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Dairy leaders expect to reach decarbonization goals

PALM DESERT, Calif. — Dairy processors have to come to terms with the fact that about 85% of dairy carbon emissions come from farms, but the dairy industry still expects to become net zero in emissions by 2050 if not before, dairy leaders said at the International Dalry Foods Association Dairy Forum here this week.

Michael Wironen, the senior scientist for agriculture and food systems at the Nature Conservancy, said that dairy accounts for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the airline industry. But dairy has the advantage that methane emissions don’t last as long as some other greenhouse gases.

Mike McCloskey, the cofounder of Select Milk Producers, said the industry has already made “tremendous strides” in reducing emissions, particularly through the checkoff-funded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.



Jason Weller, a former Agriculture Department Natural Resources Conservation Service chief who is now president of Truttera Inc., the sustainability division of Land O’ Lakes, said, “We start with a policy of farmer first” by trying to identify what farmers need in order to improve practices.

Dairy processors, Weller noted, can’t control the emissions from farms but they can work with farmers to make real progress. Weller said Land O’ Lakes has four categories in which it works: feed production, enteric emissions (more commonly known as cow burps), manure, and electricity use.



Land O’ Lakes is also involved in the use of digesters and the development of carbon markets. Farmers can sell carbon credits to sectors such as technology which cannot achieve efficiency gains within their own sectors, but the key is the ability to identify reductions in carbon emissions and figure out their durability.

McCloskey said he believes carbon markets should remain private but that they need oversight and funding from the government in case of failures.

Weller noted that farmers also have “cow power” — the conversion of manure to usable energy — which can be a potential source of income or energy cost savings.

Weller noted that the NRCS is fundamental in sharing the cost of improvements with farmers. But he added that “if there is a public benefit the producer should be compensated.”’

The dairy industry does face competition from other industries such as fossil fuels that need the credits, the leaders said.

Wironen noted that the Nature Conservancy has been criticized for its involvement in mitigation efforts that industry supports, but he added that he hopes the rest of the livestock industry will follow dairy.

Weller said “I am an optimist,” and that he hopes processors will partner with farmers.

McCloskey said he believes the progress will be so rapid that the goal of net zero emissions will be met in the 2040s.

National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern, who attended the session, said he agreed with McCloskey, and that meeting the goal early, along with improvements in animal welfare, would be part of the United States becoming the dairy “leader in the world.”


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