diversifying our product lines and expanding our global ingredients business.
Following our successful launch of Darigold FIT (an ultra-filtered, high-protein and low-sugar milk), we invested $67 million in a major capacity expansion and modern aseptic packaging so that we can ship and store shelf-stable Darigold FIT without refrigeration. That innovation will result in less energy and water use, as well as reduced plastic and corrugated material.
To help accelerate the strategic transformation of our ingredients business, we leased a new warehouse in Seattle that situates our distribution center closer to the ports from which our customers export our skim milk powder and other ingredients.
We’re on our way, but we have a long way yet to go.
Facing the challenges ahead will not be easy. We will have to be resourceful. Even as the global population rises, according to the USDA, total farmland decreased 2,100,000 acres from 2018 to 2019. Yet we are also witnessing an explosion of ag-innovation locally, nationally and globally that makes me more convinced than ever we are up to the task.
American producers are among the most efficient in the world. Our own enterprise has a solid foundation of over 350 families with thousands of years of dairy experience and continuous improvement between them. Our farmer-owners’ deep stewardship values have guided us for generations. They will continue to guide us into the future.