Dairy farmers have always been environmentally conscious stewards of their land and animals, but what they haven’t always had were the proof points to show it.

Now, with farmers’ ongoing concerted efforts around sustainability and U.S. Dairy’s 2050 Environmental Stewardship goals in place, we’ll be able to showcase metrics to better share our story as more consumers are demanding. In fact, a recent study showed that 81% of consumers globally said it is important companies implement programs to help the environment, and 70% of consumers would like those efforts to be more transparent.   

This Earth Day (and beyond), you’ll hear a lot about sustainability and these goals. As a farmer, you might think, where do I start?

The good news is you have probably already made progress.

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about sustainability, including tips on looking at your farm through a sustainability lens, what you can do to help reach the 2050 goals and why these efforts are important.

What are U.S. Dairy Industry’s 2050 Environmental Stewardship goals?

Farmers, cooperatives, processors and others in the dairy community worked together through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to develop voluntary, collective environmental stewardship goals. By 2050, the U.S. dairy industry has collectively committed to become carbon neutral or better; optimize water while maximizing recycling; and improve water quality by optimizing use of manure and nutrients. To reach these goals, the Innovation Center is supporting collaboration through the Net Zero Initiative to identify best practices and find economically viable solutions to support the progress.

Where should I start?

When thinking about improving sustainability, consider these four areas of your operation that make up the total footprint of the farm.

Feed production: What are your current feed production processes? Have you explored cover crops that can be used as feed? Plants take in carbon dioxide. The more opportunity to keep things growing on the landscape, the more carbon they can sequester. Cover crops also help improve water quality as does minimum or no-till practices.

Cow care: Cows are producing more milk than ever based on genetics alone, but how can you make them even more comfortable so they can produce more milk? Many farms are taking simple steps to evaluate their cow bedding and how they can improve cow comfort while saving money and resources.

Energy usage: Even small things like changing light bulbs from fluorescent or incandescent to LED can lead to savings. Energy audits conducted through your electric cooperative or utility can help determine where you can make improvements that may save money.

Manure and nutrient management: When thinking about this area, remember the 4 Rs. Are you applying nutrients at the right time, the right place, at the right rate, using the right source? (The right source can be manure to minimize the use of added commercial fertilizer.)

Who can help me in the next steps?

Have a conversation with your co-op or processor. They can set up a FARM Environmental Stewardship evaluation to help you get a baseline for your operation. Soil and water conservation districts are also there to provide information and help set up a plan. Finally, start having conversations with people you are working with now – your dairy nutritionists, vets and even your neighbors – and share best practices.

Why is this important to dairy farmers?

Sustainability and the NZI is not only good for the earth and future generations of farmers. These practices also include other benefits like helping lower costs by increasing accessibility to new technologies and solutions and making them more affordable for all farms. They also provide revenue opportunities like carbon and water credits, manure based-products, renewable natural gas and electricity resources. They also allow for precision farming. There is so much data right now that can be used to improve operations using less to grow more. Finally, they promote trust in dairy and set the record straight with scientific documentation.

Again, this is not anything new or groundbreaking to farmers, and we do not need every farm to achieve net zero in their operation, but when we work together toward a common goal, great things happen. Learn more at www.usdairy.com/sustainability.