The checkoff-funded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has announced the availability of new science-based resources to help dairy farmers, processors and industry partners measure and improve dairy’s environmental footprint.

The organization has conducted a series of scientific life cycle assessments (LCA) of fluid milk, cheese and whey in an effort to “create the most transparent and documented dairy LCA database available,” an Innovation Center statement says.

The three new resources available include:

  1. U.S. Dairy’s Environmental Footprint — This quick reference guide taps into the public’s interest in learning about the foods they eat and the environmental impact of their choices. The book features easy-to-read information and graphics explaining LCAs and the journey of a gallon of milk from the beginning of the life cycle when crops are grown to feed cows and milk is produced, through processing, packaging, distribution and finally to the purchase, consumption and packaging disposal of a gallon of milk by the consumer. In addition, it contains background on the dairy nutrient cycle, dairy’s contribution to health and nutrition and its role in the global food system, plus key findings on U.S. dairy’s carbon and water footprint as well as best management practices on farms, in dairy processing plants and transportation of dairy foods and beverage.
  2. A special issue of the International Dairy Journal, which features 10 peer-reviewed articles highlighting findings from the fluid milk LCAs (April 2013 issue).
  3. Farm Smart™, an online tool currently in development, which combines key learning from the research with engineering and best management practices to help dairy producers calculate their environmental footprints.  

The goal of Farm Smart is to integrate scientific analysis with farm-specific data to provide powerful yet easy-to-use decision-making tools for dairy producers, the Innovation Center statement says. It is currently focused on voluntary self-assessment in four environmental areas: energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and water use. Future versions of the tool will help producers identify and assess management practices in order to be as cost-efficient and productive as possible. The tool was developed through a partnership that began in 2009 between academia and the Innovation Center. It since has attracted major support from other funding partners.

In 2008, the dairy industry committed to a Sustainability Roadmap with the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of fluid milk by 25 percent and build business value by at least $238 million by 2020. The Innovation Center launched a portfolio of innovation projects to achieve this goal, including Farm Smart.