WWF Study: Larger US Dairy Farms Could Achieve Net-Zero Emissions within 5 Years

Return on investment could net $1.9 million annually per farm

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2021– New analysis from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) finds that larger US dairy farms could reduce their net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero within the next five years. The investment to reach net-zero will also yield financial benefits, with a possible annual return of $1.9 million or more per farm. The potential impact of larger dairies reaching net-zero emissions is significant for the entire US industry, with smaller farms also benefiting from advancements in technology and lower implementation costs. If even 10% of dairy production in the US were to achieve net zero, GHG emissions could be reduced by more than thirteen million tons.

“We need to make it easy for Americans to prioritize the planet when putting food on the table—to make all choices more sustainable so the burden isn’t on the consumer,” said Jason Clay, executive director of WWF’s Markets Institute. “But we also need to make it feasible for farmers. Through this analysis, we’re showing how, with the right incentives and policies, dairy can get there, and get there quickly. And if it’s possible for dairy, other food sectors—and particularly other animal proteins—won’t be far behind.”

The business case explores emissions reduction and revenue potential in four primary areas: feed production and efficiency, reducing enteric methane emissions, improving manure management and nutrient recovery, and the generation and sale of renewable energy and byproducts. Mitigation techniques discussed include implementing climate-smart agricultural practices for feed optimization, converting manure into fertilizers and energy, and incentivizing the processing of food waste in biodigesters, among other recommendations.

According to the report, all proposed practices are currently technically possible, but making them economically viable for farmers in a five-year timeframe will require financial incentives and supportive policies; without incentives, it could take decades. This is especially true for smaller-scale farms. The report identifies several actions policymakers can take at the federal and state level to kickstart the journey toward net-zero emissions.

Corporate investment could also accelerate progress while helping companies achieve environmental commitments to reduce embedded GHG emissions in products they make or sell. The report points out how this strategy could be particularly advantageous for companies struggling to meet Scope 3 emissions targets as part of the Science-Based Targets Initiative. The report also calls out the need for harmonization across different carbon payment systems and growth of net-zero emissions products to stimulate uptake and incentivize farmers.

Stakeholders in the US dairy industry including farmers, cooperatives, processing companies, and industry organizations are currently identifying farms for a pilot program to test and refine the principles described in the business case. The first of several pilots is scheduled to commence this year.

Full Report: An Environmental and Economic Path Toward Net Zero Dairy Farm Emissions