Cow on pasture.
October 12, 2020

Dairy Industry Unveils ‘Net Zero Initiative” by 2050

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy unveiled a ‘Net Zero Initiative’ (NZI) today hopes to drive the industry to achieve carbon neutrality, optimized water usage and improved water quality by 2050.

“With the entire dairy community at the table—from farmers and cooperatives to processors, household brands and retailers—we’re leveraging U.S. dairy’s innovation, diversity and scale to drive continued environmental progress and create a more sustainable planet for future generations,” says Mike Haddad, chairman of the Innovation Center.

NZI is specifically targeting farm and field operations. Separate initiatives will target the processing, transportation, institutional and retail sectors. Specifically, NZI is looking to reduce resource usage and improve efficiency in feed production, manure and nutrient management, cow care and efficiency, and energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The Innovation Center also announced a 5-year partnership with Nestle, including a $10 million commitment, to support the Net Zero Initiative to fund on-farm pilot projects, and to scale up access to environmental practices and resources on farms across the country.

“Scaling up climate-smart agricultural initiatives is to key to Nestle’s ambition to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and will help reduce the carbon footprint of many of our brands,” says Jim Wells, Nestle USA chief supply officer.

The keys to success to reaching net zero will fall in three areas, says Karen Scanlon, senior vice president of Sustainability Initiatives at Dairy Management, Inc:

                • Data and research staffing in each of the four areas listed above—feed production, manure management, cow care and energy use and production.

                • Affordability. “Farmers need economically viable and affordable solutions,” says Scanlon.

                • Accessibility. Dairy farms vary in size, type and geography, so solutions must be found that works in each operation. Not all farmers will be able to adopt all solutions, but all farmers will likely be able to incorporate some practices, she says.

In 2008, the U.S. dairy industry was the first agricultural sector to commission a life cycle assessment on fluid milk, which showed that the dairy industry accounts for 2% of total GHG emissions. Back then, the industry set a goal of reducing carbon emissions 25% by 2020.

Research published earlier this year shows the industry likely will fall short of that goal, reducing emissions by 19% between 2007 and 2017. But that same study shows that producing a gallon of milk requires 30% less water and 21% less than it did in 2007—still a remarkable achievement.

Haddad is confident dairy farmers will be able to reach net zero as an industry in the coming decades. “We believe dairy is an environmental solution,” he says.