Milk’s carbon footprint cut by 63 percent

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Since 1944, efficiencies in the dairy industry have allowed fewer cows to produce more milk. As a result, the carbon footprint per pound of milk produced has fallen by 63 percent, according to a noted expert.

“In 1944, it took four cows to produce the same amount of milk as a single cow in 2007,” Jude Capper, assistant professor of dairy science at Washington State University told those attending a session at Alltech’s 27th Annual International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium on Monday.

Dairy farmers have made major progress over the years, which is something the industry should be proud of, she said.

Capper has researched this subject extensively and published articles in scientific journals, including the Journal of Dairy Science.

She is also at the forefront when it comes to debunking the myth that modern agriculture is worse for the environment than the farms that dotted the landscape in the 1940s.

At the Alltech Symposium, she showed an image of a woman from Bangladesh milking a cow by hand. While that may cater to people’s notions of a simpler, less-obtrusive production system, the reality is that more cows are needed in that type of system, requiring more land and more water. Since more resources are used and more cows are emitting methane, the carbon footprint is actually larger.

She also made comparisons between organic milk production and conventional milk production.

“Organic dairy farming certainly has a very favorable consumer perception,” she said.

But, productivity on the typical organic dairy farm is lower than conventional farms — anywhere from 14 to 45 percent lower in terms of milk yield per cow, she said. What that means is that more cows are needed in the organic systems, along with more natural resources, to make the same amount of milk as the conventional systems. And, that increases the carbon footprint per pound of milk, she added.

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Philip Lewis    
Salem, NY  |  May, 24, 2011 at 03:49 PM

I'm sorry, but do you really think anyone with a brain cares about the "carbon footprint" of milk? Give me a break. Dairy farms are vanishing, the industry is being destroyed by USDA regulations and somebody is actually concerned about phantom science. Please concentrate on improved profitability issues and preserving remaining dairies.

Philip Lewis    
Salem, NY  |  May, 24, 2011 at 03:55 PM

I suspect that struggling dairy farmers are not particularly concerned about their "carbon footprint". Profitability issues and industry preservation are concerns ... not CO2.

AZ.  |  May, 24, 2011 at 05:43 PM

thats because of years of gennettic altering of cows, back in the 40 cows were left to one type of breed, not so for today. also back then milk was milk wholesome and rich not so today.

Nate Lewis    
WA  |  May, 25, 2011 at 06:53 PM

A modern cow may produce 4x the amount of milk that a cow from the 50's produced, but the new cow only has 1.5 lactations. They are not taking into account all the greenhouse gases produced by replacements. The cow from the 50's would produce milk over many lactations (probably more than 4x the amount of lactations) without needing to be replaced...hmmm...more conventional agricultural propoganda? Looks like it. Check out "Shades of Green" for some real scientific approaches to this question.

IL  |  January, 07, 2014 at 09:30 AM

If you read the report available here:, the current model includes the replacement of cows with raised heifers.

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