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.