New environmental research, tool unveiled

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The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® today announced new science-based resources available for dairy producers, processors, industry partners and stakeholders.

The resources help the industry act on the unprecedented scientific research commissioned as part of the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment — a collective effort of the dairy value chain to measure and improve the sustainability of U.S. dairy from farm to table. The Innovation Center, established under the leadership of dairy producers, launched the Sustainability Commitment in 2008.

As part of this commitment, the dairy industry initiated a series of scientific life cycle assessments (LCA) of fluid milk, cheese and whey. With this body of work, the U.S. dairy industry is striving to create the most transparent and documented dairy LCA database available.

Due in part to its rigorous science-based approach, it was chosen to be the pilot industry participating in the National Agricultural Library of the USDA to provide an open-access, prototype LCA database and tools.

“We are very glad to have the dairy industry’s leadership,” said Dr. Simon Liu, director of the National Agricultural Library at the USDA. “The goal is to continue to expand the data in the National Agricultural Library so that we can advance the science and meet the growing demand for quantitative data that helps to identify opportunities for innovation and improvement.”

The dairy industry is already using the findings to improve sustainability and provide consumers with credible information about where their food comes from and how it is made.

“These science-based resources are powerful examples of our industry’s vision to sustainably deliver nutrient-rich dairy foods and beverages to the table, starting with the dairy farmer and continuing through the dairy supply chain,” said Barbara O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

The three new resources available include:

  1. U.S. Dairy’s Environmental Footprint, a quick reference guide that 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
    • Background on the dairy nutrient cycle, dairy’s contribution to health and nutrition and its role in the global food system
    • LCA key findings on U.S. dairy’s carbon and water footprint as well as best management practices on farms, in dairy processing plants, and for transportation of dairy foods and beverages
  2. A scientific publication, a special issue of the International Dairy Journal, which features 10 peerreviewed 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, available at USDairy.com/FarmSmart, is to integrate scientific analysis with farm-specific data to provide powerful, yet easy-to-use decision-making tools for dairy producers. 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.

    “Farm Smart will deliver a whole new level of decision support to help dairy producers forecast the outcomes of different management practices they are considering for their dairy facility or field,” said Doug Young, general partner of Spruce Haven Farm and Research Center in Union Springs, N.Y. “For example, if a producer is considering moving to conservation tillage or precision fertilizer practices, the tool will help a producer estimate the reduction in input costs and greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Currently being tested by producers, Farm Smart was developed by academics and the Innovation Center and began with an initial investment by dairy producers in 2009. Since then, Farm Smart has attracted major support from other funding partners.

“Dairy producers have a long-standing commitment to both nutrition and environmental science through National Dairy Council and the Dairy Research Institute, an affiliate of the Innovation Center,” O’Brien said. “Their initial investment in environmental science has been more than doubled through direct and indirect grants from USDA and other funding sources, reflecting growing recognition of the importance of the solid, science-based approach the industry is taking.”

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.

To learn more about the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment, the reduction goal or the projects and tools currently available, visit USDairy.com/Sustainability.



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