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Dairy industry milks innovations to cut greenhouse gases 25 per cent

US Department of Agriculture and dairy industry sign landmark partnership to slash emissions and accelerate roll out of anaerobic digestors

The US Department of Agriculture and the Innovation Center for US Dairy have agreed to work jointly in support of the dairy industry’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent over the next decade.

The landmark memorandum of understanding identified a variety of projects that can help the dairy industry achieve those greenhouse gas reduction goals and increase its financial and environmental sustainability.

“This historic agreement, the first of its kind, will help us achieve the ambitious goal of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions while benefiting dairy farmers,” said US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Use of manure to electricity technology is a win for everyone. It provides an untapped source of income for farmers, it provides a source of renewable electricity, reduces our dependence on foreign fossil fuels, and provides a wealth of additional environmental benefits.”

Under the agreement, USDA will take a number of steps to help farmers, including supporting a strategic research plan to help the industry further reduce environmental impacts. Other initiatives would help the industry develop future technologies, advance nutrient management, support renewable energy, and improve energy efficiency.

Potential outcomes of the MOU include accelerating opportunities to adopt livestock manure processing systems that capture methane gas from livestock manure and convert it into electricity, coordinating research information on life cycle assessments, and supporting the industry’s efforts in energy audits, feed management and energy conservation.

The Innovation Center is nearing completion of the first-ever life-cycle assessment of fluid milk from farm to table. Initial estimates by the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas show that the entire dairy supply chain, from cattle feed ingredients through packaging and transportation to the consumer’s table, accounts for less than two per cent of US greenhouse gas emissions.

“The dairy industry’s on-going efforts to improve milk production efficiency over the past six decades have already reduced greenhouse gas emissions at the farm level by more than 60 per cent,” said Indiana dairy producer Mike McCloskey, chairman of the Innovation Center’s Sustainability Committee. “To feed a growing world we must continue to develop new ideas, innovations and best practices to preserve natural resources and secure a healthy future for the next generation.”

The agreement may also help accelerate adoption of methane gas digesters for all sizes of dairy farms, making it easier to connect digesters to electricity grids and help digester operators capture potential carbon offset payments. Additional support from the USDA could include research on how feed mixtures affect methane emissions from cows. Opportunities to reduce so-called enteric emissions have been identified by dairy stakeholders in the Innovation Center’s industry-wide plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.