Dairy Scale for Good: Realizing Opportunities, Economics

  • 3 min read October 29, 2020
  • Marilyn Hershey
  • DMI Chair

This is the second in a three-part series on Net Zero Initiative pillars that focuses on Dairy Scale for Good. Read about Collective Impact here. Next up: Groundwork.

The Dairy Scale for Good (DS4G) pillar of the Net Zero Initiative is focused on working with partners to create on-farm pilots that implement economically viable technology and best practices. It’s about finding the path for U.S. dairy to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions while improving farm livelihood.

We don’t have all the answers right now. But DS4G allows us to work through our questions and develop pilots that will determine what’s viable and what’s not.

Through investment by partners, grants and the participating farms, the pilots will focus on four key areas:

  • Cow care and comfort
  • Manure handling and use
  • Feed production
  • On-farm energy generation and use

When considered in aggregate, these four areas represent key aspects of dairy’s environmental footprint.

The DS4G team, led by DMI’s Caleb Harper, has been busy visiting farms across the country to meet with farmers and learn what’s already in place and where the regional opportunities and challenges lie based on these areas.

In addition to farmers, Caleb is meeting with cooperatives, state and regional checkoff teams and other organizations to identify potential farm partners. Informed by an initial desktop analysis of a hypothetical farm, DS4G relies on partner farm participation to prove that reaching net zero and improving farmer livelihood is possible beyond calculations on paper.

DS4G is intended to be the front line of building a path toward sustainable markets and affordability for all farms of all sizes in all regions by verifying the economic and environmental benefits in the pursuit of net zero.

We’re fortunate to have a regionally diverse array of innovative farms stepping forward to partner with us on this project. They are farms of scale that can take on the financial risk of implementing practices and technologies, like advanced nutrient separation and supplements to reduce enteric emissions, that we all can learn from to determine if they can be economically scaled down for use by all farms.

The various learnings from these farms will be shared broadly with the dairy community. From applying new technologies and innovative practices, what we ultimately hope to do is:

  • Provide full-scale proof-of-concept to other farmers, the dairy value chain, NGOs and the general public that dairy can be an environmental solution
  • Measure and quantify the environmental outcomes at scale, setting the stage for new on-farm revenue streams derived from non-traditional dairy products like manure-based fertilizers and ecosystem services, in connection with the Groundwork Pillar
  • Decrease the risk of investment and set the stage for widespread adoption across the dairy industry, in connection with the Collective Impact Pillar

The real key to DS4G is proving that dairy is an environmental solution and showcasing the benefits it can bring, on farm and in local and global communities. We will take what we learn about the economics and environmental improvements to develop sustainable markets that all farmers can tap into.   

For example, if we can quantify how a change in practice or technology improves water quality, we can potentially sell that impact as a verified credit within a water quality market. Without the development of new products and markets (eco-system services, carbon, manure-based products), we fail to offer a self-sustaining solution for all farms to participate in the Net Zero Initiative pathway.

It’s important to remember that not all farms will be expected to duplicate the technologies and practices on DS4G partner farms. But we expect all farms will benefit from the learnings and find their own path to benefit from the markets in some way.

Many reasonable benefits can come from practices that already are everyday aspects of some operations, such as no-till, cover crops, solar panels and more. We all have a great base to start from and this is what DS4G seeks to compile, build and capitalize on.

Our farms hold so much potential that is not yet realized. DS4G gives us an opportunity to unlock unique opportunities to implement into our farm’s business plan. These solutions are within our grasp.