Farmers have employed environmental stewardship practices for many reasons. First, it makes good business sense. It’s also the right thing to do, and the people who purchase and consume our products want it. The global marketplace is increasingly demanding greater transparency, and documented reductions in environmental impact are an expectation and performance metric for businesses.
The truth is: Caring for our resources and the environment has been a generations-long commitment, including in my family who has been farming in California since 1913. As a fourth-generation dairy farmer, I have seen us evolve with the times. And I have seen dairy families across the country embrace new challenges, ideas and solution-oriented technologies that will preserve our natural resources for future generations.
Research substantiates our good work. Recently, the Journal of Animal Science published a report that found the environmental footprint of a gallon of milk was significantly reduced between 2007 and 2017, involving 30% less water, 21% less land, a 19% smaller carbon footprint and 20% less manure.
Our continued success starts with strong collaboration. Dairy farmers, through our checkoff, created the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in 2008 as a way of building this collaboration. The Innovation Center convenes leaders from across the dairy value chain to align on pre-competitive priorities, drive progress and speak with one voice. One of the ways it does so is through the Dairy Sustainability Alliance, which brings together multiple stakeholders to advance U.S. dairy sustainability.
Alliance members include more than 40 farmers from across the country, along with representatives from 120-plus member organizations, including cooperatives, processors, brands, retailers, academia, government and advocacy organizations. The alliance provides an opportunity to work collectively to share knowledge and best practices that are good for the planet, help further improve economic and environmental sustainability, and demonstrate dairy’s critical role in global sustainable food systems.
Dairy a solution
In 2018, the Innovation Center launched the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment, a pledge to measure and document U.S. dairy’s commitment to, and progress in, multiple dimensions of social responsibility, including environmental stewardship. To date, 29 companies representing 68% of milk production have adopted the commitment, which will allow U.S. dairy to measure and report progress in aggregate.
The Stewardship Commitment has provided the necessary foundation for the development of collective new environmental stewardship goals – to become carbon neutral or better, improve water quality and optimize water use – that will guide our efforts over the next 30 years to demonstrate that U.S. dairy is an environmental solution.
While every dairy company and dairy farm can play a role, these goals are not at the farm- or company-specific level. Instead, they will signal a commitment to work together to identify multiple economically viable pathways for reaching these goals collectively, leveraging the strength of U.S. dairy’s diversity in size, region and practice.
Continued progress will be critical. That’s why it’s important we band together to learn from one another, share successes and work as “U.S. dairy.” Most consumers have a genuine curiosity in understanding where their food comes from and a desire to connect with the people producing it. And it seems there is a renewed curiosity about dairy. Let’s share our great sustainable nutrition story – one filled with authentic farmers, responsible production practices, and health and wellness benefits that are backed by scientific and industry action proof points. More than ever, we have an incredible opportunity to build trust that will drive dairy sales.
U.S. dairy’s legacy is strong, but it’s far from complete. Our history shows we produce milk in the most environmentally responsible way we can. It also shows that, as new challenges or opportunities come our way, we’ll be more than ready.
Any thoughts or questions? Contact us at We are your Dairy Checkoff.
Scott is chairman of DMI’s National Dairy Promotion and Research Board. He is also an environmental stewardship committee member for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
- California Dairy Farmer
- Scott Brothers Dairy
Your Dairy Checkoff in Action – The following update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.