Producers Play a Pivotal Role in Advancing Dairy’s Sustainability Story

Tammy Anderson-Wise, CEO, Dairy Council of California and Chuck Ahlem, Chairman, Dairy Cares

Tammy Anderson-Wise and Chuck Ahlem
Tammy Anderson-Wise, CEO, Dairy Council of California and Chuck Ahlem, Chairman, Dairy Cares

Over the past 60 years, dairy farmers and producers have made great strides in reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing water usage and committing to animal care and safety practices. Now more than ever, it’s time the dairy industry comes together to share these advancements and discuss ongoing efforts to improve our sustainability story.
Modern day consumers are more often making food choices they feel are good for the health of people, animals and the environment, and these human emotions can trump science when it comes to influencing food choices. This shift paves the way for dairy farmers and producers to engage new audiences in dairy’s sustainability efforts, which start on the farm.

Dairy Cares—a California initiative supported by dairy co-ops, farmer families and businesses across dairy communities—is highlighting efforts to conserve water, use energy efficiently and consistently do more with less. According to Dairy Cares:

  • Through energy conservation practices, California’s dairy farms are reducing their energy use while generating an unparalleled amount of solar energy. The average dairy farm solar energy project in Tulare County produces enough annual energy to offset emissions from nearly 300 passenger vehicles driven for one year.
  • California dairy farms and milk processors are doing their part by exploring water-use efficiency practices such as drip irrigation, used for corn, alfalfa and other feed crops, while expanding the recycling and reuse of water on farms and in milk processing facilities.
  • Dairy farms in the Central Valley have reduced smog-forming emissions by more than 30 percent in the last four years, reports the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
  • California dairy farms are partnering with Governor Brown to voluntarily reduce dairy manure methane emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

Additionally, dairy farmers and producers can distinguish the dairy industry through their commitment to animal care and safety guidelines. In fact, 98 percent of the U.S. milk supply in 2016 came from dairy farms and cooperatives enrolled in the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Animal Care Program, according to the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. This program, administered by the National Milk Producers Federation, sets stringent standards for animal care and monitors participants through on-farm evaluations by third-party organizations.

 While we can take pride in our progress, positive stories about dairy can easily be overshadowed in a world where food and health information is increasingly socialized. Today, anyone can have a voice, and the platforms in which to share it are plentiful and growing. While this can be discouraging, it also provides a huge opportunity for the dairy industry to bring its expertise to the dialogue. Those who grow, produce and market food can be a bigger part of the discussion by hearing, acknowledging and respecting consumer concerns. Then, describe what’s being done to address public concerns and what’s not possible—and why. It’s also important to share the progress the dairy industry has made over time.

Earlier this year, Dairy Council of California organized behind-the-scenes tours of a cheese processing plant and a dairy farm for a group of school foodservice directors. Attendees were able to learn how the modern dairy farm operates, witness the milking process and experience the farm and processing setting, which helped positively position the dairy industry among attendees and educate them about animal care and safety.

To reach a larger audience, this video has been prepared to tell dairy’s story

Opening farms and processing facilities to school and public tours is just one way to help share dairy’s sustainability story. Other ways to get involved include serving as industry spokespeople in the community, participating in local health fairs or community events and sharing through social media channels about making sustainable changes.

Dairy Council of California is more often including the sustainability story in its efforts. But all of the players—including producers, processors and industry groups—can help by engaging in constructive dialogue around sustainability. Doing so will help maintain the positive position of dairy in diets for the long term, advancing the cause adopted nearly 100 years ago through Dairy Council of California to elevate the health of children and parents through the pursuit of lifelong healthy eating habits.