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Online Tool Calculates Dairies’ Environmental Footprint

An online tool to help dairies calculate their environmental footprint is being tested by producers, the Innovation Center for US Dairy says.

Farm Smart currently focuses on voluntary self-assessment in four areas: energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and water use. But future versions of the tool will help producers identify and assess sustainable agriculture management practices to make dairies more cost-efficient and productive, the industry group says. For example, the tool can help a dairy producer considering conservation tillage or precision fertilizer practices estimate reductions in input costs and GHG emissions, says Doug Young, general partner of Spruce Haven Farm and Research Center in Union Springs, NY.

Farm Smart was developed by academics and the Innovation Center and began with an initial investment by dairy producers in 2009. The online tool is funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS).

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 has launched a portfolio of innovation projects to achieve this goal, including Farm Smart.

Dean Foods reduced its greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 3.2 percent year-on-year, from .959 lbs of carbon dioxide equivalent per gallon of product in 2010 to .929 lbs per gallon in 2011, according to the dairy company’s latest sustainability report.

Earlier this year, Dairy UK signed an agreement with the the Waste and Resources Action Programme to cut the dairy industry’s water use and improve its water management.

A tool developed by USDA scientists can be used to develop whole-farm estimates of phosphorus losses and the most effective strategies for reducing phosphorus losses from cattle farms. These practices could include barnyard improvements for capturing discharge, soil conservation practices that reduce erosion, or manure application practices that reduce exposure to runoff water.

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