Breaking From the Moment to See Dairy’s Future

  • Article
  • 4 min read April 22, 2020

Right now, for many of us around the world it is hard to see past the moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has that sort of dominating effect. We have persistent concerns about our loved ones, our businesses and our nation. We wonder what the “new normal” will look like on the other side, and at the same time we try to bring a sense of normalcy to our daily lives. 

The U.S. dairy community has not been immune to the effects of COVID-19. Our 34,000 farm families have been impacted by our country’s economic freeze as dairy foods – like cheese, butter and milk – no longer flow through restaurants and schools at the pace they usually do.

Working together from farm through to retailer, the dairy checkoff and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy have put prioritized focus on addressing the supply chain challenges that COVID-19 has created while also finding new ways to support schools and food banks across the country to ensure children and families have access to the food they need.

And while that very important work continues in the near-term, my role with the dairy industry also requires me to do what doesn’t come easy right now and that is to think beyond today. I look to dairy’s future where I see brighter days and opportunities, especially as we reconnect with consumers over the things that matter to them, like knowing where their food comes from and the care that goes into responsibly producing the dairy foods they enjoy.

Before the pandemic, we were on target to publicly announce how U.S. dairy was set to take an important step forward with industrywide environmental stewardship goals. Our collective aspiration is to reach “carbon neutral or better” status for greenhouse gas emissions, optimize water use and improve water quality by 2050.

The effort is led by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, a forum that convenes industry stakeholders across the value chain to align on shared social responsibility priorities. These goals build on the environmental work farmers and companies have been progressing for decades to further demonstrate dairy’s positive environmental impact from farm to table.

Increasingly, we are seeing that the environment is a key consideration in food policy discussions around the world and in how people are making decisions about the food they purchase. A Hartman Group study shows the percentage of consumers who buy sustainable products because they are good for the environment (vs. “good for me/my family”) increased to 51% last year. 

Today, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and while conversations around sustainability have taken on new meaning this year, people and organizations are taking note of the moment to recognize the importance of ongoing efforts to sustainably feed a global population. We know that U.S. dairy can and will play a vital role, which was a key topic during the webinar we hosted with the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Alliance earlier today. We reaffirmed our commitment with Alliance members representing farmers, the dairy community and third-party organizations and shared with them the 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals.

While all answers on how the dairy community will reach these ambitious goals are not known today, now is the time to take this next step in dairy’s social responsibility journey.  

The good news is this isn’t new territory for us. Our farmers have exhibited generations of stewardship practices such as these with the results only getting better over time. Producing a gallon of milk in 2017 involved 30% less water, 21% less land, and a 19% smaller carbon footprint than it did in 2007, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Animal Science

These research findings are crucial but it’s sometimes the individual stories that bring it all to life.

Here are some of our favorites:

  • A California dairy farm changed its feed mixing program from diesel to electric, cutting emissions by the equivalent of taking 7,800 passenger cars off the road. 
  • A Washington farmer uses millions of worms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cow manure while producing cleaner water.  
  • A Minnesota farm dramatically cut its use of synthetic chemicals to control pests, opting for tiny wasps that do the trick instead.  
  • A Connecticut farm creates biodegradable gardening containers from composted manure that replace plastic options.

There are many more stories like these and still more that have yet to be told. They speak to how dairy farms provide solutions for our planet, all while helping to feed a world population that will reach 10 billion by 2050. 

If we had a motto it would simply be to give more than we take.

Our story may have started generations ago, but it is far from complete. We as U.S. dairy are on a journey and we remain committed to ongoing progress, to leaving a positive environmental footprint and to doing our part to nourish the planet for future generations.