World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

dairy cows

How Dairy Farmers Can Lead on Environmental Stewardship

  • Date: 21 April 2017
  • Author: Sandra Vijn, Director for Markets and Food

In the US, there are over 43,000 dairy farms spread out over our 50 states. These farms are essential to so many products we use every day. As our population grows and demand on dairy farms increases, so will the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) they emit, adding to the global threat of climate change.

GHG emissions on farms is not a result just of a farm’s type or location, but on the management practices used there. This means there’s no one-size fits all solution to lower GHG emissions. Instead, we need multiple strategies and best management practices that fit the context in which a farm operates. But how can these be identified?

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has launched the Environmental Stewardship Continuous Improvement Reference Manual of its Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program. This manual is a comprehensive resource of on-farm management practices to reduce a farm’s environmental footprint.

This manual is accompanied by an online tool, FARM ES, that allows dairy farmers to benchmark their energy use and GHG emissions against national and regional averages and to identify opportunities for improvement on their farms. The manual then provides resources and guidance to help farmers make these improvements in various areas of farm management, including feed, manure, energy, forage and animal health.

The online tool can also be used to share limited data with others that are interested in tracking progress towards GHG and energy goals within their dairy supply chains. For companies like Walmart, who recently launched Project Gigaton to reduce emissions along it supply chain, tools like this can prove valuable to their suppliers.

“FARM Environmental Stewardship helps the dairy community tell its stewardship story in a measurable, science-based way while providing business value that is also environmentally beneficial,” said Mike McCloskey, Chairman of the NMPF Environmental Committee, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Environmental Stewardship Committee and co-founder of fairlife, LLC.  “The FARM Environmental Stewardship Continuous Improvement Reference Manual provides a resource that aggregates existing science and technology that can help dairy drive continuous improvement, all while tracking its progress in a way that can be relayed to dairy customers.”

In an increasingly resource scarce world, we need to produce more food on the current amount of land, with less impact on the environment. The FARM ES tool has the ability to support US dairy farmers in continuously identifying better management practices for environmental stewardship.

WWF collaborated with the Innovation Center for US Dairy over the last few years to develop the science, indicators and metrics that form the basis for the NMPF FARM ES program. In addition, WWF has lead an independent expert panel that provided recommendations and resources for the manual to ensure the program produces the best resources and solutions for farmers in terms of environmental sustainability.