How Dairy Sustainability Became a Checkoff Priority

  • 3 min read August 25, 2023

Sustainability is a buzzword often thrown around in food marketing and by thought leaders, but what does it mean for dairy farmers and the checkoff? Georgia farmer Adam Graft, former National Dairy Board member and California farmer Steve Maddox, and Stephanie Masiello Schuette, Director of Environment Research for Dairy Management Inc., discuss on the Your Dairy Checkoff podcast why it's important for farmers to be involved in sustainability practices and what the future of dairy sustainability looks like.

Dispelling Sustainability Myths: The Role of Checkoff

Dairy sustainability has grown in interest for customers and end-users, a trend the checkoff has recognized and prioritized to dispel misinformation using scientific evidence. Maddox believes it was crucial for the industry to unite and establish a sustainability strategy that would benefit all dairy farmers, regardless of their farm size and style of operation.

The checkoff played a central role in bringing together the industry to create a plan to address environmental concerns while benefitting farmers’ bottom line.


How the Dairy Checkoff is Empowering Farmers with Tools

One research project Schuette is excited about is researching feed additives' impact on reducing enteric methane emissions, the leading cause of greenhouse gasses from cows into the atmosphere. The dairy checkoff brought together experts, industry professionals, and farmers to consider various factors related to feed additives, including safety, effectiveness, cost, and return on investment.

The collaboration led to the creation of a comprehensive guidance document and decision support tools -- Evaluation Tool for Enteric Methane Mitigation and Feed Additive Evaluation Guidance for Enteric Methane Mitigation. The tools can help the dairy value chain make informed choices without imposing directives on farmers.


The Role of Checkoff-Funded Science in Promoting Dairy’s Sustainable Farming Practices

In promoting sustainable measures, Schuette places significant emphasis on the role of science, both in the short and long term. Science is crucial in ensuring transparency within the industry and the wider world about on-farm practices and progress.

For short-term goals, it is essential to highlight progress, such as the improvements demonstrated in the industry’s Life Cycle Analysis. Because of modern and innovative dairy farming practices, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk in 2017 shrunk significantly, requiring 30% less water, 21% less land and a 19% smaller carbon footprint than it did in 2007. Sharing such data helps to showcase the industry's advancements.

Science also plays a vital role in decision-making, especially regarding new technologies, such as feed additives and allocating funding for future research. This ensures farmers can take advantage of emerging opportunities and benefit from old and new environmental practices.


Sustainable Farming Methods Getting the Recognition They Deserve

Maddox said measurements of carbon sequestration are now allowing farmers to monetize their sustainable practices. This positive development has led companies such as Nestlé, Starbucks, and McDonald's to collaborate with farmers and engage in test projects that provide opportunities for farmers to claim carbon credits as an additional source of income. This is a significant step toward appreciating and supporting the sustainability efforts farmers have been carrying out for many years.


Farmers: Investing in a Sustainable Future Through Their Checkoff

Maddox says it's important for farmers to understand their sustainability efforts are not just quick fixes, but future investments in their land and communities. By communicating their stories to the public, farmers can protect their social license to operate and continue contributing to solutions for a more sustainable future.

Backed by scientific evidence, farmers should take pride in their generations-long commitments and the critical role dairy plays in feeding a growing population, Schuette says. It's crucial for farmers to explore innovative tools and solutions that are good for the planet and their bottom line, she said.