Anti-dairy activists argue that removing dairy cows from the landscape would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and thereby reduce the threat of climate change.
A new study in the Journal of Dairy Science by scientists from Virginia Tech and the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center refutes that notion.
The U.S. dairy industry contributes roughly 1.58% of U.S. GHG emissions. The study suggests removing all dairy cattle from the country would reduce U.S. GHGs by 0.7%. But there would be other downstream effects.
“If dairy cattle were no longer present in U.S. agriculture, we must consider downstream effects such as handling of pasture and grain land previously used for producing dairy feed, disposition of by-product feeds and sourcing fertilizer,” says Robin White, the study’s lead investigator with Virginia Tech.
Eliminating dairy cattle would also reduce the supply of essential nutrients for humans. Dairy supplies the protein requirements of 169 million people, the calcium requirements of 254 million people and the energy requirements of 71.2 million people. In essence, the study illustrates the difficulties in increasing supplies of critically limiting nutrients while decreasing GHGs.
Earlier this week, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced its new goal of making the dairy industry carbon neutral by 2050. Between 2007 and 2017, the industry has already reduced its carbon footprint by 19%, mainly through improved milk and feed production efficiencies. During that time period, the industry reduced the amount of water needed to produce a gallon of milk by 30% and the amount of land by 21%.