Last year, 9.3 million cows generated more than 200 million pounds of milk in the US. That’s a lot of nutrition, and it’s also a significant source of greenhouse gases—about 2 percent of our country’s emissions. Recognizing this fact in 2008, the dairy sector voluntarily set a goal of reducing GHG emissions from fluid milk by 25 percent by 2020, and has since undertaken several projects intended to help meet that goal.
Over the last six years, World Wildlife Fund has worked with the Innovation Center for US Dairy, dairy farmers, consumer brands, and others to develop a digital tool called Farm Smart® to help dairy farmers measure, shrink, and share their GHG and energy footprints.
Now, the Farm Smart tool will be incorporated into the FARM Environmental Stewardship module that is being added to the existing FARM Animal Care and FARM Antibiotic Residue Prevention modules, managed by National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). The FARM Environmental Stewardship module will be available to all 43,000 US dairy farmers on January 1, 2017.
By entering their production metrics into a digital survey, farmers can use the FARM Environmental Stewardship module to see how their herd size; feed, and energy use; manure systems; and other variables affect their environmental and economic performance. For dairy buyers and brands that have established climate change goals of their own, the module can help them track of emissions and energy use within their supply chains. It can also be used to identify potential efficiency gains and cost savings. It can help find ways to produce more milk with less resources.
Why is WWF involved? We are dedicated to driving sustainable food systems to conserve nature and feed the planet. That means using fewer resources to produce more food on the current amount of land, and protecting natural habitats, keeping oceans, rivers, and lakes clean, and curbing climate change. These issues are important for the dairy industry: Beyond greenhouse gas emissions, dairy cows produce manure, which needs to be properly managed to protect waterways, and use feed, which should be produced in ways that conserve soils and water, and doesn’t lead to conversion of ecologically important areas such as prairies, wetlands, and forests.
Though climate change will affect everyone on the planet, farmers are on the front lines. It threatens them directly in the form of erratic weather and indirectly in the form of volatile prices for energy, feed, and other inputs.
It’s also a critical issue of trust and transparency. Consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it was produced. The FARM Environmental Stewardship module creates a platform for uniform reporting of GHG emissions and energy use, and in addition to the FARM Animal Care and FARM Antiobiotic Residue Prevention Modules, will give customers and consumers a more comprehensive and up-to-date view of what it takes to produce a gallon of milk.
As challenging as it is for a single company to reduce its energy use and GHG emissions, it’s even more difficult for an industry of 43,000 businesses—as well as their customers down the supply chain—to act collectively. That’s why this is so significant: it gives every farm a consistent means to measure and manage their emissions. It also sets an example for other industries looking to take similar actions.
It’s now up to us—WWF, the Innovation Center, and NMPF, among others—to ensure it’s used as widely as possible. Given how valuable it is for all involved, there’s good reason to be optimistic.