An ambitious five-year, $10 million USDA-funded effort to identify dairy production practices that minimize greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is underway.The project is being led by officials at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and involves researchers and extension staff from seven universities, five federal labs of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy and the checkoff-funded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

The goal of the project is to find ways to reduce GHG emissions generated in all phases of dairy production while continuing to grow profitability and productivity, says project director Matt Ruark, UW-Madison assistant professor and extension soils specialist.

"We will be working across the entire dairy production system to improve production efficiency while decreasing negative impacts in an effort to support U.S. dairy producers' ongoing sustainability efforts," Ruark says. "This is about adaptation — how to move agriculture forward to be as productive as possible as we move into a changing climate. Anything we can do to reduce losses of carbon, nitrogen and water from the system can lead to greater efficiency. This will lead to more profit for the producer, less impact on the environment and a sustainable milk supply for the consumer."

In their quest to identify opportunities to reduce GHG emissions, multidisciplinary research teams will look at all aspects of milk production — dairy rations and dairy cow genetics, manure handling and storage, crops, tillage and rotations — to identify systems that are most effective at retaining carbon, nitrogen, and water while maintaining healthy financial bottom lines.Joining UW-Madison on the project are the University of Arkansas, the University of Michigan, Cornell University, Pennsylvania State University, North Carolina A&T State University and the University of Washington.

There is also an educational component, program organizers say. Science educators will work with public school districts to develop curricula that integrate food and agriculture with cutting-edge approaches to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That effort includes a partnership with the Milwaukee Public Schools anchored at Vincent High School.

The project is being funded through USDA's Coordinated Agricultural Projects program, which brings together teams of researchers that represent various geographic areas to support discovery, applications and promote communication leading to innovative, science-based solutions to critical and emerging national priorities and needs.