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U.S. Dairy Industry Generates 2% of Country’s Total Emissions

The U.S. dairy industry has completed a carbon footprint study that measured the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with a gallon of milk in the United States. The carbon footprint study, together with data from additional studies measuring GHG emissions, found that the total U.S. dairy GHG emissions are approximately 2 percent of total U.S. emissions.

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy said this is far less than earlier figures reported about the global livestock industry.

The Innovation Center commissioned the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas to conduct the GHG LCA of fluid milk, or carbon footprint study. Researchers followed the life cycle of a gallon of milk from the point where crops are grown to feed cows all the way to the purchase and disposal of the gallon of milk by the consumer.

The study is expected to help the industry improve its environmental footprint. The carbon footprint study identifies opportunities for efficiency and innovation across the fluid milk supply chain, including feed efficiency, manure management, energy management and fuel efficiency.

A key finding indicates that management practices are an important driver of the carbon footprint for farms, plants and transportation fleets, rather than the geographic region, business model, or size of the farm or organization.

Dairy businesses across the country are already making changes that are environmentally and economically beneficial, according to the Innovation Center.

As an example, Prairieland Dairy, in Firth, Neb., which practices a zero-waste philosophy, makes fertilizer from cow manure and local organic material that is used on the farm and by local gardeners. In addition, byproducts from local food processors contribute to cow diets, including distiller’s grain, leftover cereal mix and spent brewers grain from a nearby microbrewery.

Another example is HP Hood, in Lynnfield, Mass., which implemented energy management plans in its 22 processing plants, targeting energy use, recycling and water use. The processor also has decreased diesel fuel consumption through safe driver practices, electronic onboard recorders, temperature controls and automatic idle shutdown.

In April last year, the U.S. dairy industry announced plans to cut its annual GHG emissions related to the production of fluid milk 25 percent by 2020.

Some of those cuts will come from turning methane gas into electricity. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a partnership to help farmers turn methane emissions from livestock operations into a renewable energy source.

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