Dairy farming in the U.S. has changed a lot over the years, with science and technology helping farmers to produce more milk with a smaller environmental footprint.
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Dairy’s carbon footprint continues to shrink as fewer cows produce more milk, researchers say. Capital Press File

But public misperceptions remain, and correcting them has been a topic of discussion recently between agricultural organizations and USDA.

One such misperception is that livestock cause climate change, Jamie Jonker, vice president for sustainability and scientific affairs for National Milk Producers Federation, said in NMPF’s latest “Dairy Defined” podcast.

“Livestock can actually be part of the solution to climate change,” he said.

Livestock products, particularly milk and dairy products, are an important part of a nutritious and balanced diet. Dairy needs to be part of the climate solution, and it can be, he said.

“Just in the last 10 years, we’ve declined our greenhouse gas intensity by nearly 20%,” he said.

That means the dairy industry has a smaller carbon footprint today per gallon of milk produced than it did a decade ago, he said.

The world population will approach 10 billion people by 2050, and agriculture needs to meet the challenge of feeding that population. Dairy is going to continue to be a part of that diet, and he thinks dairy is going to feed the growing population by building on the success it’s already had in reducing its carbon footprint, he said.

“By 2050, I think that at least in U.S. dairy production we can be carbon neutral,” he said.

The evolution in agriculture is that it’s gone from a luxury of producing food and products people buy to customers and consumers asking questions about how it’s produced, he said.

And it’s important that U.S. agriculture and dairy “provide the information and transparency that they want on what modern-day production means and what it looks like,” he said.

In the case of sustainability, that means “what are we doing now on sustainability and what are our efforts going to look like in the future to continue driving superior environmental outcomes from U.S. dairy production,” he said.

Consumers have a right to have those questions, and the industry needs to be transparent and answer them. The dairy industry wants to produce food in a responsible and ethical manner, he said.

“And I think we have a good story to tell about how we produce dairy products in the U.S.,” he said.

Jonker grew up on a dairy farm, and it looked a lot different from the dairy farm operated by his great-grandparents, he said.

His parents’ farm produced a lot more milk because they knew a lot more about genetics, how to feed cows and how to care for them, he said.

“That’s just going to continue,” he said.

The dairy industry is continually having research done by land-grant universities to better understand animal health and performance and is continuing advancements that refine dairy systems, he said.

Pioneering females are disproving the old-fashioned view that dairy is an industry for men. Meet the dairywomen reshaping the narrative.

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