Dairy’s building a better environmental tool

By Nicole Ayache, Chief Sustainability Officer, National Milk Producers Federation

The Farmers Assuring Responsible Management Environmental Stewardship Program (FARM ES) is collaborating with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to integrate a new, process-based model for greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting: the Ruminant Farm Systems (RuFaS) model. This rigorous, science-based (but user friendly) approach will position FARM ES as the key on-farm tool to support U.S. dairy community efforts to achieve its 2050 environmental stewardship goals, including to become GHG neutral or better. FARM ES is the U.S. dairy industry’s unified platform to track and aggregate on-farm environmental progress, with a suite of informational resources to support continuous improvement.

FARM ES will begin using RuFaS as its underlying GHG quantification model starting this summer with Version 3. This introductory launch will contain the core elements of the RuFaS model to enable farm-level GHG footprinting and scenario analyses, which help support informed decision-making about the adoption of practices and technologies. Further elements — like enhancements to the energy data inputs and conducting economic analyses — will be added to FARM ES as they become available through ongoing RuFaS research.

A key focus of the remainder this year will be to collect farmer, FARM evaluator, and other stakeholder feedback so the new platform can be refined in 2025.

Real-world refinement

The FARM Program relies on stakeholder feedback and guidance from the scientific experts at Dairy Management Inc. to guide its process of continuous improvement. Input from dairy farmers, cooperative and processor staff, and researchers informed the need to upgrade the GHG model that powers FARM ES. Stakeholders consistently requested a tool that can deliver insights as they evaluate opportunities to further improve on-farm environmental outcomes.

Stakeholder engagement and participatory research continue to be essential as FARM ES begins the work to integrate the RuFaS model. A working group composed of farmers and staff from dairy cooperatives and processors meet with RuFaS researchers to discuss the scientific model and tool functionality. The multi-stakeholder working group has met seven times so far, covering the animal, manure, feed, energy, and economic RuFaS modules and giving feedback on the structure of data inputs, desired functionality for the new FARM ES tool, and more.

More than 25 farms volunteered to participate in scientific model validation to support RuFaS calibration and refinement, with data collection complete in 2023. The volunteer farms ranged in size from 50 head to over 15,000 head and represent diverse geographies and production styles, including tie stalls, freestalls, dry lost, grazing, and more. The farms and the evaluators that supported their data collection were invited to provide written feedback and join live feedback sessions. They provided helpful guidance on topics such as ease and challenges in collecting and interpreting the data inputs, quality of data collection training in fully equipping evaluators, and the structure of the results report.

With the introduction of FARM ES Version 3, FARM will create feedback forms for farmers and FARM evaluators to provide suggestions. FARM also will host stakeholder webinars to foster discussion about the new platform.

This summer’s launch will bring exciting updates to FARM ES. They are only the beginning of the journey toward a more scientifically robust tool that brings greater insights to participating dairy farmers.

This column originally appeared in Hoard’s Dairyman Intel on March 18, 2024.

NMPF’s Bjerga on Perceptions of Dairy, Agriculture in Wartime

NMPF Executive Vice President Alan Bjerga discusses how agriculture and food thought leaders perceived dairy during his recent participation in the World Food Prize in Des Moines, IA, detailing some of the misconceptions found on dairy’s sustainability and role in food security. He also discusses the challenges farmers are facing in conflict zones, including recent attacks in Israel and the ongoing war in Ukraine, in an interview with WEKZ Radio.



CDI’s Vanderham, NMPF’s Bjerga discuss California flooding


NMPF Board of Directors member Cory Vanderham of California Dairies, Inc., and NMPF Senior Vice President of Communications Alan Bjerga talk about the challenges of California dairy producers and the need for long-term policy solutions on RFD-TV. While record snowpack is replenishing water supplies battered by multi-year drought, it also is bringing chaos to producers who are facing extreme weather conditions that require immediate reaction. For more details on how Vanderham has handled this year’s deluge, check out NMPF’s recent Dairy Defined podcast.

NMPF’s Bjerga on Dairy’s Recent Policy Wins

As the year comes to a close, the National Milk Producers Federation is applauding two recent measures that support the dairy industry. NMPF Senior Vice President of Communications Alan Bjerga spoke with RFD-TV’s own Janet Adkison about how the Growing Climate Solutions Act and Sustains Act benefit dairy farmers, and what USTR’s announcement of a new request for dispute settlement consultations with Canada means for U.S. dairy.



