Melting icecaps, changing weather patterns and poor air quality have all been attributed to greenhouse gases. Whether you believe in global warming or not, it is evident consumers are looking for food that has been raised in a conscientious manner.
Joe Harrison, animal scientist and extension specialist at Washington State University, agrees with that sentiment saying, “Increasingly, it seems like consumers are interested in buying products that are produced in an environmentally friendly way and they describe that in many different ways.”
Product labels for organic, natural, grass-fed, free-range, humanely handled and a myriad of other marketing strategies have popped up in supermarkets across the country. Some of these branded programs deal directly with certain environmental issues, but they don’t do much to address greenhouses gases.
Harrison thinks there is a potential for dairy products to be marketed in this manner.
“Being able to say that your product has this kind of carbon footprint seems to be an opportunity on the marketing side and to let the general public, which is about 98 percent of us, know that the dairy industry tries to follow environmentally friendly practices which are going to keep their carbon footprint as small as possible,” Harrison adds.
Dairy farmer Doug Young believes the prospects are bright for producers who manage their environmental impact, too.
“This is a great opportunity for farmers to build a brand, so more of the value from retail comes back to the farms,” says Young, a managing member of Spruce Haven Farms in Union Springs, N.Y.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas emissions data, agriculture is responsible for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and in the United States agriculture accounts for 8 percent.
Managing greenhouse gases may seem a bit unnerving for producers; however, there are programs available at no cost on the Internet that can help.
At Spruce Haven Farms, Young is looking at utilizing computer-based greenhouse modeling technology. He is interested in using Farm Smart, a program offered by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
He says it is a process-based model similar to what the EPA has recommended the industry adopt.
“The model allows producers to simulate farms in any location, with any characteristics,” explains Young. “It accurately assesses the carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and water footprint per unit of production.”