- Category: Business
11 Jan 2011
- Published on Tuesday, 11 January 2011 09:06
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By Jen Balboa
The dairy sector of the United States contributes only less than 2 percent in the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, despite general impressions that the emissions-rich industry is a major carbon footprint contributor.
This is the finding of the Innovation Center for United States Dairy in its study, the United States Dairy Sustainability Commitment Progress Report, touted as the first-ever industry-wide report to detail the United States dairy sector’s carbon footprint.
Based on data gathered by the national dairy forum from 2007 to 2008, the carbon footprint of every gallon of milk consumed, from farm to table, is around 17.6 pounds of carbon dioxide or 2.05 kilograms of CO2e for every kilogram of milk consumed. Meanwhile total fluid milk carbon footprint stands at around 35 million metric tons.
These findings validate the low impact of the dairy industry in the total emissions rate of the U.S., said the report. The sector’s total CO2e emissions, from 2007 to 2008, stand at over 31 million metric tons.
Dairy’s life cycle assessment
The report involved a life cycle assessment of the entire dairy chain. This means every aspect of dairy production was examined.
Starting with the production of feeds for cows, 20.3 percent of the sector’s emissions are accounted for. This is mostly in nitrous oxide emissions from the use of chemicals and fertilizers. The milk production stage accounts for most of the emissions with 51.5 percent; mostly methane produced by the cow’s digestion process. The next stages, processing (5.7 percent), packaging (3.5 percent), transport (7.7 percent) and retail (6.5 percent) all entail the use of fossil fuels.
Emissions at the consumer level stands at 4.9 percent. After consumption, the milk packaging is disposed in landfills, resulting to carbon dioxide emissions. Even unused milk, which has expired and thus counts as waste, adds to the overall carbon footprint.
Value in emission reduction
Stakeholders from the dairy sector, though, are quick in asserting that sustainability practices have been ingrained in their processes from the outset.
“Sustainability practices have long been common on dairy farms, from recycling water and manure to crop technologies that improve soil and prevent erosion,” said Jerry Kozak, president and chief officer of the National Milk Producers Federation.
The report also stated that the industry is working on 10 greenhouse gas emission reduction projects involving over 500 dairy stakeholders from the environmental, academic and scientific communities. These projects are valued at around $238 million, with the sector already having poured in $18 million for initial research.
Greenhouse gas reduction for every aspect of dairy production can yield millions of dollars in earnings, the report added. Reducing emissions during the milk production stage alone can increase business value between $20 million to $250 million, depending on the improvements made. For example, constructing methane digesters in farms can reduce emissions by 1.8 million metric tons and result to increased business value of $38 million.
Sustainability in practice
The report’s figures on income are balanced by testimonials of dairy farm owners’ day-to-day sustainability practices. Brent Besancon, owner of Besancon dairy farms in Ohio, contributes to emission reductions by hiring only local farm hands. Dan Rice, co-owner of Dairyland in Nebraska, said that their farm even brings in waste from the nearby town to add to their fertilizer mix.
“It only becomes waste if you waste it,” said Dennis Haubenschild of Haubenschild Farms in Minnesota. The farm owner, who has been practicing sustainability in his farm since the 1970s, is currently working with the University of Minnesota to develop a prototype for a hydrogen fuel cell technology system which can be used on the farm’s tractors.
Several farms have also taken on the installation of renewable energy sources. In Oakhurst Dairy farm, Maine, 2,500 square foot of solar panels were set up in the plant’s Portland headquarters, reducing oil consumption by 7,500 gallons every year.
The entire sector is aiming for a 25 percent reduction in its total fluid milk emissions by 2020.