NMPF Lauds Bipartisan Ag Climate Measures in Appropriations Package

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) today commended Congress for including the Growing Climate Solutions Act and the SUSTAINS Act in its final fiscal year 2023 budget package. These measures will help dairy farmers seek additional sustainability opportunities as they work to fulfill the dairy sector’s voluntary, producer-led goal of becoming greenhouse gas neutral or better by 2050.

“Environmental markets and conservation programs have the potential to meaningfully assist dairy producers as they work to meet their 2050 environmental stewardship goals,” said NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern. “The Growing Climate Solutions Act and the SUSTAINS Act will strengthen these important tools.”

The Growing Climate Solutions Act, authored by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, and Senator Mike Braun, R-IN, passed the Senate last June on a bipartisan vote of 92-8. The legislation would enable USDA to register technical service providers that help farmers implement stewardship practices that can generate credits on environmental markets. In turn, producers will be better positioned to participate in these important markets. Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-VA, and Don Bacon, R-NE, have introduced companion legislation in the House.

The SUSTAINS Act, authored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman-elect Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, R-PA, passed the House Agriculture Committee in May on a bipartisan voice vote. The measure would allow private sector funds to supplement existing funding for farm bill conservation programs, which are continuously oversubscribed. The bill is an innovative approach to boosting funding for USDA conservation programs, which provide important technical assistance to dairy farmers for a variety of stewardship practices.

In addition to the sponsors of both bills, committee leaders Rep. David Scott, D-GA, and Sen. John Boozman, R-AR, also played important roles in finalizing the bipartisan package.

“We commend the leaders of the Agriculture Committees – Senators Debbie Stabenow and John Boozman and Reps. David Scott and GT Thompson – for working together to fashion this bipartisan agreement on agricultural climate legislation,” Mulhern said. “We look forward to working with them and their colleagues to build on this progress in the new year.”

NMPF’s Bjerga on Dairy’s Commitment to Conservation


NMPF Senior Vice President of Communications Alan Bjerga discusses on RFD-TV how a meeting with key lawmakers in Pennsylvania highlighted dairy’s conservation stewardship as Farm Bill discussions begin. Clint Burkholder, owner of Burk-Lea Farms in Chambersburg, PA, and a member of the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, last Friday hosted several members of Congress, including Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-PA and top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, as well as other area dairy farmers for a farm tour and roundtable discussion on the importance of agricultural conservation.

NMPF’s Jonker Discusses Net Zero Goals

This week is Earth Week, and the U.S. dairy industry is celebrating by highlighting the sustainability efforts of dairy farmers. Jamie Jonker, National Milk Producers Federation Chief Science Officer and Vice President of Sustainability and Scientific Affairs, says the biggest goal for dairy farmers was developed a few years ago to be greenhouse gas neutral, or better, by 2050. Jonker spoke with the National Association of Farm Broadcasters.

NMPF’s Bjerga on WOTUS Efforts


NMPF Senior Vice President of Communications Alan Bjerga discusses NMPF’s leadership in ensuring dairy voices are heard in proposed revision to Waters of the U.S. regulations on RFD-Radio, hosted by the Illinois Farm Bureau. NMPF submitted comments to EPA on Monday along with the American Farm Bureau Federation and other organizations expressing concern with the pace of Biden Administration revisions, asking for clear regulatory language and policies that respect legal precedent and the Clean Water Act.

NMPF’s Mulhern Speaks at Annual Meeting


NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern speaks at the organization’s annual meeting in Las Vegas, NV on Nov. 16.

NMPF’s Bjerga Discusses CEO’s Corner, Trade Growth


NMPF’s Senior Vice President for Communications, Alan Bjerga, discusses NMPF’s “CEO’s Corner” for June, which deals with U.S. dairy’s growing leadership in sustainable dairy exports. The monthly thought-leadership series highlights key dairy issues of the day from an NMPF perspective and is part of the organization’s “Sharing Our Story” initiative that spotlights farmer voices and industry commentary. Bjerga spoke on WEKZ radio, Janesville, Wisconsin.