U.S. dairy farmers have been leading environmental stewards for decades, tending their animals, land and water with great care. Thanks to new technologies and evolving best management practices, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk requires less water, less land and has a smaller carbon footprint than ever before. In 2008, U.S. dairy became the first in the food and agriculture sector to conduct a full life-cycle assessment. Results showed that dairy contributes just 2% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
The U.S. dairy community remains committed to progress, in 2020 launching the Net Zero Initiative to achieve industrywide neutral or better carbon emissions, optimize water usage and significantly improve water quality by 2050. The Net Zero Initiative seeks to make technology and best practices more accessible and affordable to dairy farms of all sizes and in all regions.
Dairy farmers can provide solutions to many of today’s biggest environmental challenges, including carbon emissions, nutrient management, soil health and water quality. Industry collaboration, plus support for the research and adoption of new technologies and practices, make dairy well-positioned to achieve its goals.
U.S. dairy farmers and their cooperatives are committed to advancing dairy’s effective stewardship of natural resources and building a sustainable future. NMPF supports voluntary industry-led sustainability initiatives such as the Net Zero Initiative, and other industry and public-policy efforts that move dairy forward.
NMPF supports the bipartisan and bicameral Growing Climate Solutions Act, which encourages sustainable farming practices by making it easier for farmers to participate in carbon markets, as well as the Agriculture Environmental Stewardship Act, which would create an Investment Tax Credit to cover the upfront capital costs of methane digesters and nutrient recovery systems.
- Due to innovative farming and feed practices, a gallon of milk in 2017 required 30% less water, 21% less land and 19% smaller carbon footprint than in 2007.
- According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, since 2005 North America was the only region in the world that reduced its greenhouse gas emissions, even as it increased milk production, making its greenhouse gas intensity for dairy products the lowest in the world.
- Dairy farms are a powerful tool against food waste by diverting byproducts (such as almond hulls, citrus pulp, and brewer’s grains) from other food industries and using them as feed, converting potentially unused resources into high-nutrient foods and beverages. Dairy farmers can also convert food waste and manure into valuable products such as renewable energy and fertilizer.
- U.S. dairy has set a goal to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050, creating a cross-industry Net Zero Initiative that advances research, on-farm pilots and new market development to make sustainability practices more accessible and affordable to farms of all sizes and regions.
- Dairy farmers have invested significant resources into tackling manure management, specifically through biogas systems that mitigate environmental impacts and benefit both farmers and the public. Biogas systems, coupled with nutrient recovery technologies, can transform manure into stable fertilizer for crops, bedding for cows, and fuel and electricity for the farm and nearby homes. The upfront capital cost of installing these systems poses a major obstacle for dairy farmers, making policy incentives an urgent goal.
- Well-targeted incentives that encourage climate-friendly investments among dairy farmers of all sizes and in all regions will aid the entire industry in its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
- The Net Zero Initiative shows potential pathways to increase voluntary stewardship efforts and ensure long-term economic and environmental viability throughout the dairy supply chain.
- NMPF’s National Dairy FARM Environmental Stewardship program details a comprehensive estimate of greenhouse gas emissions and energy use on dairy farms and provides tools and resources for farmers to measure and improve their footprint.